CHICAGO — In an effort to increase housing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer persons fleeing persecution in their homelands, the Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program ( CLASP ) is holding a fundraiser on National Coming Out Day, Saturday, October 11, 5-8pm.
"A Taste of Africa" will feature menu items prepared by several of the men currently seeking asylum, including Nigerian favorites egusi and pounded yam, goat pepper soup, beef jollof rice, african fried rice, and bean cakes.
Underwritten by donors from Broadway United Methodist Church and the City Winery, the event will also offer an opportunity for people to hear the stories of asylum seekers in Chicago.
"Asylum seekers are often vulnerable," says Nigerian Kachi, "because most arrive in the U.S. without any protected legal status." Unlike refugees whose status is named before they leave their homeland, asylum-seekers do not have governmental legal or resettlement support once they arrive in the U.S. John Ademola Adewoye, co-founder of CLASP and director of the Center for Integration and Courageous Living ( CiCL ) — which provides direct services to the asylum-seekers — is host to those who've found a way to flee danger. Adewoye has opened his home to many who are seeking a pathway to safety and freedom. "Many of those who arrive here are traumatized," he says, "and they may experience depression or PTSD."
A faith-based organization that is part of LGBT-Faith & Asylum Network ( LGBT-FAN ), CLASP seeks to mobilize open and affirming and welcoming congregations to support asylum-seekers as they arrive in the U.S. and experience the waiting period between arrival and asylum status, which can take up to 18 months.
"We hope to change the narrative about God, too," says Rev. Lois McCullen Parr, Co-Pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church and co-founder of CLASP. Parr says that many of those seeking asylum have been told that their same-gender love or transgender identity is immoral and will be condemned by God. "Of course we've faced that hatred in the U.S., too," says Parr, "but the consequences in countries like Nigeria and Uganda where threats, jail time, or even the death penalty are sanctioned by law, makes our work even more critical."
Broadway member and CLASP volunteer MJ Grimshaw says that as summer weddings have celebrated full Marriage Equality in Illinois, the LGBTQ community's awareness of global needs is on the rise: "while we rejoice in marriage equality, at the same time we realize our privilege when we hear of and see images from LGBTQ persons being persecuted a continent away," she says. CLASP began earlier this year as faith leaders, former asylum-seekers who have achieved asylum, and current asylum-seekers came together to network with faith communities for direct services support and with legal services for assistance. Both Justice For Our Neighbors ( J-FON ) of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, and National Immigrant Justice Center ( NIJC ) through Heartland Alliance have provided pro-bono legal support services to those seeking asylum.
CLASP co-founder Dennis Ojiyoma Akpona considers himself a "graduate" of the CiCL, as he achieved asylum in April and by August was able obtain a work permit, a job, and his own apartment.
"Meeting basic needs — housing, food, clothing, transportation, and services for healthcare or psychological care — has become the focus of CLASP," says Akpona. We are trying to provide a net of support in the in-between-time, he says, we've been supported in fundraising efforts by local congregations, individuals, and the Gay Liberation Network. "As I moved into my own apartment, another person moved in the CiCL," he says, "so the need for additional housing continues to grow." For more information or an invitation to the "Taste of Africa" evening, please email Rev. Lois McCullen Parr at firstname.lastname@example.org; or give directly at www.broadwaychurchchicago.com/give .