LGBT Asylum Task Force offers hope and healing to gay immigrants

Countless numbers of men and women flee from more than 80 countries where being gay is illegal. It can cost you not only your livelihood, but often your life. Many individuals seeking asylum from the abuse that often comes at the hands of loved ones have immigrated to Worcester. It was a chance meeting with one such immigrant that inspired Pastor Judy Hanlon, of Hadwen Park Congregational Church, to create the LGBT Asylum Task Force.

According to LGBT Asylum Task Force Director Alford Greene, “Nine years ago, a gay man from Jamaica immigrated to Worcester seeking asylum. He had been beaten, chased and tortured. When meeting with his attorney, he could not focus on his legal case. She asked why he would cry all the time. He would say, “I have no place to live. I am hungry and …. What if God really hates me?” She did not know of Hadwen Park Congregational Church (HPC) before and had never met Pastor Judy. But she remembered her advocacy and called the church. That night, Pastor Judy met Linford and brought him to our food pantry and gave him money for milk and meat. Eventually, the congregation paid for rent and support through the process of his asylum. As a Christian, he found a congregation who loved him.”

The LGBT Asylum Task Force is the only program of its kind, and it assists asylum seekers financially in order to attain the necessities of living, as well as offering a loving community where they can begin to heal from the trauma of their past.

Monetary donations are imperative, as the task force is a nonprofit and relies completely on volunteers to carry out its mission within the community. Often, asylum seekers are turned away due to limited resources, leaving them desperate and afraid in a new country.

According to Hanlon, “When we get more money donated, we help more people. We connect with hospitals; we do not offer medical care. We connect with lawyers; we do not do legal help. We find counselors; we do not do counseling. We work smart. We don’t need to recreate the wheel. Eighteen months ago, we were helping eight people. Today, we are helping 25. With every increase in donations, we promise to spend it on these basic human needs — housing and food.”

Hanlon and Greene have heard horrific stories of abuse and torture. When asked what story has impacted them the most, both referenced the story of a young Ugandan woman named Jane (not her real name).

“She met a girl when she was 15, the daughter of family friends in a nearby town. They fell in love and exchanged passionate letters. One day, when Jane was 16, her stepmother found the letters and showed them to Jane’s father, who beat her severely. That very night, he took her to a traditional healer who raped her in front of her father. He branded her stomach with hot steel, leaving a mark she carries to this day. The two men then dragged her to the woods, where they tied her naked to a tree. The healer explained to Jane’s father that his daughter was cursed, but if she survived the night in the forest, the curse would be broken. Then they left her alone. Jane survived the ordeal and the healer pronounced her cured.

Greene, the LGBT Asylum Task Force director — and an original asylum seeker from Jamaica — told me this program has had a profound impact on him, “Just to hear the stories of what people have gone through, it is heart wrenching. What brings me great hope and joy is the resilience of people. The fact that they are able to bounce back from these atrocities and pursue their dreams.”

This task force has grown into a citywide collaboration of love, acceptance and healing. Judgment has no home here. The Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners hosted by HPC for asylum seekers bring them together and create a makeshift family, where past pain is understood and future dreams are shared.

For more information regarding the LGBT Asylum Task Force, contact Pastor Judith Hanlon at gracelift@aol.com.

Victoriahope McAuliffe