It Started On A Bench

AsylumConnect co-founders Sayid and Katie met at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. Both transfer students looking for a sense of community, they joined the same service fraternity and quickly formed a strong friendship.

That summer they both moved to New York City to pursue internships. On a hot July day, the two rising Penn seniors sat together on one of the only vacant benches in Central Park. Temporarily removed from the weight of their work obligations, they had their first conversation about AsylumConnect. As Sayid shared his passions for human rights and explained the struggles that LGBTQ people face on a global scale, Katie realized that she had failed to speak out about her own identity in a country where she at least had that choice. Finding strength in each other, the two friends joined their collective experiences and were inspired to start this initiative.

Returning to Penn in the fall, their extensive research uncovered a sobering reality. It is still illegal to be gay in 77 countries. These countries’ governments imprison, abuse, and even kill their gay citizens. As a result, the persecuted often seek refuge in the U.S. But upon arrival, LGBTQ asylum seekers often have nowhere to go, no social support, and no legal right to work. Many end up homeless. Through attending forums on the topic, Sayid and Katie discovered that despite access to technology during the asylum seeking process, LGBTQ asylum seekers still lack adequate information to meet their basic human needs in the U.S.

AsylumConnect strives to rectify this situation by assisting people seeking political asylum in the U.S. because of sexual orientation or gender expression.

The organization's vision is to provide an online, centralized catalog of service providers useful to LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. In doing so, AsylumConnect hopes to assist asylum seekers in locating and obtaining lifesaving resources. This simple idea has the potential to benefit an estimated 300,000 people.

Sayid and Katie firmly believe in AsylumConnect’s potential to change the trajectory of this movement. By unfolding and changing the stories of LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S., the initiative is fighting to give them the dignity and basic human right to live authentically.


What I uncovered during my research — what I was hearing from existing organizations and LGBTQ asylum seekers — deeply affected me. It altered my worldview and rearranged my priorities.
— Katie Sgarro, AsylumConnect Co-founder/Co-director