Every day, people are forced to flee their homes to escape war, violence and persecution. For members of the LGBTIQ+ community, the violence and persecution they face is often simply because of who they are or who they love. Many are forced to conceal who they are, leave behind their communities and loved ones and try to find safety elsewhere.
Understanding the circumstances that force LGBTIQ+ individuals to flee is essential in helping end discrimination, persecution and prejudice. Storytelling is one of the greatest tools we have to uplift the voices of those who often go unheard and better understand the situations of others. This Pride, here are three books you can read to learn more about the LGBTIQ+ refugee experience, written by displaced LGBTIQ+ authors.
Asylum by Edafe Okporo
“I feel lucky enough to have taken risks, and to trust the universe with an open heart. I have so many reasons not to love, but I will not let that stop me.”
Edafe Okporo, originally from Nigeria, is an entrepreneur and author of Asylum. In his memoir and manifesto, Edafe shares his experience of being forced to flee his home because of his identity, the experiences he went through newly arrived in the United States and his hope for a better future for displaced people everywhere.
On the eve of his 26th birthday, Edafe was awoken by an angry mob that threatened his life because of his identity as a gay man. In Nigeria, homosexuality is a crime punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and many individuals face violence from members of their community. With threats against his life, Edafe was forced to flee and sought asylum in the United States. Once he arrived, he had to navigate the confusing immigration system and try to begin a new life as a Black, gay man in the United States.
Alongside his personal story, Edafe imagines a future where displaced people are welcomed into safety with fairness and compassion. His story not only aims to generate empathy and understanding for LGBTIQ+ refugees in situations similar to his, but it also strives to show how everyone can embrace kindness and welcome all displaced people.
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
“‘How unpleasant,’ he said. ‘That some people can be so black-and-white about things.’"
Pajtim Statovci is a Finnish author who was born to Albanian parents in Kosovo. His family was persecuted during the outbreak of the war in Yugoslavia, and he and his parents fled to Finland when Pajtim was two-years-old. In his work, Pajtim often explores themes of LGBTIQ+ identity, displacement and family.
His first novel, My Cat Yugoslavia, follows the story of a young Muslim woman in Kosovo named Emine who is in an arranged marriage and is forced to flee her home due to war. Her story is juxtaposed with the story of her son, Bekim, who is a gay young man growing up as a refugee in Finland. Although the family is safe from war in Finland, they face anti-immigration, Islamophobic and homophobic challenges that are now common in their day-to-day lives. Because of this, Bekim grows up ashamed of where he comes from and begins a journey of discovery, self-acceptance and love.
The Foghorn Echoes by Danny Ramadan
“‘Sometimes we need to learn what brings us comfort from within. Find what’s within us that makes us happy.’ He looks at me. ‘What’s the thing that brings you comfort, Hussam?’”
Danny Ramadan is a resettled Syrian refugee living in Canada, where he is also an author and LGBTIQ+ activist. Danny came out to his family when he was 17 years old and was forced to leave his home. He lived with friends in Damascus until he was able to move to Egypt to continue writing. Danny returned to Syria in 2010, just before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, where he ran an underground center to help LGBTIQ+ Syrians flee the country. His work caused him to face persecution, and he fled to Lebanon as a refugee soon after.
After resettling in Canada, Danny continued his activism by working with several LGBTIQ+ organizations throughout Canada and continued writing. Many of his novels follow themes of immigration, diaspora, belonging and identity, including his novel, The Foghorn Echoes.
The Foghorn Echoes tells the story of Hussam and Wassim, two young men who grew up in Syria and whose lives were turned upside down when their relationship was discovered by Hussam’s father. Ten years later, Hussam is living in Vancouver as a resettled refugee and openly gay man, while Wassim is living on the streets of Damascus in a war-torn Syria. Despite living lives on opposite sides of the world, both men must reconcile with their past to reach a place of healing and self-acceptance.
How you can help…
Understanding the plight of refugees and sharing the voices of displaced people are just some of the ways you can begin helping refugees globally. By becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donors, you can help support LGBTIQ+ refugees and all displaced people who are simply seeking safety, freedom and home.