May 11, 2015 – Reported by the Huffington Post – “Where are you?” I stared expectantly at my dark phone screen, impatiently waiting for it to come to life. I knew that today only one person could understand my profound disappointment. Our vision had just been shattered, and for a moment, I seriously doubted our ability to piece it back together. It was over. We had lost. But could it really have been for nothing? In those minutes before my friend’s message lit up my phone, I knew I had a decision to make: fight or flight. I had chosen wrong before; I refused to make the same mistake. A buzz directed my eyes back to the now glowing screen. “Library. Coming?” I took a deep breath and reached for my phone. “Be there soon.”
When my friend, Sy Abdul, approached me to apply for the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural President’s Engagement Prizes — a $100,000 grant awarded annually to Penn seniors to design and implement local, national, or global engagement projects during the first year after graduation — I hesitated. I doubted my ability to open up about something that I had gone to such lengths to conceal in the past. Luckily, the necessity of our project inspired me to be brave.
The initial concept for our project, AsylumConnect, was borne out of Sy’s personal experiences as an LGBTQ asylum seeker in the U.S. Our premise was simple: to support people seeking political asylum in the U.S. because of sexual orientation or gender expression. We would accomplish this by creating the first ever website and mobile app specifically designed for LGBTQ asylum seekers. These platforms would feature a centralized catalog of available LGBTQ-friendly services by location, themed educational webinars, and animated how-to videos.
As we combined our distinct experiences into a singular effort to advance AsylumConnect, the line separating us from our project faded. What I uncovered during my research — what I was hearing from existing organizations and LGBTQ asylum seekers — deeply affected me. It altered my worldview and rearranged my priorities.
The reality is sobering for anyone….story continues below…