June is celebrated as Pride Month to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which protested police raids on a popular New York gay bar called the Stonewall Inn, on June 28, 1969. The uprising was a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Today, we continue to mark the month as a celebration of LGBTQI+ rights (the acronym refers to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex + additional identities) and a call for further rights globally. Although June is officially Pride Month, marches and other events are held year-round. Pride Month is not to be confused with LGBT History month, which is observed in February.
Why is Pride Month important?
Despite encouraging progress made over recent decades, there are still many places where LGBTQI+ communities are oppressed and discriminated against. For example, nearly 70 countries have laws that criminalize homosexuality.
LGBTQI+ refugees fleeing persecution and those living in countries affected by conflict and crisis are particularly vulnerable. We need to make sure they are not forgotten, and that they have a chance to rebuild their lives in safety.
What are the risks to displaced LGBTQ+ people?
A new International Rescue Committee (IRC) study of the experiences of LGBTQI+ people in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, revealed that violence from family members can drive many LGBTQI+ people to leave their homes, pushing them into the margins of society. In addition to discrimination, they may endure extortion as well as physical and sexual violence from gangs and other armed groups.
Once displaced, LGBTQI+ people may have trouble obtaining social services and stable employment. Fears of being ‘outed,’ with possible violence toward their family if their identity becomes public, may prevent them from requesting formal services, such as health care, food aid or housing support.
#RestoringWelcome in the US can’t happen without supporting the safety of LGBTQIA+ migrants. We must ensure that there are pathways, that queer refugees are not targeted for their gender or sexuality while awaiting resettlement. For more: https://t.co/5YvohH8wEG— IRC - International Rescue Committee (@RESCUEorg) June 25, 2021
One person we spoke with for the study said, “In this one clinic … they outright deny or report you to the police, but other things—like they might laugh at you—are a major reason not to come forward. LGBT people have experienced a lot of discrimination and harassment, and subtle attitudes have a major impact.”
How does the IRC work with LGBTQI+ communities?
The IRC is proud to support LGBTQI+ communities around the world and help fight for their rights.
For example, we are supporting members of the transgender community in Pakistan to develop facilitation skills and self-help groups so they can address the issues they face together. We also provide direct financial assistance to those who have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, so that they can buy food, pay their utility bills, and meet other basic needs.
We are also providing critical support in northern Central America, considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world for members of the LGBTQI+ communities, as well as assisting LGBTQI+ and other asylum seekers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border who have had no choice but to flee their homes.
Meet Lincy: A transgender woman who escaped violence
As a transgender woman in Honduras, Lincy Sopall faced abuse, violence and persecution. “It is not a place where you feel you can live safely,” she says. “Nobody considers you a human being. Nobody thinks you have feelings. Your own country closes its doors to you. And on top of that, there are dangerous gangs.”
She first sought asylum in Mexico after a treacherous journey traveling by bus, foot and on the freight train nicknamed ‘La Bestia.’ But after an assault on the street, Lincy realized her life was still in danger.
Lincy crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in January 2018 and spent several months in different detention centers before she was granted asylum in May. With the help of the IRC, Lincy was able to rebuild her life in Phoenix, Arizona, where she has started a fashion business, a dream of hers since she was a little girl.
“My inspiration comes from diversity—and my life experiences,” Lincy says of her work. “I give a piece of myself to each design.”
Meet Warren: A Gay refugee whose case changed the law
Warren*, who grew up in a country where homosexuality is still criminalized, knows what it’s like to hide who you are.
While he was studying in the United Kingdom, another student wrote a letter “outing” him as being homosexual to both his family and government officials at home. It had a devastating effect. “The government cut off my university funding and I was sent a letter from the authorities telling me I needed to return to my home country to stand trial for being gay,” he says. “When my family found out, they disowned me. As far as my dad’s concerned, I’m dead.”
A close friend of Warren’s advised him to claim asylum in the UK. At the time, there was no precedent for people being granted refugee status on the basis of being LGBTQI+. “My case was the one that changed the law,” Warren explains.
It took five long years, but eventually Warren was granted refugee status in the UK. He has now lived in the UK for 30 years and is a British citizen. In 2006, he married Howard, his partner of 20 years. “I’m his rock and he’s mine and he’s stuck by me through everything,” Warren says. “Because my family abandoned me, I’ve always craved to have my own family—that’s what I’ve got with Howard.”
Meet Cristian: "I only want to be free, like we all deserve"
Cristian* lived in El Salvador his entire life until he was threatened for being gay and forced to leave in search of safety last year.
“You either you leave or die, and I did not want to put my family at risk,” Cristian says.
As soon as he could save up enough money for a bus ticket, Cristian made the three-day journey to Juárez, Mexico—a city just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. There, he found temporary refuge at a shelter for the LGBTQ+ community called RespeTrans, before venturing across the U.S. border to request asylum.
Cristian made his case to U.S. immigration officials, describing the danger he faced in his home country. But even though seeking asylum is legal—including during the COVID-19 pandemic—he was returned to Mexico under a policy called Title 42.
With the RespeTrans shelter unable to welcome him back, Cristian was at a loss in an unfamiliar city where many asylum seekers have been targeted with violence and extortion. That’s when he found the IRC-supported “triage” hotel in Juárez, where asylum seekers can safely quarantine for 14 days during the pandemic before moving to longer-term shelters.
Relieved to have found a safe haven, Cristian began helping out as a volunteer at the hotel while waiting for his next chance to request asylum in the U.S.
Despite finding safety and a sense of purpose at the IRC-supported hotel, Cristian continued to face discrimination and acts of homophobia against him while living in Mexico. Finally, in May 2021, Cristian was able to cross into the U.S. again. He’s now in Los Angeles, waiting for his asylum case to be processed.
“I am who I am, and I feel good with it. I only want to be free, like we all deserve,” he says.
This Pride Month—and every day—we’re proud to support asylum seekers like Cristian and help create a world of welcome for those fleeing violence and persecution.
*Last name omitted for privacy