On Oct 7, 2016 The Washington Blade reported: Imagine you had to flee your home country for your own personal safety and well being, because the government or people in your own community are actively persecuting and discriminating against you for being LGBT. Now imagine you’ve managed to get to the United States, yet you don’t know anyone. Nor have you ever visited before. Where would you stay? How would you survive on your own?
This is the lived experience for many LGBT asylum seekers who have fled their home countries of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union and Russia. Since 2012, Center Global, a program of the DC Center for the LGBT Community, has helped some 157 LGBT asylum seekers and refugees who have come to the Washington metropolitan area seeking safety and a better life. They are vulnerable as they go through the long and cumbersome asylum process with the U.S. government, usually without the support of their own families and their own immigrant communities. This process includes a wait of nine months to a year before they are legally allowed to work. All without federal government support for legal assistance, housing, healthcare or education.
Finding safe, stable housing, especially with the cost of housing in D.C. on the rise in recent years is a major concern for LGBT immigrants. Many asylum seekers don’t know anyone they can stay with, and without the ability to work when they first arrive, they face the prospect of staying in homeless shelters or on the streets. This only adds to the anxiety and grief they’ve already experienced in their homelands.
Since 2013, I’ve hosted gay asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and the Caribbean in my home as these men await their asylum decision or at least authorization to legally work. I have found it an extremely rewarding experience. While there have been some costs and some loss of privacy, which is probably a good thing as it keeps me from becoming a middle-aged curmudgeon; some uptick in my utility bills, and some dings in kitchenware and stains on carpets, the benefits have far outweighed the costs.