In my home country I was shot at, stoned, and mobbed because I am gay. If you go on the road for the day, at least three times you could possibly encounter a scenario where someone would say gay people are deserving of death. The home of one of my closest friends was invaded. When the mob saw pictures of him embracing his lover, they said to him, “you are a battyman.” Batty man is the term used for gay persons there. A day later, his body was found. They killed him. In the gay community, people talked about a number of prominent people who have been killed. Over several decades, I felt increasingly horrified, disrespected, rejected, and sad. So, I made the decision to leave for a vacation because I had it up to my nostrils with the homophobic things people would say and do around me. While I was on a visit to Los Angeles, a friend from home called and said, “Don’t come back.” He told me there’s an opportunity to stay in the states and seek asylum. He said, “I’m going to make a call, send an email, and get back to you.” He did, and I was introduced to the LGBT Asylum Task Force which is a Ministry of the United Church of Christ and that’s how I arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts. But, I am still so haunted by the violence in my home country that I’m writing under a pseudonym to protect my friends and family from reprisals.
I applied for an asylum interview over one year ago. I am still waiting to hear from the USCIS Boston office regarding a date. Meanwhile, I’ve been making a difference by volunteering my time with the LGBT Asylum Task Force. In my work there I participate in mail appeals, and speak at church services and house parties to raise money and awareness of the important work the organization does to allow gay men and women from more than seventy homophobic countries worldwide to come to America and gain access to pro bono attorneys and receive support for housing and reasonably minimum daily living expenses.
I have also been volunteering with the Human Rights and Disabilities Commission in the Worcester Mayor’s office to jointly celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the 45th anniversary of the Center for Living and Working (CLW), a Worcester based a non-profit independent living center that empowers persons with disabilities through innovative programs. As an infant, I was impacted by Poliomyelitis, a highly infectious viral disease which invades the central nervous system, causing partial to total paralysis by impacting muscles and causing a range of physical deformities. Furthermore, I am now experiencing the effects of Post-Polio Syndrome or PPS, which includes symptoms such as increasing loss of muscular function and acute weakness with pain and fatigue. PPS is potentially progressive and can cause acute loss of muscle mass and strength. My journey with polio and my experience as a LGBTQ individual has sharpened my commitment to working on issues that create change and enhance wellbeing for socially and economically maligned persons such as those with disabilities and those of diverse sexual orientations living here in America.
Each year many thousands of immigrants legally or otherwise arrive at America’s land, sea and air points of entry, as students, tourists or persons fleeing persecution from their country of origin where many have encountered oppression that was meted out to them in gross and inhumane ways leaving them feeling less than dignified and stripped of their humanity. Once here they experience a new fear: the fear that the temporary reprieve they have been given will be taken away while they are waiting for an interview with the USCIS.
Immigration issues in this country are systemic and there is the real fear that any reprieve given to asylum seekers and other immigrants will be taken away while waiting for an interview with USCIS. It is unfortunate that in this 21st century immigrants are subjected to human rights abuses. Every effort should be made to utilize democratic best practices and procedures in an equitable and fair manner so that all residents, immigrants and citizens alike, will be able to strive towards living the American dream, an opportunity which they should never be denied.
Attracted here by the hope of the freedom to live a fulfilled life, immigrants are in possession of a wide array of vocational, academic and professional skills which makes them ready to contribute to the overall development of this great country. For example, a draft report produced in 2017 by the Trump administration’s Health and Human Services Department calculated, “the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.” Immigrantscontinue to play a vital role in building the economic, cultural, and social fortunes of America.
Importantly, this nation was created to ensure the protection of human rights including, “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.” It epitomizes diversity and has always built bridges and forged partnerships of hope. America needs to return to the days when it demonstrated understanding, respect and support for the common good of fundamental freedoms and human rights through strengthening its core values. I want America to become America again, a place where I along with other immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities can live without fear in a free and more inclusive society.
Poet Langston Hughes wrote “Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be, let it be the pioneer on the plain seeking a home where he himself is free. Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed.”
I humbly say America, be all and do all by remembering your dream.
Submitted under a pseudonym for the protection of the author’s family and friends still in his home country.
We, Too, Are America is made possible through “Democracy and the Informed Citizen,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Council through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.