Church’s ‘A Closer Look’ on immigration series addresses LGBTIQ+ migration issues

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted May 1, 2024

During The Episcopal Church’s April 26, 2024 webinar, “A Closer Look: LGBTQIA2S+ Migration,” participants learned about the unique challenges and legal hurdles LGBTIQ+ migrants face in their home countries and in the countries where they seek asylum and resettlement. Photo: Screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] In 2023, Episcopal Migration Ministries launched the Rainbow Initiative to help bring attention to the special needs of LGBTIQ+ migrants who not only face persecution, discrimination and violence in their home countries, but also often in the countries where they seek asylum and resettlement.

Last Week, The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations along with Episcopal Migration Ministries hosted the first in a virtual three-part series on immigration. Ninety people attended the hourlong “A Closer Look: LGBTQIA2S+ Migration webinar.

Watch the entire webinar here.

“LGBTQIA2S+” stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and the “+” symbol represents the many other sexual orientations and gender identities that are not explicitly included in the acronym. The inclusive term is meant to acknowledge the diverse and expansive spectrum of human sexuality and gender expression.

Craig Mortley, a University of Connecticut Ph.D. student in social work with experience working with LGBTIQ+ asylum-seekers, addressed the unique challenges and legal hurdles LGBTIQ+ migrants face, sometimes including placement in hostile housing arrangements with other straight and cisgender migrants. Same-sex parents risk family separation in the resettlement process when home countries don’t recognize the parents’ relationship.

“In the U.S., most folks can move away from states or areas that are intolerant to more tolerant, but the same cannot be said for queer individuals who live in countries where they don’t have certain rights or where their rights are limited,” Mortley said in the April 26 webinar. “Additionally, in the U.S., we do have anti-discrimination laws. Even though some of those laws are being eroded over the course of time, at least there are some protections available for folks that are not available for many who are displaced within their own countries of origin.”

Sixty-four countries criminalize private, consensual, same-sex relations, and almost half of these countries are in Africa; homosexuality is punishable by death in 12 countries, according to data collected by the Human Dignity Trust, a United Kingdom-based charity organization focused on using strategic litigation to defend LGBTIQ+ rights globally.

Mortley said most of the academic research around refugees and forced displacement don’t consider LGBTIQ+ migrants’ experiences. Also, many LGBTIQ+ migrants will marry someone of the opposite sex in their home countries “in order to preserve their life.” Mortley also said several migrant resettlement agencies he’s connected with can’t provide demographic data because there’s no system to collect that information. For these reasons, the exact number of forcibly displaced LGBTIQ+ people globally is unclear.

Additionally, Mortley said that because resettlement agencies tend to group migrants together by country of origin, many LGBTIQ+ migrants are ostracized by fellow migrants.

“One of the things that we have to be mindful of is that people who do get resettled come with their own cultural values and norms,” he said. “Because of stigma and discrimination, many folks who identify as queer are then marginalized, and they continue to be oppressed by their diasporic community members.”

During the presentation, Mortley pointed out that transgender migrants face unique challenges of their own. For example, having documents that conflict with their gender identity and pronouns can limit access to being resettled. Transgender and nonbinary migrants have also experienced being physically abused and harassed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials while in custody.

Webinar participants were able to ask questions using Zoom’s chat function. One person asked how challenging it is to advocate for LGBTIQ+ migrant rights in conservative states.

“You have to determine for yourself how much you can risk getting involved in changing the narrative and fighting against discrimination … but you are also looking at those risks as congregations,” Mortley said. “We can be safe spaces for folks and to have solidarity that we’re with them in their fight.”

Another person asked for suggestions on how to support LGBTIQ+ migrants while acknowledging that many of them have been traumatized by organized religion.

“Find ways to help folks be connected with services, to help them work through some of those troubles that they have,” Mortley said. “This might be through mental health services or helping to connect them to support groups or being able to offer those support groups [at church].”

The second webinar in the three-part immigration series will address the impact of state-level immigration laws and policies. It will take place on May 3 at 1 p.m. Eastern via Zoom. The third and final webinar in the series will provide a broad overview of U.S. immigration policy and explain the Temporary Protected Status program in detail. It is scheduled for May 10 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

EMM created the Rainbow Initiative in response to a 2022 General Convention resolution in support of LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum-seekers. The initiative carries out this work in partnership with Episcopal churches nationwide and with international partners. Its website includes resources on how individuals and congregations can support LGBTIQ+ migrants. Episcopalians interested in engaging in advocacy work for LGBTIQ+ migrants also can learn more by visiting the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s website.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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