by Pastor Judy Hanlon, Senior Minister, Hadwen Park Congregational Church (Worcester, MA) and co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force
This ministry is endorsed by the Justice & Witness Council of the Massachusetts Conference
Let me tell you how being an ONA church helps and how our national website saved a life. Juan came from El Salvador to San Diego but contacted me in Worcester via the internet. I used the www.ucc.org site to find ONA churches then, called Rev Jane Quadt, UCC pastor in Riverside California. After finding her, we fed-exed a phone with internet on it so that we might direct Juan to safe places and safe people. We were able to get pastors, drivers, housing, social support, legal support and transportation so that he could thrive in California. He worked with an asylum lawyer and achieved legal status. Juan is now settled in San Francisco, working, living independently and furthering his education.
Did you know that there are over 70 countries in which it is illegal to be gay? Our Task Force has helped over 100 people from 17 countries including Jamaica, El Salvador, Iraq, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Lebanon and Palestine. Some have found us through our website, www.lgbtasylum.org. Others have friends that made it here and their gay friends told them about this Task Force. Some heard about our church and its welcoming stance from medical doctors who were treating their PTSD. One lesbian from Cameroon heard about us in Boston at Fenway Health. Not knowing the area, one Sunday morning she took a bus, then had to walk nearly a mile, just in hopes of finding a sanctuary; a community, the love of God and the amazing grace that Jesus offers. She did!
The LGBT Asylum Task Force is a ministry of Hadwen Park Congregational Church, UCC, in Worcester, MA, where I serve as the senior minister. Religious abuse, both fundamentalist Muslim and fundamentalist Christian, is something from which all asylum seekers must heal. I can provide exegetical work on the eight Christian “clobber texts” and will simply pray to the God of our flamboyant universe with our Muslim friends. One Jamaican man said that deacons prayed over him for eight hours that the demon of homosexuality would come OUT OF HIM! For months after being safe in America, he had night terrors about that event!
We would love to come and tell you how to replicate what we are doing. You will be able to hear stories directly from the asylum seekers. These stories will include violence, incarceration, death and governmental abuse. It will break your heart as it has broken ours. However, the courage and love of God that these brothers and sister portray is incredibly inspirational.
Here is a short story of a woman whose name I will not divulge. She is living closeted right now, and is experiencing harassment by her Ugandan landlord.
"My name is Jane. I am from Uganda and am a lesbian. My family tried to have me marry, but I resisted. I decided to have a baby so that I could have a “cover.” Plus, I always dreamed of motherhood and couldn’t figure how that would happen with a woman. I met what I thought was a suitable man. I got pregnant. Then, he began to beat me and sell me for sex. I was kept locked up. He would bring multiple men to me daily during my pregnancy. I had the baby; it was a girl. I had two weeks off before he began to sell me for sex again. I tried to run, he caught me and brought me back. When I ran away again, I could not take my baby. My story after that is very sad and long. Finally, I got to America. I found the Task Force and could not believe that a minister said that being gay was God’s gift. I now have friends and others who have gone through what I have gone through. I don’t have asylum yet, but I can see hope and with hope, I will continue to fight for my freedom. When I am safe and can speak, I will advocate for all the children of Uganda who are starving for food, starving for hope and starving just to be accepted for who they were created to be. Until then, I hope that you can advocate on our behalf! Thank you to America."
On June 11, 2014, Linford Cunningham - co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Task Force and the first asylum seeker to walk through Hadwen Park Church's doors back in 2008 - became a U.S. citizen. It was Linford's story of abuse due to his sexual orientation in his home country of Jamaica, and his interest in helping others who were also suffering abuse, that helped bring about the formation of the task force that has now helped over 100 people from 17 countries. Linford is a member of the UCC and a sought-after speaker at churches throughout the country. Congratulations, Linford!