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June 04, 2024

Pride: Celebrating LGBTQIA+ refugees around the world


No one should be forced to flee their home because of who they are or who they love. Sadly, for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and people of other marginalized sexual and gender identities (LGBTQIA+), this is a heartbreaking reality.

Discriminatory laws, threats of violence and lack of acceptance from loved ones and their communities force many individuals to make the difficult decision to flee their homes.

Seeking safety is only part of the struggle. Upon arriving in their new countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals often face more discrimination. Still, they are resilient, using their voices and experiences to push for change in their communities, give a voice to other LGBTQIA+ individuals facing similar challenges and empower those around them.

This Pride Month, to celebrate our LGBTQIA+ loved ones, hear the resilient voices and stories of six LGBTQIA+ refugees striving to make a positive change in their communities.

María Victoria

For many young people like María Victoria, growing up among gangs and violence in Chocó, Colombia, was dangerous — many were forced to flee their homes and struggled with their mental health.

From the age of 15, María Victoria knew she needed to help. She began providing community-based psychological first aid to vulnerable adolescents, including many young LGBTQIA+ individuals like herself. 

She grew up in a strict family where she could not embrace her true identity. With the help of counseling, she found the courage to come out as a transgender woman to her family, and as time passed, she discovered her life's purpose — advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people in Chocó.

María Victoria hopes that someday, no one will be forced to leave their home for being who they are. But until that day comes, she will work tirelessly to support people who have been forced to flee. “We need to be able to move freely, to be people who do not feel persecuted because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.”


“At 6:00 am my husband and I heard the first explosions and we understood what was going on,” recalls Anton Levdyk, a Ukrainian refugee, about the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In the early morning of February 24, 2022, the couple fled their apartment in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. 

In Kyiv, Anton was the Program Director for the Ukraine-based non-profit Fulcrum UA, administering the organization's LGBTQIA+ healthcare and workplace equality projects.

After fleeing Kyiv, the couple fled to Lviv and opened a shelter for LGBTQIA+ individuals. For more than six months, they lived in constant fear as the war continued. In September 2022, Anton and his husband were welcomed to the United States through the United for Ukraine sponsorship program. After settling into his new life, Anton quickly found work advocating for people back in Ukraine — he now works with Outright International, an LGBTQIA+ non-profit based in New York, as a program officer for Ukraine. 

“I work with Ukraine and Ukrainian civil societies,” explains Anton. “We have a Ukraine Emergency Fund, established right after the full-scale invasion and we’ve already disbursed more than $3.5 million to Ukrainian organizations.”


Daniela is an Ecuadorian activist, stylist and transgender woman who has dedicated her life to advocating for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people and serves as the president of the LGBTQIA+ community in El Oro Province.

In addition to her activism, Daniela has volunteered as a community promoter for HIV/AIDS prevention for 14 years. With the increase in refugee arrivals and migrants to Machala, Ecuador, she now provides HIV tests to this population and works towards ensuring that LGBTQIA+ refugees and migrants have access to other health services in the city.

"LGBTQIA+ people, because of shame or discrimination, used to die with AIDS for lack of timely treatment. My fight will always be in their honor,” she says. 


Originally from Kenya, Samuel is a passionate LGBTIQA+ refugee advocate. He strives to use his voice and experience to create a more inclusive and supportive community for refugees across the United States. 

In May, he joined other refugee advocates for Refugee Council USA’s annual Advocacy Days, representing Rainbow Railroad, a global non-profit organization that helps at-risk LGBTIQA+ people reach safety worldwide.

The three-day event brings together refugee advocates and leaders to discuss legislation and policies in support of immigrants, refugees, asylees and others who have been forcibly displaced and are seeking safety in the United States.

“Refugees are people who just need a safe place where they can live freely, free from discrimination. Refugees are humans, our sisters, or brothers. They're our communities and our neighbors." 

Yeraldine and Zailet

Before meeting her partner Zailet, Yeraldine was in a long and tumultuous marriage to a man. But when Zailet and Yeraldine met, the two instantly clicked. Despite the challenges LGBTQIA+ people often face in much of Latin America, Yeraldine says the decision to come out was an easy one.

While the couple received full support from Yeraldine’s teenage children, they still faced a series of other difficulties in Venezuela, including being laid off from their jobs and even sexually harassed by a landlord, which forced them to give up the apartment they shared.

To make matters worse, Yeraldine was no longer able to get the medications she needed to treat a chronic medical condition. The couple sought safety in Ecuador, leaving Yeraldine’s children behind with relatives so they would be spared from the difficult journey.

After seeking safety in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, they found the stability they needed to rebuild their lives, but still endured discrimination similar to what they had faced back home.

Yeraldine was determined to help end the discrimination, so she participated in Redes Comunitarias, a UNHCR project providing refugees and migrants the tools they need to become community leaders.

Today, Yeraldine has become an unofficial spokesperson for the LGBTQIA+ cause and has helped produce podcasts, videos and events that teach displaced LGBTQIA+ people about their rights and about making their host countries more accepting. 

“I want people to see beyond the symbols – beyond the rainbow flag and the LGBTQIA+  acronym – and recognize that we are human beings… and we want to help and to belong,”  says Yeraldine.

How to help…

Today and every day, USA for UNHCR stands with LGBTQIA+ refugees, asylees and stateless individuals who are fighting for the right to seek safety, protection and an opportunity to be who they are and love who they love.

By becoming a monthly donor, you can help ensure that those fleeing war, violence and persecution can find refuge and are equipped with the tools they need to rebuild their lives with dignity.