Massachusetts City Becomes A Haven for Persecuted Gays
In 80 nations worldwide, it’s a crime to be gay or lesbian. In some places, same-sex intimacy between consenting adults can be punished with steep fines, jail time--or even death. In countries without harsh legal penalties, the social costs, including harassment and murder, might be tolerated by officials disinclined to offer the protection of the law to gays.
But in Massachusetts, one of the focal points in the birth of modern democracy, the town of Worcester is a beacon in a new cause: that of GLBT equality.
According to a July 21 in the Worcester Telegram, Massachusetts is regarded by gay asylum seekers as a state where they might get a fair hearing; Worcester County is a hot spot within the state for GLBTs of various nationalities who have fled persecution in their countries of origin.
The article cited the case of a young Jamaican man, who saw a friend beset and beaten by a mob; when the police arrived, they simply watched.
The article also related the story of a gay Ugandan man who was taken captive and subjected to torments; after that, his business was razed by the government.
A Lebanese man was also profiled, a Muslim with nowhere to turn because both secular and religious law condemned him for being gay.
The article said that Lutheran Social Services of Worcester and Hadwen Park Congregational Church, also in Worcester, were instrumental in helping gay refugees looking for safety in America.
Gay refugees have an especially critical need for assistance: they are not allowed employment without a green card, and unlike other minorities, they may be abandoned without resources or assistance by their own families.
The article quoted Hawden Park Congregational Church’s Rev. Judith Hanlon as saying, "There’s literally no place for these people to go.
"They’re alienated from everyone, even their own families in many cases."
Such a safe haven here in the United States reflects the legal and social gains gays have made here over the last two decades, the article noted.
In 1990, for example, gays could be banned from entering the country, the article said, because they could be labeled as being "sexually deviant," despite homosexuality having been stricken from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental illnesses in the early 1970s.
Four years later, the possibility of seeking asylum became possible for persecuted gays.
Among countries noted for legal and social persecution of gays, Jamaica is particularly notorious--partly because of anti-gay reggae music, and partly because of media attention to the brutal beatings and killings inflicted upon gays there.
A June 20 Associated Press article related how one young gay man was attacked by a mob of thugs armed with knives, who slashed and beat him before leaving him for dead.
The article said that far from being of any assistance to gay victims, police themselves have been known to be the victimizers in anti-gay crimes.
Underlying the vicious anti-gay violence is a streak of religious rhetoric in which gays are blamed for inciting the violence that befalls them, and encouraged to undergo "therapeutic" processes meant to "convert" them to heterosexuals.
Such rhetoric is not uncommon the United States; despite legal gains made by gay families and individuals in recent years, high-profile stories of young GLBTs being attacked, driven to suicide, or sent to "reparative therapy" programs that mental health experts fear may do more harm than good periodically make headlines.
In one recent instance, friends of a young gay medical student lost contact with him and feared that he had been sent into just such a program.
Such programs can be lengthy--more than a year, in some cases--and entail isolation.
Indeed, in theocracies such as Iran, gays are particularly prone to mistreatment, prejudice, persecution, and killing; in one infamous instance, two teenagers found guilty of being gay were hung.
As reported at EDGE in a July 20 article, the severity of anti-gay persecution in Iran causes many gays to flee the country, heading to Turkey and then, if they are lucky, to Canada or other countries with secular governments where they might be granted asylum and allowed to live in freedom.
But the road to liberty is a long and difficult one, with no guarantee of eventual success; the EDGE article quoted Tim Murphy, a journalist for gay publication Out Magazine, as saying that, "[The refugees] get stuck in Turkey for this red tape process for years--one, two or more and you can never figure out why some peoples’ process moves faster than others. They live in limbo."
Added Murphy, "The atmosphere is very conservative; it’s a bizarre, unwelcoming twilight zone.
"You have no idea when you’ll finally be able to settle and exhale."
The EDGE article went on to report, "A report released last month jointly by the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s Turkey Refugee Advocacy and Support Program and the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM) outlined some of the challenges facing LGBT refugees in the country."
EDGE quoted from the report, which related that displaced gay refugees "are subject to a particularly caustic mix of marginalization in key areas of life, preventing them from obtaining assistance or employment, and depriving them of even the most basic security during their lengthy stay."
The report was drawn from interviews with nearly four dozen gay refugees ion Turkey, and it noted that, "Most live out their time in Turkey in destitution and desperation."
But the exodus of gays from such oppressive regimes also has an impact on neighboring countries.
In the case of Turkey, more refugees of all sorts have poured into the country in the wake of the U.S. occupancy of Iraq; indeed, Iran is not the only nation that sends persecuted gays looking for safety elsewhere: reports of religiously mandated killings of gays in Iraq have appeared in the media in recent months.
And while Turkey may be safer than Iran or Iraq, GLBT people are still at risk there, as are other refugees. Reported EDGE, "Already this year, ten transgender and gay people have been murdered within the country’s borders, the result of both the conservative environment and limited police protection."
The article quoted the director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, Scott Long, who said of Iranian refugees in that country, "Turkey doesn’t like refugees.
"They have to huddle, are subject to violence, are harassed and are accused of being devil worshippers," Long continued.
"In some ways, it replicates their experience in Iran.
"The more of them there are, the more susceptible they will be."
Reports of such persecution spring from closer to U.S. borders, as well; despite progress for GLBT Mexicans in that country’s largest urban center, Mexico City, gays and lesbians in Mexico and other Central American nations also have a hard time of it.
A July 21 article at Carnal Nation’s San Francisco site related that a Mexican couple who had fled to Canada were seeking permission to remain in the country in order to avoid being sent back to Mexico, where they say they were subjected to anti-gay harassment.
Norma Angelica Gomez and her life partner Alina Gallegos claim that police in Mexico beat them.
The article quoted Lee, who said, "At home we were constantly persecuted for being lesbians."