Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Massachusetts Church Opens Safe Haven for LGBTQ+ Asylum-Seekers

Asylum-seeking forms

LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers are finding refuge at a church in Massachusetts that has opened a home for those fleeing their home countries due to their sexuality or gender identity.

Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester raised more than $500,000 to buy and redo a three-story former group home that it has made into a haven for queer asylum-seekers.

The first three residents moved in over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the Associated Press.

“I don’t even have the words,” Alain Spyke, 26, who fled Jamaica after he was threatened by a local gang for being gay, said. “To come into this country and have a safe space to escape all the hardships and trauma? Not everyone has that opportunity.”

The church’s LGBT Asylum Task Force ministry had previously housed asylum-seekers in rented apartments. However, as the program has grown, it’s become more challenging to coordinate such an endeavor, according to the ministry’s director, Al Green.

The program also provides asylum-seekers with a $500 a month stipend until they can receive work authorization. That can take up to two years, Green told the AP. Besides the housing and stipend, the program also connects asylum-seekers with lawyers, banks, and assists with health insurance.

“We found that giving folks stability has helped them better prepare for their asylum cases,” said Green, who is also from Jamaica and participated in the program himself. “They know they’re in a safe place until they can get on their feet.”

Hadwen Park Congregational Church’s pastor, Judith Hanlon, co-founded the ministry. Hanlon said that the program is one of only a handful in the U.S. to help queer asylum-seekers long-term. There are other groups that assist queer individuals in escaping their home countries or providing safe housing for a certain amount of time.

The ministry at Hadwen Park began in 2008. The congregation joined a movement at the time to support a single gay man from Jamaica. Afterward, other gay men from Jamaica and LGBTQ+ people from other countries began coming to the churches — sometimes even unannounced.

The program is assisting 21 asylum-seekers now. Over the years, it has helped more than 400. All have won asylum, Hanlon said.

One arrival to the ministry is Aisha. She went to the ministry last December after fleeing Uganda and now lives in one of the apartments the ministry rents. A 25-year-old Muslim woman, she says she was forced into a marriage to a man 30 years older after her parents found out she had a long-term girlfriend.

She told the AP that she’s grateful the church doesn’t push its beliefs on her. “They’re really accepting me as I am, and that’s been heartwarming,” she said.

The home’s opening comes as advocates continue to push the Biden administration over undoing rules that made declaring asylum more difficult. LGBTQ+ asylum-seekers can seek asylum in the same category as those fleeing due to their religion, race, or political opinions.

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