Q&A: LGBTQ Asylum

Al Green ’12 is ministry director of the Hadwen Park Congregational Church LGBTQ Task Force. The organization helps asylum-seekers who come from places where same-sex relations and nonconventional gender identity are crimes. About 70 countries have legal penalties that can range from imprisonment to a death sentence.

The asylum-seekers’ stories posted on the Task Force’s website are painful to read. They tell of beatings, torture, the burning of a business, or a night of “corrective gang rape.” The victims’ families may also suffer—or the family members may have opened the door for police officers or mobs to inflict punishment on their own children.

The LGBTQ Task Force helps those who can make their way to the United States (with a valid visa) build a new life, free from fear and shame. Green, the only salaried employee, says that since 2008 the organization has helped 300 individuals through this difficult process, and not one has been denied asylum or sent back to their home country.

Does your WPI experience connect with the work you are doing now?

I majored in civil engineering, and I had visions of graduating and eventually returning to Jamaica to help progress its infrastructure. My time at WPI was busy and an emotional rollercoaster. I did four years of varsity swimming, re-started WPI’s club water polo team, served as a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts mentor, and worked at an engineering firm for 20 hours a week during the school year and 40 hours a week during breaks. Did I mention that I was busy?

When I left Jamaica to study at WPI, I came with an open mind. I had seen, on television and in the movies, what a university was likely to be like—and I was excited! The reality at WPI was mixed. I thoroughly enjoyed being pushed by my professors, and I made some lasting friendships. However, there were some low points, such as being approached by campus police multiple times, while waiting for my friends so we could go to DAKA [for meals] together, because they had received reports of a suspicious person who “didn’t look like they belonged there.” I was also struggling with my identity as a gay man. Back then, there were not many, if any, visible outlets and support for LGBTQ students. I am happy that campus life is now different. I do not regret any of my experiences. In fact, I am grateful for them. My meeting and working on projects with a diverse group of people has been beneficial in my current role as ministry director of the LGBT Asylum Task Force.

How do people find their way to the Task Force? Do you ever have to turn anyone away?

The majority of folks find out about us from others who’ve already received our support. I use the analogy of a person who is stranded in the desert coming across an oasis—they are relieved and will share this resource with others. Folks also find us through referrals by their attorneys and healthcare providers, or by searching for resources on the internet. We are the only organization in the U.S. that is providing such comprehensive support—housing, food, and connection to pro bono legal, medical, and mental health resources—for the duration that it is needed. It can take up to two years before an asylum seeker can legally work to support themselves. If someone shows up at the church, we never turn them away. There are supporters who open their homes to folks until we have room in our housing. Regardless of where they are located, in the U.S. or internationally, we try to help folks identify resources in their area.

Do the people you’ve helped give back, once they’re on their feet and managing their lives?

Folks that have already transitioned out of our support often mentor and support the new folks, who may have been forced out of their homes and neglected by their communities—including their own families and neighbors—in their home countries. Here, newcomers find a strong community to guide them. They also find, in the older crew, folks who have faced similar journeys and can provide unique emotional support.

You must see so much need and hardship every day. What do you do to sustain your own well-being, and prevent burnout?

I do see a lot of pain on a regular basis and it does at times become overwhelming. Whenever it gets to be too much, I take half-days off to recharge and maintain my physical and emotional well-being. It also helps that I coach swimming, visit the gym daily, and regularly see a therapist. I’m also part of Queer the Scene (queerthescene.com), a creative community that aims to bring greater diversity to local cultural and social outlets.

Learn more—and read stories of those who’ve escaped persecution at lgbtasylum.org.

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