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The theme of Boston Pride 2014 was “Be Yourself, Change the World,” however, for many, it is still not safe to be oneself. How is this possible in 2014, where businesses, schools, churches and other organizations embrace – or, at least tolerate – cultural and sexual differences? Where many organizations were marching with pride and jubilation, a group near the end of the parade seemed to be marching in fear.
Isolated from the crowd, the LGBT asylum seekers marched with bags over their heads and a sign requesting donations. LGBT asylum seekers endure hate and life-threatening abuse, including often fear of death for themselves and their biological families. Innocent, but blamed for their love or identity, they cannot walk the streets freely, for fear of deportation or being targeted, resulting in certain peril.
The lack of safety for asylum seekers stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Boston Pride parade, who were rejoicing in the freedom to be themselves, knowing that they are, in fact changing the world. From the three religious services held on Pride morning, to the revelers marching, complete with rainbows, confetti, and signs of personal strength, to the supporters along the route and block parties, happiness was the mood of the day. Yet, the LGBT asylum seekers – who may have never marched in a Pride parade – did so with bags over their heads, not as a mere symbol of oppression, but because they cannot do so otherwise.
The LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, founded in 2007, helps those who fear for their lives in a global context because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The task force supports their basic human needs for survival, including food, housing, clothing, transportation, health care (including psychological), and cell phones (so that they can be in touch with loved ones and lawyers).
Recently, there have been success stories. One of the LGBT asylum seekers at the Boston Pride parade said that the co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, Linford Cunningham of Jamaica (see video below), just received his U.S. citizenship. Pastor Judy Hanlon, minister of the Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, is one of the pioneer leaders of the Task Force and she daily assists lesbians, gays, and those with gender identity concerns who are fleeing their countries, seeking political asylum. Eighty-two of these people have already received assistance.
Seventy-five countries in the world have laws against non-traditional orientation and gender identity. In over 75 countries, these people are imprisoned. In seven countries, the death penalty is in place. Those who do not “fit the mold” live in fear of persecution. Those who manage to escape have the means to do so, but often arrive on these shores destitute, having spent their life savings to get away or having had their bank accounts frozen, leaving everything behind and their families often in danger.
The LGBT Asylum Support Task Force is a grassroots organization and survives by contributions of the community. One of the three religious services on Saturday, the Pride Interfaith Coalition, which held its 37th Annual Boston Pride Interfaith Service at the Union United Methodist Church, donated a portion of this year’s collection to the Task Force, andChrist Church Cambridge held a Call to Action/Evening of Testimony on Thursday, pre-Pride, to acknowledge those globally whose basic human rights to love freely and live fully are still a (nearly) impossible dream.
In a time when many lesbians and gays take safety as matter of fact and where, to a certain extent, same-sex marriage is taken for granted, a moment of reflection might be in order. LGBT folks living in this country, and especially Massachusetts, have a lot to be thankful for. For not everyone at Boston Pride feels safe to be themselves and out. Until all are safe, none truly are.
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown
Previous articles published by the author about LGBT asylum:
England and Wales Now Open to Gay Marriage
LGBT Asylum Support Task Force
Help for Gays in Detention Seeking International Asylum
Previous articles published by the author about the Boston LGBT community:
St Patrick’s Day Parade Long Time Coming for Gay Groups in South Boston
Same-Sex Marriage Pioneers Mark 10-Year Celebration
Boston Pride Happy and Unique