If you told me five years ago that I would be doing yoga every day, studying English, and starting my own nonprofit in New York City, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Growing up in a conservative family in Venezuela, I struggled with my sexuality. I faced the hard truth that living openly as a gay man put me at risk of physical abuse. I came to the U.S. with no resources or support network, so I’m extremely grateful I found Immigration Equality. They took on my asylum case without asking me for a penny—and won.
When I left my family and friends behind, I hit my lowest point. I was diagnosed with cancer, and also needed treatment because I’m HIV-positive. Depressed, scared, and alone, I relied on the kindness of strangers to turn my life around.
Thanks to Immigration Equality, I have a future. Winning asylum and beating cancer inspired me to help others. Now that I’m in remission, I’m planning a program in my community to support people battling drug and alcohol addiction.
The amazing lawyers at Immigration Equality inspired me to give back, and I hope they inspire you, too.
During the 46 days I spent in immigration detention, officers called me “Mr. 876 Russia.” They treated me like a criminal and erased my identity—but I fought back, and today I’m standing strong.
My name is Denis, and I’m a gay man from Russia living with HIV. In 2013, the Russian government passed a deeply homophobic law, which painted people like me as perverts who were killing the country. Vigilante groups attacked and raped gay men, then posted the videos online. I lived in constant fear. Ultimately, I had no choice but to escape to the United States.
I landed in San Francisco—the best place on this planet for queer people. For the first time in my life, my sexual orientation didn’t put me in danger. I could be open about all aspects of my life. It was magical. I joined a support group for HIV-positive people, and I finally felt safe. I knew I couldn’t go back to Russia, where the situation was becoming more hopeless.
I applied for asylum, and with my case underway, I could travel within the country. I took a week-long vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands, but on my way back home to San Francisco, immigration officers stopped me, interrogated me, and arrested me. I explained my status as an asylum seeker, but they ignored me.
They flew me to a detention center in Miami where they put me in handcuffs, ankle bracelets, and wrapped a chain around my waist. I felt scared and alone. My situation was bleak, but I’m grateful I had the support of Immigration Equality. They were a lifeline for me when I had nowhere else to turn.
While I was detained, I lost control over my health and the ability to manage my HIV. ICE held me in a room with 100 other people, and due to my compromised immune system, I was vulnerable to infections. Within a week of being detained, I developed a fungal infection, fever, and insomnia from stress.
My lawyer from Immigration Equality explained to an immigration judge that each day I spent in ICE custody, my life was in danger. But he didn’t seem to care. He wouldn’t let me attend my asylum hearing or halt my deportation proceedings. I endured another month in detention and even spent my 30th birthday there. I was a criminal in the eyes of the U.S. government.
Despite my situation, I consider myself fortunate. Immigration Equality alerted the media and members of Congress who pressured the government to release me. After 46 days in detention, I was finally free. I had people fighting for me, and that’s not the case for many queer, trans, and HIV-positive asylum seekers. Now more than ever, people in detention need access to Immigration Equality’s legal services.
The last five years of my life have been a rollercoaster ride. I went from being scared to walk the streets in Moscow, to feeling safe in San Francisco, to being terrified in ICE detention. Now my life is stable, and I have hope for the future. I’m overjoyed to tell you that in July 2019, I won asylum! I couldn’t have done this without Immigration Equality.
Now, I’m proud to say I’m an advocate, too. I flew to Washington, D.C. to tell Congress face-to-face that no one should ever have to go through what I did. I asked our policymakers to help LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers find what we can’t in our home countries: support, safety, and the freedom to be who we are.
The LGBTQ community, and all asylum seekers, deserve better. We deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. That’s what Immigration Equality fights for every day. To dismantle obstacles to those seeking safe haven. To clear the path for LGBTQ and HIV-positive asylum seekers.
Immigration Equality was a lifeline for me, and with your help, will continue to be a lifeline to so many others in detention.
I fell in love with America during my first visit as a young student over 20 years ago. I quickly learned what this country is all about—a place where people with vastly different viewpoints can live side by side. Now, even though I grew up on the other side of the world, America is the only place I call home. I love living here.
My childhood was shaped by the collapse of the Soviet Union and years of civil war. Growing up, homophobia was all around me. I was blackmailed by someone who threatened to out me publicly. Faced with violence or even death, I knew I had to get out. I fled Georgia in 2008 and came back to the United States. When I needed support the most, Immigration Equality was there to help me apply for asylum, and they helped me every step of the way.
The asylum process was not easy for me. It lasted several years, and the uncertainty about my future affected my personal and professional life. So when I got that call that I won asylum, I felt enormous relief. That was a decade ago, and Immigration Equality has stuck by my side ever since. When it was time to apply for my green card, Immigration Equality was right there to support me.
Since winning asylum, I’ve become a celebrated artist, channeling my experiences into my work. I’ve collaborated in a global campaign partnership with Montblanc, created a large-scale wall mural at PayPal’s headquarters, and designed a one-of-a-kind car for Cadillac during Art Basel Miami. My paintings and drawings have been shown in exhibits around the world and I’ve held residencies at the Visual Artists Group in Los Angeles and the Mandrake in London. Still, despite my success, I knew I wouldn’t feel a sense of security until I became a U.S. citizen.
That moment finally arrived last year. When the judge congratulated me after the swearing-in ceremony, I was glowing. I hadn’t smiled that big in years. For me, that day represented something I always wanted—to live a healthy, proud, and free life.
Here in the United States, I am celebrated as a queer, contemporary artist and muralist. I can proudly be who I am, wherever I am, existing without fear of persecution because I’m gay. Without the continuous generosity of Immigration Equality supporters, this may never have been possible.
As LGBTQ people, we are told again and again that we are the underdogs, the misfits, that we are not welcome, not good enough, not straight enough, not tall enough. But Immigration Equality tells us that we are enough, that they accept us and will fight for us without asking us to change.
There’s always going to be a little queer kid somewhere that needs help, whether it’s helping them fill out an application, getting them out of a detention center, or giving them hope to leave a country where they won’t be able to safely wake up the next morning.
Not only am I now a U.S. citizen, but I am also a proud donor to Immigration Equality. I hope you will join me in supporting the next generation of Americans hoping to bring their own inspirations to our beautiful country.
Imagine the pain of hiding your love for your partner and of living in constant fear in your own home. For Darion and Brenton, this was the reality back home in Jamaica.
Married in New York City in 2011, the two men were forced to keep their marriage and love a secret from their families and neighbors when they returned to Jamaica to avoid violence and persecution. When they began receiving death threats, the couple fled to the U.S., knowing that staying in Jamaica would be a deadly option.
The legal team at Immigration Equality secured Darion and Brenton’s permanent safety here in America in winning their case for asylum.
No one should face death or violence because of who they are or who they love, and we will continue working to ensure that couples like Darion and Brenton have the freedom to live and love safely and openly.
Our clients come to the U.S. from every region of the world seeking safe haven from persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or HIV-status. The road to asylum can take years, and some are detained in dangerous conditions as they pursue their claims. Here are a few of their stories.
The State Department treats children born abroad to married U.S. citizens as born “out of wedlock,” denying them U.S. citizenship. We currently represent four families who are leading the fight to change this discriminatory, unconstitutional policy—not only for themselves but for all LGBTQ families.
Since the first day I met my wife, Cecily, we’ve been inseparable.
We fell in love when she was in a U.S. Navy training program, visiting St. Maarten on vacation. At the time, she was awaiting active duty deployment in Japan, so after she left, I feared I would never see her again.
It’s dangerous to be a lesbian in St. Maarten, and it’s illegal for us to marry there. I had few options for reuniting with Cecily in the U.S. before it was too late. Desperate to see her, I called Immigration Equality for help.
They gave us free legal services, advocated fiercely for us to be together, and succeeded! I made it to the U.S. in time to start my life with Cecily before she was deployed.
I can’t imagine my life without her, and I don’t want any immigrant to fear being separated from their loved ones.
Fast forward to five years later, and we have a beautiful two-year-old daughter, Adaliza. She’s the other love of my life and keeps me going when Cecily is out at sea.
Alena is a small business owner, jewelry designer, and genderqueer lesbian from Tatarstan, Russia. When they came to the United States in 2009 in search of freedom, openness, and safety, they didn’t have any money, had little education, and did not speak much English.
But with Immigration Equality’s help Alena was granted asylum. After receiving a green card, Alena started her own jewelry business, which today employs eight people and creates jewelry from 100% reclaimed gold.
Last summer, Alena became a U.S. citizen. “The day I took my oath, I felt like the heaviest weight was lifted—it felt like freedom.”