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Shelters for LGBTQ asylum seekers on Mexico-US border ‘overwhelmed’

Nearly 50 people living at Jardín de las Mariposas in Tijuana

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The view from the backyard of Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico, in late May 2021. (Photo courtesy of Jon Atwell/Alight)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers was on assignment for the Washington Blade in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador from July 11-25.

TIJUANA, Mexico — Marvin is a 23-year-old gay man from Dulce Nombre, a municipality in Honduras’ Copán department.

He left Honduras with a migrant caravan on Jan. 13, 2020, in order to escape the discrimination he said he would have suffered if his family and neighbors knew he is gay. Marvin spent eight months in the custody of Mexican immigration officials until they released him last November.

He was in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in April when a cousin told him his younger brother had been murdered. Marvin, who is currently living at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, began to sob when the Blade saw a picture of his brother’s body in the morgue in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-largest city.

“He didn’t mess with anyone,” said Marvin.

Marvin is one of 47 people who were living at Jardín de las Mariposas when the Blade visited it on July 12. The shelter’s maximum capacity is 40.

A lesbian woman who asked the Blade not to publish her name said she fled El Salvador in January after MS-13 gang members threatened to kill her because she could not pay them the money they demanded from her. She said members of 18th Street, another gang, attacked her son after he refused to sell drugs.

“They hit him very hard; very, very hard,” the lesbian woman told the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas, speaking through tears.

Olvin, a 22-year-old gay man from El Progreso, a city in Honduras’ Yoro department, left the country in January.

He said he and his partner of three years lived together in Tapachula, a city in Mexico’s Chiapas state that is close to the country’s border with Guatemala, for several months. Olvin said gang members threatened them and they suffered discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

Olvin told the Blade he rescued his partner from an apartment building one night after he refused to sell drugs, and they ran to a nearby park. Olvin, who was crying when he spoke with the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas, said he left Tapachula a few days later without his partner.

Olvin arrived at the shelter a few hours before the Blade visited. He said he wants to ask for asylum in the U.S.

“I want to live in a safe place,” said Olvin.

Kelly West is a transgender woman who fled discrimination and persecution she said she suffered in Jamaica.

She flew to Panama City and then to Mexican city of Guadalajara before she arrived in Tijuana on June 16. West said she and a group of eight other LGBTQ asylum seekers tried to “run over the line at the border” between Mexico and the U.S., but Mexican police stopped them.

“We had to run for our lives,” West told the Blade at Jardín de las Mariposas. “I even ran without my shoes. I jumped over a bridge.”

She said she and three of the other asylum seekers with whom she tried to enter the U.S. went to another shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, but it was full. West said the shelter referred them to Jardín de las Mariposas.

“I really like it here,” she told the Blade. “Here I can be who I want, I can dress how I want to. I can wear my heels, I can wear my hair. I can just be feminine everyday.”

Kelly West, a transgender woman from Jamaica who has asked for asylum in the U.S., speaks at Jardín de las Mariposas, a shelter for LGBTQ migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 12, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jaime Marín, who runs Jardín de las Mariposas with his mother, Yolanda Rocha, noted some residents were sleeping in a tent in the backyard because the shelter is over capacity.

“We’re overpopulated with a lot of residents,” Marín told the Blade.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Vice President Kamala Harris and other administration officials have publicly acknowledged that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity is one of the “root causes” of migration from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The White House has told migrants not to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border, but Marín said the number of people who have traveled to Tijuana since President Biden took office has increased dramatically.

The previous White House forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to pursue their cases in Mexico under its Migrant Protection Protocols program. The Biden administration on June 1 officially ended MPP.

“The process has been easier, which means they’re no longer staying months or years,” Marín told the Blade. “They submit their application, let’s say today, and they get a response for a date in two weeks. They’re basically in the United States within a month.”

Marvin hopes to use the picture of his brother’s body in the morgue and Honduran newspaper articles about his murder as evidence to support his asylum case. Marvin, however, has yet to find someone to sponsor him.

“My goal … is to go to the United States,” he said.

Marín told the Blade the two other shelters for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana are also at maximum capacity. Marín said U.S. immigration officials are also “overwhelmed” with new asylum applications.

“It might take a little bit longer than a month because of the number of people that are basically coming and we just have to increase the work we do as well because we are getting a lot more work too,” he told the Blade. “We are overwhelmed as well.”

Fire destroyed lesbian-run Mexicali migrant shelter on July 9

Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA) in Mexicali, a border city that is roughly 2 1/2 hours east of Tijuana, is a group that serves LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups.

It runs three migrant shelters in the city, which borders Calexico, Calif., in California’s Imperial Valley. An electrical fire that destroyed COBINA’s Refugio del Migrante on July 9 displaced the 152 migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries who were living there.

An electrical fire on July 9, 2021, destroyed a migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, that Centro Comunitario de Bienestar Social (COBINA), a local LGBTQ group, runs. (Photo courtesy of Juan Gutiérrez)

Some of the shelter’s residents were living in COBINA’s offices when the Blade visited them on July 12.

“We need resources to rebuild the shelter, to buy wood, to buy everything that is needed,” COBINA President Altagracia Tamayo told the Blade.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration has raised $2,600 for COBINA to use to buy clothes, food and diapers for the displaced migrants and their children. The ORAM funds will also allow COBINA to buy portable air conditioning units. (The temperature in Mexicali was 108 degrees when the Blade reported from there.)

Tamayo told the Blade that COBINA has been working with the U.N. Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration to assist the displaced migrants.

Two women and a child who lived in a COBINA-run migrant shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, that burned to the ground on July 9, 2021, were living in COBINA’s offices when the Washington Blade visited them three days later. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Jardín de las Mariposas moved into a new house in May. It is less than four miles from El Chaparral, the main port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego.

Alight, formerly known as the American Refugee Agency, recently worked with ORAM to install security cameras and purchase new furniture for Jardín de las Mariposas. They also painted the shelter and a mural, installed solar heaters on the roof, planted plants and renovated the backyard.

This work is part of Alight’s “A Little Piece of Home” initiative that works to improve shelters for migrants and refugees along the border.

“This is beautiful because they are helping us and not letting us down,” Marín told the Blade. “They’re basically giving us hope to continue this fight that we have.”

Bunk beds in one of Jardín de las Mariposas’ bedrooms. (Photo courtesy of Jon Atwell/Alight)
Alight has been working with Jardín de las Mariposas to make improvements to their shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Jon Atwell/Alight)
Alight has been working with Jardín de las Mariposas to make improvements to their shelter for LGBTQ asylum seekers in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photo by Jon Atwell/Alight)
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Swiss voters overwhelmingly approve marriage equality law

‘Marriage for All’ statute received 64 percent support in referendum

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(Photo public domain)

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Swiss voters supported the “Marriage for All” law by a 64-36 percent margin in the referendum.

Lawmakers approved the statue late last year. Marriage equality opponents were able to force a referendum on it.

Switzerland joins neighboring France, Germany, Austria and other European countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Maria von Känel, co-president of the “Marriage for All” campaign, described the referendum results as “a historic day, a milestone for LGBTQ equality.”

“It’s a great achievement,” she told the Washington Blade. “All cantons and 64.1 percent of Swiss voters have voted yes for marriage for all. Our partnerships and families are now recognized equally and legally.”

“We have great support of the family, children and human rights organizations and many thousands of people who took to the streets for this cause and did public work,” added von Känel. “We are infinitely grateful.”

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US ambassador to UN calls for repeal of criminalization laws

Linda Thomas-Greenfield spoke at U.N. LGBTI Core Group event

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield (Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department; public domain)

United States Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is among those who participated in a Wednesday event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that highlighted efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks during the largely virtual U.N. LGBTI Core Group event noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

“For millions of people it is illegal for them to be who they are, to love who they love. We need to repeal and eliminate these laws,” she said. “For our part, the United States is using our diplomacy, our foreign assistance and every tool we have to protect human rights, empower civil society and support local LGBTQI movements.”

The U.S. is one of 35 countries that are members of the Core Group.

Wednesday’s event also highlighted efforts to decriminalize transgender people and repeal laws that specifically target them.

“We need more countries to join this committed group,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “Together, let’s do everything we can to protect human rights and promote equality for all.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo; Nepalese Ambassador to the U.N. Amrit Bahadur Rai; New Zealand Ambassador to the U.N. Craig Hawke; Australian Permanent U.N. Representative Mitch Fifield; Brazilian Ambassador to the U.N. Rolando Costa Filho; Canadian Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Keith Rae; Assistant U.N. Secretary General for Strategic Coordination Volker Türk; Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Santiago Cafiero; Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Tom de Bruijn; Japanese Foreign Minister Jun Shimmi; Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide; Salvadoran Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco; Costa Rican Vice Multicultural Affairs Minister Christian Guillermet-Fernández; Finnish Foreign Affairs Ministry Johanna Sumuvuori; Nick Herbert of the British House of Lords; European Union Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli; Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Ann Linde; Icelandic Foreign Affairs Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson; Maltese Equality, Research, Innovation and the Coordination of Post COVID-19 Strategy Minister Owen Bonnici; Mexican Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights Undersecretary Martha Delgado; Italian Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Benedetto Della Vedova; Chilean Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Carolina Valdivia; German MP Michael Roth; Irish State for Overseas Development Aid and Diaspora Minister Colm Brophy and Danish Development and Nordic Cooperation Minister Flemming Møller Mortensen participated in the event that Reuters U.N. Bureau Chief Michelle Nichols emceed.

Acting OutRight Action International Executive Director Maria Sjödin and activists from Bhutan, Botswana, Guyana, Mozambique, Angola, Panamá and India took part. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, and Nikkie de Jager, a Dutch U.N. goodwill ambassador known as NikkieTutorials who is trans, also participated.

“Decriminalization is a very basic demand,” said Sjödin. “Given how many countries have these laws on the books, it is still a priority.”

Herbert, who is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ envoy, noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in 35 of the Commonwealth’s 54 countries. Herbert also announced the U.K. will give an additional $2.75 million to “support LGBT+ individuals in Commonwealth countries, including to those seeking to address outdated legislation that discriminates against women, girls and LGBT+ individuals.”

“We are clear that tackling discrimination is only one part of the issue,” said Herbert. “We must encourage countries as well to put in place laws that protect their LGBTI citizens going forward.”

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. The decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relation is one of the White House’s five global LGBTQ rights priorities.

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Immigration Equality condemns deportation of Haitian migrants, asylum seekers

Prominent activist found dead in Port-au-Prince home in 2019

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Hurricane Matthew, gay news, Washington Blade
Hurricane Matthew damage near Jérémie, Haiti in 2016. Immigration Equality has condemned the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Reginald Dupont/Fondation SEROvie)

Immigration Equality on Wednesday sharply criticized the Biden administration over the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from the U.S.

“Over 10,000 Haitian migrants and asylum seekers are waiting at America’s doorstep, but the Biden administration won’t uphold their basic right to ask for protection,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford in a press release. “This is blatantly illegal and morally reprehensible. Many of these people are asylum seekers who face grave danger if returned to Haiti. They have traveled thousands of miles to escape a country torn apart by devastating earthquakes and political turmoil.”

The White House in recent days has been struggling to respond to the influx of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers in Del Rio, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Pictures of U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chasing and whipping Haitians have sparked widespread outrage.

Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most migrants and asylum seekers because of the pandemic, remains in place. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has begun to deport Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from Texas.

Immigration Equality in its press release notes Charlot Jeudy, a member of Kouraj, a Haitian LGBTQ rights group, was found dead inside his home in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, in 2019.

Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remain commonplace in Haiti.

President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination on July 7 and an 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that left scores of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of others have caused additional turmoil in Haiti, which is the Western Hemisphere’ poorest country.

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas in 2010 killed an estimated 200,000 people.

Fondation SEROvie, a Haitian HIV/AIDS service organization, contributed to relief efforts after Hurricane Matthew caused widespread damage on the country’s Tiburon Peninsula in 2016. Last month’s earthquake struck in the same area.

“For LGBTQ people in particular, expulsion means returning to a society that rejects them. They are frequent targets of violence and sexual assault, including by the police,” said Crawford. “The country is fundamentally unsafe for the queer and transgender community.”

“Instead of welcoming Haitian asylum seekers as the U.S. should, the Biden administration is sending them back to life-threatening conditions,” added Crawford. “We call on the administration to halt the deportation flights immediately and end Title 42 in its entirety. The disturbing images of border agents on horseback chasing down terrified Haitian migrants go against the administration’s professed ideals. Shame on the Biden administration for embracing this xenophobic and illegal Trump-era policy and mistreating vulnerable migrants.”

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