Recognition of the unique vulnerabilities of LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers is growing, thanks to organizations who, like EMM through our Rainbow Initiative, have chosen to uplift this population during this year’s Pride Month and World Refugee Day. In this spirit, we want to share this powerful message from Genevieve Marshall, director of health and integration services at the Center for New Americans, a unit of InterFaith Works of Central New York (one of EMM’s affiliates), a message originally written for IFWCNY’s June newsletter.  

As Genevieve notes, threats to the safety and integrity of people who identify as LGBTQIA+ are not merely a problem “elsewhere,” but also in the U.S., as evidenced most recently by the flood of anti-trans legislation. In response to these dehumanizing policies, we are all called to re-examine the principles and practices of the places where we live, work, worship, and gather. We are called to advocate for fair policies and the changes needed to ensure equitable treatment of all people, and to affirm the power of “fearless love” and the inherent dignity of all human beings. Join InterFaith Works, the Syracuse community, EMM, The Episcopal Church, and many congregations across the country, to engage in the work of welcome as we follow the Way of Love.   

Credit goes to Anne Hayes and Melissa Newcombe for the photos from the Syracuse 2023 Pride parade featured above, and special thanks to Genevieve Marshall for allowing us to repost her message here.

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Syracuse Pride commenced this month as a joyous, passionate, and diverse celebration of visibility and affirmation for the LGBTQIA+ community. ‘Fearless Love’ is this year’s Pride parade and festival theme. The slogan, depicted against the backdrop of a pink triangle, is historical imagery reminding us that living life as your authentic self does not come without the potential for a lifetime of consequence, violence, dehumanization, and institutionalized discrimination. As the yellow Star of David badges were sewn onto the clothing of Jewish individuals in Nazi Germany, upside-down pink triangles were utilized in concentration camps to brand gay men as prisoners. During 12 years, it is estimated that 65 percent of the LGBTQIA+ community residing in concentration camps died. Decades after the tragedy, the pink triangle has been reclaimed as a symbol of pride, empowerment, and safety. 

Seventy-eight years after the end of World War II, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni just signed one of the world’s most extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ pieces of legislation in modern history. Under this bill, LGBTQIA+ individuals in Uganda face criminalization, including life in prison and the death penalty. Additionally, this legislation penalizes community members for not reporting LGBTQIA+ individuals to authorities and encourages both employment terminations and housing evictions. In Iran, another country that imposes the death penalty for LGBTQIA+ individuals, persecution and violence peaked earlier this year targeting LGBTQIA+ activists protesting for their right to live authentically. 

The United States has significant safety concerns of its own. Violence against LGBTQIA+ bodies is on the rise. Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director, Kimahli Powell, recently stated in a presentation that the United States is one of the top three countries, among Afghanistan and Uganda, where LGBTQIA+ individuals requested emergency assistance from the Toronto-based non-profit in 2022. Since the start of 2023 alone, 556 anti-trans bills have been introduced into legislative bodies across America. For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s difficult to be safe, especially during the visibility of Pride month.  

All the while, InterFaith Works is actively receiving LGBTQIA+ refugee clients from around the world. Designated as a priority group this year, LGBTQIA+ refugees are often fleeing persecution and violence for a myriad of reasons. Many have experienced compounded and pervasive trauma beyond what other refugee groups experience. Some have been disowned by their families, stating that the pain of that experience is worse than any war. Upon resettlement, LGBTQIA+ refugees also face an ethnic community that might not be willing to accept them, despite shared experiences of forced migration and other similar identities. 

Two things can be true: While we are proud of how far we have come in this fight, there is more work that needs to be done to allow all LGBTQIA+ community members to live and love fearlessly. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and do the work. Affirming the dignity of all, InterFaith Works stands ready to actively support all members of the LGBTQIA+ community locally, nationally, and abroad. We are committed to developing bold allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community through comprehensive and ongoing staff development training, installation of visible and affirming signage throughout our building, and the celebration of LGBTQIA+ identities across all agency levels. InterFaith Works is committed to cultivating a safe and affirming environment where LGBTQIA+ identities thrive and where all people are empowered to authentically and fearlessly love.