LGBT Asylum Task Force Provides “Safe Haven” from Persecution
“It really was just opening the door to that first asylum seeker.”
– Al Green, Ministry Director, LBGT Asylum Task Force
What started in 2008 with a Massachusetts congregation’s welcome to one gay asylum seeker has grown into a model ministry that has assisted some 400 LGBT asylum seekers from more than 20 countries in the past 14 years with housing and other basic needs.
The LGBT Asylum Task Force is a mission of Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, Mass. In recognition of the task force’s work, and with the goal of inspiring other churches to undertake similar ministries, United Church of Christ Global H.O.P.E. team has just awarded it a $10,000 Solidarity Grant.
That first asylum seeker, a gay man from Jamaica, was “struggling spiritually, needing material support,” said Al Green, Ministry Director. “His attorney remembered hearing about our church’s support for marriage equality and led him to us. Soon the young man told his friends, ‘This is a safe haven.’”
Private, consensual same-sex sexual activity is currently illegal in more than 70 countries, with the death penalty imposed or at least a possibility in 11 countries. LGBT Asylum Task Force clients recount having endured arrest, beatings and “corrective gang rape” to try to force them to be straight. Such atrocities have been meted out by police and family members alike.
Asylum seekers are people fleeing persecution in their home countries and seeking protection from the United States. But they are barred from employment for up to two years while their claims are being processed. In addition, LGBT asylum seekers are often shunned or abused by their fellow immigrants to the United States.
The LGBT Asylum Task Force houses 24 to 30 asylum seekers at any given time at a monthly cost of $1,200 per person. It provides a small monthly stipend, monthly workshops and connections to pro bono legal, medical and mental health resources.
“The folks that we have assisted have been homeless or on the verge of homelessness and left their countries without the financial means to buy even the necessities of food or clothing,” Green said. “The task force serves as a resource guide for scores of asylum seekers on an annual basis.
“All the folks that we have helped have been granted asylum versus the less than 20 percent success rate among all asylum seekers,” he noted. Once granted, the task force helps asylees find work, mostly in “careers that have the fewest barriers to entry.” Between 20 and 30 percent are able to get back into their chosen fields in a couple of years, Green said.
“When an asylum seeker is granted, and when they get their first paycheck, that is very gratifying, that we are able to make a difference in people’s lives,” Green said.
An asylum seeker himself, Green joined Hadwen Park Congregational Church in 2016 and became LGBT Asylum Task Force Ministry Director a year later. He said his background in civil engineering taught him teamwork and problem solving, flexibility and a willingness to learn – all skills relevant to his current work.
Rev. Darrell Goodwin, the UCC’s Southern New England Executive Conference Minister, praised the LBGT Asylum Task Force’s work.
“In the Conference, our three missional imperatives for local churches, associations, and covenant partners are that they might find a way to be relevant in their local settings, be transformative in their impact on people’s lives and be prophetic in creating space that does not exist,” he said.
“The LGBT Asylum Task Force at Hadwen Park UCC is a model of making these values come alive,” Goodwin said. “In order to live out our mission as the church it is significant to add action to our prayers and thoughts, and to centralize those who are minoritized and marginalized. I am grateful for the impact the Asylum Task Force is making in our region and world and the resources our partnership with UCC Global H.O.P.E. has provided.”
Green encourages other churches to look for ways to help asylum seekers, particularly LGBT asylum seekers, “if not on our scale, then at least to fill some small part of their need. Host them, provide food and other resources, arrange rides, contribute to ministries like ours, and get asylum seekers connected to ministries like ours.”
For ministry on a larger scale, “make sure your community is supportive of asylum seekers. Have a team of people who are 100 percent dedicated. Build relationships with career training, landlords, city government. It’s a lot of networking – and money – to get this done.”
“Housing, access to health care and pro bono legal resources are the primary ingredients for helping folks to be most successful in their asylum cases,” Green said.
The Rev. Irene Hassan, UCC Minister for Refugee and Migration Services, said, “The ministry at Hadwen Park Church shines a light on what churches can uniquely do to boldly proclaim love and belonging for all people. We hope that this ministry, and the award granted from the Global H.O.P.E. team to assist its operation, will inspire other churches toward living into transformative work, and also know that they will be supported and encouraged in their endeavors.”
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