Episcopal Migration Ministries launches initiative to help LGBTQ+ migrants, seeks input through survey

By Egan Millard
Posted Jan 30, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Episcopal Migration Ministries, the churchwide program that resettles refugees in the United States, is launching a new initiative to help Episcopalians welcome migrants fleeing anti-LGBTQ+ persecution.

The Rainbow Initiative, created in response to a General Convention resolution, will help Episcopal congregations understand the circumstances of LGBTQ+ migrants who are forcibly displaced, create new partnerships with other groups and organize events for Pride Month in June 2023. It also involves a churchwide survey, open until Feb. 20, assessing Episcopalians’ knowledge of – and participation in – efforts to welcome LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers.

Take the survey here:

English: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZCDDS38

Spanish: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZCP6GWK

French: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZJT65MG

“While EMM has been engaged in this work on the local affiliate level, we see this as an opportunity to further engage the wider church on the plight of LGBTQ+ forced migrants and the ways we can work together to provide education and support,” EMM Operations Director Sarah Shipman said in a statement announcing the initiative.

Working with Max Niedzwiecki, an expert in the intersection of forced migration, faith and LGBTQ+ communities, EMM will plan Pride Month activities such as marches, services and events connecting with World Refugee Day on June 20. It will also conduct an extensive review of all of its materials and procedures to ensure that they are LGBTQ-inclusive.

The Rainbow Initiative comes in response to General Convention Resolution D045, passed at the 80th General Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, in July 2022. That resolution expressed support for the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration in their efforts to protect LGBTQ+ people, encouraged the U.S. to “actively accept” LGBTQ+ forced migrants and asylum-seekers, and asked EMM to “highlight the issues surrounding LGBTQI+ refugees and asylees and offer information on ways of support.”

A 2022 study from UCLA’s Williams Institute found that although LGBTQ+ people face dire threats in many parts of the world, they often face additional challenges in refugee and asylum systems, including a lack of awareness and information. Of the 26.6 million refugees and 4.4 million asylum seekers worldwide in 2021, the number who identify as LGBTQ+ is unknown, though most LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers in the U.S. come from the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador).

But the threats they face because of their identities are well documented. Homosexuality is illegal in 69 countries, and punishable by death in six. They can also live under the constant threat of violence, especially transgender people.

Anti-LGBTQ+ persecution is a valid reason for seeking asylum, but many people working in those systems may not know that, and seeking asylum for that reason effectively outs the person, which may put them in greater danger.

EMM, one of 10 official U.S. refugee resettlement agencies, helps new arrivals to the United States as they flee war, persecution and other dangers in their home countries. The church has welcomed more than 100,000 refugees since 1980

Among the possible Rainbow Initiative goals are new partnerships involving Episcopal congregations, forced migrants, U.S.-based resettlement agencies, community groups, and more, as well as programs to increase awareness and visibility, according to EMM, and the results of the survey will inform those efforts.

“Everyone connected in some way to The Episcopal Church is invited and encouraged to participate in the launch survey, an opportunity to share their experience, ideas, resources, and interest related to LGBTQ+ forced migration in the context of The Episcopal Church,” the release said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of official U.S. refugee resettlement agencies.

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.