The Faces of LGBTQ Refugees

Every week, our team gathers remotely from all over the world. We hear about the work you make possible. This particular week, our teammates introduced us to some refugee friends sheltering in Mexico. We heard about the persecution they fled, and the threat of violence they still face. I haven’t been able to get their photos out of my head ever since.

This is what we do: show up in some of the hardest places, to love those no one else will love. This is who we are. But I wasn’t expecting what I saw on this staff call.

At least 27 transgender people were murdered in the US in 2019, most of them Black women. This year so far, at least 16 have been killed. Last year, a trans asylum seeker died in an ICE detention facility after she was denied medical care. She wasn’t the first trans woman to die in US custody, either.

Our trans friends experience daily discrimination due to their sexual and gender orientation.

  • 30% have experienced homelessness at some point in their life.
  • 70% of trans people who stay in a shelter report being mistreated, including harassment, sexual or physical assault, or being kicked out because of their identity.

The experience of trans refugees—many of whom fled because they were persecuted for their gender or sexual orientation—is especially harrowing. For many people, the experiences of trans men and women might be new and difficult to understand. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot try to press in—to understand and empathize.

Each staff call, I was eager to hear updates about our refugee friends in Mexico. When I first saw their photos, I was moved to tears.

Among the photos were portraits of members in front of a painting of the Virgin Mary. The mother of Jesus, Mary is venerated as one of the holiest women in both the Christian and Muslim faiths. These beautiful, striking images hit something deep in me. While I don’t know these people’s stories, or their relationship to family and faith—I know what they might have faced.

These members of the LGBTQ+ community have been rejected by their family members or their friends. Ostracized by their religious communities. They felt unsafe in their communities, simply for expressing their sexual and gender identities.

But standing there in front of the portrait of Mary, I saw the divine.

Smiles, joy, and confidence radiate from their faces. While many do not see LGBTQ+ people as deserving of love and dignity, here in front of Mary, the Mother of God, I saw humanity. I saw people deserving of love, protection, and happiness. These friends have found family, safety, and safe haven—while they continue to seek asylum in the United States.

Regardless of your beliefs on gender and sexual identity, I hope you can look at their faces and see our common humanity. I hope you can see people deserving of love, dignity, and happiness.