Center Global at their 4th annual reception on Thursday presented the Global Advocate and Global Courage Awards.
A project of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, Center Global welcomes LGBT and intersex asylum seekers from all over the globe and provides the assistance they need during the asylum process.
“Those who arrive in this area after escaping persecution abroad are fortunate to have Center Global and its hardworking volunteers,” said Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global.
Center Global Chair Matthew Corso presented the Global Advocate Award to Dr. Chloe Schwenke, a human rights and social inclusion activist.
“When we talk about refugees and asylum seekers, and actually all of us that are LGBTI, we have been fighting the battle against ‘no’ all our lives,” Schwenke said in her speech.
Holding an award that celebrated a career spanning more than three decades, she paid tribute to the individuals she has helped.
“For refugees and asylum seekers, that ‘no’ is so strong that you’ve reached the terrible point of having to leave your own country, and your own friends and networks behind,” said Schwenke.
Schwenke, a transgender woman, has worked actively with LGBT and intersex persons in countries where they are most under threat.
“I can stand in solidarity with my trans sisters and brothers around the world, and I do, but I don’t speak for them, they speak for themselves. And I have such incredible faith for their quest for the ‘yes,’” she said.
Two individuals were honored with the Global Courage Award, recognizing their efforts in promoting LGBT human rights, assisting vulnerable LGBT and intersex populations in their home countries and continuing these efforts here in the U.S.
For 20 years Paty Hernandez served as director of a trans advocacy group, Aspidh Rainbow, in El Salvador. She fled to the U.S. in 2014 due to anti-trans violence, and now works as a director at Casa Ruby, which provides assistance to LGBT and intersex individuals.
Speaking through an interpreter, Hernandez used her to speech to make a plea for immigration lawyers willing to working pro bono in a bid to cut down long waiting lists.
“I’m really, really lucky, but many transgendered sisters came from El Salvador, or from other countries, looking to be happy, but they don’t have the opportunity to reach an attorney because they are really expensive,” she said.
Fellow recipient Temitope “Temi” Oke served as an HIV prevention worker in Nigeria for more than four years. In early 2014 he sought asylum in the U.S. after the government began to criminalize LGBT and intersex people.
“People were after me, because they believed that as a program officer, providing HIV prevention for men who have sex with men, believe that I am converting young men to be homosexuals,” he said.
Temi is now the founder and active member of a support group exclusively for LGBT asylum seekers and asylees.
“Luckily for me I met someone from Center Global, I came in contact with Center Global,” he said. “Through Center Global and the D.C. Center, my life turned around.”