Around the world, millions of people face persecution for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Forcibly displaced LGBTIQ+ people are often victims of discriminatory national laws in their countries: same-sex relationships are criminalized in more than 70 countries and six countries consider them a crime punishable by death.
Facing persecution in their home countries, LGBTIQ+ people often have no choice but to flee. Crossing a border does not always end the discrimination they experience. These individuals often face similar or even greater risks, stigma, and abuse in neighboring countries or along their journey. They are at high risk for sexual abuse and violence and they often receive little or no police protection. They are also left out of basic services, such as healthcare.
Since displaced LGBTIQ+ people have faced discrimination and been forced to flee, many of them deeply understand the hardships of others. Even in difficult situations of their own, these individuals find ways to give back to their community and support others going through dark times. Meet three displaced LGBTIQ+ individuals and see how they’ve used their own experiences to help others stay safe.
Elvis’s life in Venezuela was marked with fear and uncertainty. As a gay man, he hid his sexuality from his community due to fear that he would be attacked or killed. Only his friends and family knew who he truly was. But Elvis was forced to leave them behind, fleeing to Brazil.
In Brazil, Elvis could not find work and ended up on the streets. One day, when he was searching for food, a UNHCR staff member saw him and helped turn his life around. The staff member secured him a spot in a shelter for LGBTIQ+ refugees where he was able to recuperate and relocate to the city to find work.
“I was ready to end my own life.” Elvis says, “If it wasn't for [a UNHCR staff member] I wouldn’t be here today. She looked me in the eye and told me not to give up.”
Now, Elvis works at a medical clinic in Brazil and is pursuing a degree at the University of Brasília.
Thomas fled from Cameroon to France in 2017 where he was welcomed and supported by the Association for the Recognition of the Rights of Homosexual Persons (ARDHIS). As he found his footing in France, he decided to help others through the organization that had helped him. However, when the pandemic began in 2020, Thomas was unsure of how he would be able to continue to reach out to others.
“At first I was really impacted because I was so scared of the virus, but then I told myself we are not all going to die, you must continue to help those in need.”
Now, Thomas finds new ways to connect with other LGBTIQ+ refugees and provide them with the information they need. From finding housing to work opportunities to education about COVID-19, Thomas provides as much information as possible over the phone, email or other digital tools.
After being attacked by a mob in his home country of Nigeria, Edafe was forced to flee to the United States. Edafe had been an activist for LGBTIQ+ rights in Nigeria, where the LGBTIQ+ people face violence, persecution and the threat of imprisonment.
When Edafe arrived in the United States, he notes that it was the kindness of strangers that helped him survive. Once he was settled, Edafe wanted to make sure that other LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in the U.S. would receive the same kindness and support that he had.
In 2017, Edafe opened RDJ Refugee Shelter, the first shelter for LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum-seekers in New York City. To this day, they have supported more than 2,000 individuals through housing resources, legal support, job readiness training, English language classes and psychosocial support.
"Especially as a displaced person, community makes you feel at home,” Edafe explains. “Community is the bedrock of [LGBTIQ+ refugees’] integration in a new country.”
How you can help…
No one should be forced to flee their home, especially not because of who they are. Your support can protect other LGBTIQ+ refugees on their journeys to safety and give them the opportunity to find a welcoming community. Become a monthly donor and give others like Elvis, Thomas and Edafe the hope they need to reach home.