Millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer refugees and asylum seekers are in search of a better future — something that the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) is striving to provide.
"In 72 countries, same-sex relationships are currently criminalized. In fact, in eight countries, they are punishable by death," said Andrés Gutierrez, associate publisher of InStyle and co-chair of Outspoken — an organization that celebrates and supports LGBTQIA employees and allies at Dotdash Meredith.
Gutierrez moderated the Jan. 25 Critical Conversation, a virtual chat hosted by Outspoken that zeroed in on the state of LGBTIQ refugees around the world.
"Imagine having to flee your own country because of being persecuted for being who you are and for who you love?" he asked. "Imagine having to restart your life in [a] foreign country, in poverty? And add to that the risk of being sexually exploited. Studies show that LGBTIQ migrants are among the most vulnerable and more likely to be assaulted and killed."
"That," he added, "is the reality of LGBTIQ refugees across the world. This is a crisis."
Gutierrez was joined Tuesday by ORAM's executive director, Steve Roth, who spoke of the extremes these LGBTIQ individuals face daily, from having to escape their home countries solo — in fear of even their family members — to facing discrimination in the health care systems and the added repercussions of the ongoing COVID pandemic on their mental and physical well-being.
"Think for a minute how challenging it could be to be gay or lesbian, let alone trans or queer or intersex, even in the United States, [as compared to] in a country where you can be persecuted or even be put to death based on your sexual orientation and gender identify," said Roth.
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Unbearable living situations like such have led to millions of displaced LGBTIQ people globally. ORAM helps these individuals as they navigate the asylum process, and the organization is striving to make change in the U.S. and beyond when it comes to welcoming these refugees onto safe territory.
"The way I like to think of it is LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers are really kind of the bottom people on the ladder, and the first to get pushed off when anything happens," Roth explained, urging others to join in on the work that ORAM is doing to make change.
Dominque Jackson, who played the larger-than-life Elektra Evangelista, mother of the House of Abundance, on the FX series Pose, is one of the many dedicating time and effort to the cause. Over the last two holiday seasons, Jackson — along with her fiancé, Edwin Torres, and ORAM — helped provide home-cooked meals to hundreds in the LGBTIQ refugee community in Nairobi, Kenya.
Jackson, who moved to the United States when she was 15, said she knows all too well about struggling to find a safe place where she is accepted for living her truth.
"I identify with so many of their challenges. I faced incredibly horrific, traumatizing situations as a young person in my home country of Trinidad and Tobago. I came to the U.S. as an immigrant, and for a time was both undocumented and homeless. Facing even more racism and transphobia. But I persisted and stayed true to myself, and eventually I built this life that I'm living today. I see that same authenticity and drive in the amazing refugees that ORAM serves," she said.
Added Torres, "This is truly an amazing community of strong and resilient and inspiring individuals, but they need our support now more than ever."
To learn more and get involved in the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, visit https://www.oramrefugee.org/.