A black Audi broke my stride. Three men accosted me in an instant. I had never seen any of them before. They were in their mid-twenties and all much larger than me, making it impossible to resist when they forced me into their car. Through their stale breath, I was told to shut up if I wanted to live, as I was held there at knifepoint.
My attackers sped ahead toward the public beach road on streets I knew by heart. After approximately 20 minutes of being cooped up in these sordid conditions, the car came to a sudden halt. The mockery and taunting escalated very quickly to hostile interrogation.
"Are you that gay kid?" one of them began.
"How shameful for you to have long hair and such feminine features!"
"What are you doing? Who do you think you are?"
Then one of them gripped his hands around my neck and began strangling me. "If you ever talk about LGBT rights, human rights, or that equality for everyone stuff again, we'll drown you in the lake."
I tried to hold back the tears. But I started crying and pleaded for them to let me go. My pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead, someone punched me in the gut.
"Stop being such a fag. Real guys don't cry. You're just a mistake of nature."
"Let's just beat the gay out of him."
Horrified and fearing for my life, I became certain that they had taken me with the intention of killing me. They held me by the neck. I could not stop screaming. They told me that if I didn't stop screaming, they would hurt me more. Their abuse only continued.
"You gays are trying to contaminate our community. All fags must be annihilated," someone shouted at me.
The last thing I remember was being thrown out of the car and kicked in the stomach. They screamed that if I told anyone, they would kill me. The hum of the Audi faded as it drove away down the beach road. The wave melodies played on even as I lay face down, stunned and broken.
Even after nine years, the memories of that day back in the Kyrgyz Republic still haunt me: their putrid smoker's breath is forever engraved in my senses; their loud slurs ring constantly in my ears; the impact of their punches feel as though they are synced inside me. Sometimes when I feel I'm finally safe, I suddenly feel their spit streaming down my face again.
I believe that I survived each attack only because those who tormented me enjoyed seeing me suffer for a "crime" of being different and even then look forward to harming me until they escalate to the inevitable point where I will no longer survive their assaults.
As a great believer in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, I sought political asylum in the U.S. I did not come to the U.S. to take advantage of its resources, I came to the U.S. to be safe and to live in freedom. However, the current administration's attitude towards asylum seekers is horrifying. From separating families at the border to lowering the admission number of refugees. The U.S is no longer seen as a place where people like me can find refuge like I did. It is time for Congress to restore its leadership in protecting the LGBTQ rights at home and abroad.
On December 10, 2019, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Representative Dina Titus of Nevada will be re-introducing the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality Act in Congress. This bill includes a variety of life-saving initiatives not only for the LGBTQ asylum seekers, but also for the LGBTQ individuals around the world. It includes imposing sanctions for violations of human rights against LGBTQ people and engaging international organizations in the fight against LGBTQ discrimination. Specifically for asylum seekers, this bill codifies LGBTQ identities as a social group for asylum and refugee determinations. This allows asylum seekers to disclose without fear the reason they faced persecution was their LGBTQ identity.
I've met many fellow LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. They are resilient, resourceful, and profoundly respectful despite having to endure systematic hatred and other obstacles. I hope America will continue welcoming immigrants as it had welcomed a long line of others who came here to escape terror and death, and have lived to bring luster and dignity to the country we now call home.
Sayid Abdullaev is a storyteller and human rights advocate based in New York City. Sayid is a member of the 2019 AdColor's Futures program, Digital Diversity Network's 2019 Change Agent and 2020 Forbes 30 under 30.