Press releasing announcing AsylumConnect co-founder & president's inclusion on the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) "Honor Roll." The Clinton Foundation describes the CGI U Honor Roll as “a roster of extraordinary alumni who over the past decade have made a significant impact through their CGI U Commitments to Action or their careers.”
Under the current hostile administration, our ability to point queer asylum seekers towards safe, LGBTQ-friendly resources is more important than ever. We've launched a crowdfunding campaign to take our resource catalog nationwide and we need your help!
Make a tax-deductible donation today: https://igg.me/at/taz2aJp3CT4
AsylumConnect (www.asylumconnect.org), a fiscally sponsored nonprofit helping LGBTQ asylum seekers identify and access verified human needs resources, and One Degree (www.1degree.org), a technology-driven nonprofit that helps low-income families access resources to achieve social and economic mobility, today announced a partnership to build a national version of the AsylumConnect catalog.
This month we’re thrilled to name Maikel Nabil Sanad, a member of our Advisory Council, as our AsylumConnnect Team Member of the Month. Prior to joining our Advisory Council, Maikel served from November 2016 - March 2017 as our Social Media Manager. Maikel is an award-winning campaigner and communication strategist. His political activism earned him nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize. In 2014, Maikel moved to the U.S. to seek asylum after he suffered political persecution in his native Egypt. Read Maikel’s story, in his own words, below:
“Why I Became A Refugee”
By Maikel Nabil Sanad
This article appeared first in WorldView, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association
The unintended consequences of opposing Egypt’s military
When I was younger, I was against immigration. I wasn’t against immigrants coming to my home country, Egypt; I was against Egyptians leaving Egypt. Egypt is a poor dictatorship, but I believed that nothing would improve if every educated open-minded Egyptian left the country. I believed that developed democracies are such because previous generations of these societies struggled to make them free and developed. If my ancestors had struggled more for freedom, Egypt wouldn’t be as depressing as it is today.
I was born in 1985 to a Coptic Christian family. As I grew up, I noticed that many Christians were leaving the country to flee Islamic persecution. Although I believed in Christianity no more, I believed that if Christians, atheists, and other minorities kept leaving the country, Egypt wouldn’t become a tolerant country, but a less diverse one. Making Egypt a tolerant place meant staying and struggling for tolerance, not fleeing the country.
My plan has always been not to leave, but to stay and fight to make things better. I studied veterinary medicine in Assiut University, and law at Cairo university and from the age of 20, I became heavily involved in Egyptian politics. I joined several political parties and groups and in 2006 started my blog in Arabic, and later added English and Hebrew. The blog attracted millions of visitors, and I had an audience of an estimated 100,000 online followers. I promoted liberal democracy, a free market economy, non-violence, religious freedom, peace with Israel, and demilitarization of the Middle East. I demanded a complete separation between religious institutions and the state.
At the age of 23, I joined the high committee of one of Egypt’s main opposition parties, a position which, according to political laws at that time, would have allowed me to run for president of Egypt, if I had been above the age of 40. In the same year, I became the second Egyptian to speak publicly about his atheism. The first, Kareem Amer, was in prison at that time, spending a four-year sentence for blasphemy. At the age of 24, I started NoMilService, the first anti-conscription movement in Egyptian history. At the age of 25, I became the first-ever conscientious objector to the military service in Egypt. A few months later, I joined millions of Egyptians who protested Mubarak’s regime, demanding freedom, democracy, and human rights. We thought that Egypt would become a better country after his ouster, but it didn’t.
Arrest, trial and torture
Struggling for change never comes without a price. I was detained, not once or twice, but five times. I was detained a week before Mubarak’s removal from office, and was tortured and sexually assaulted by the Egyptian Military Intelligence. Seven weeks after Mubarak’s ouster, the military arrested me, and charged me with spreading rumors. I had a brief secret trial, with nearly no rights at all and was sentenced to three years in prison. The military kept targeting my friends and family. My father, a banker, was demoted in his job four times that year on grounds of national security. Many of my friends received death and prison threats, and some were assaulted and killed. I spent two months in solitary confinement in El-Marg, the army’s main prison and detention facilities run by military intelligence. While in prison, I went on a hunger strike for 130 days to protest my trial and incarceration. Prison never deterred me; I kept writing from prison, promoting peace, democracy, and human dignity.
Thanks to a group of dedicated friends who struggled tirelessly for my freedom, my case gained international attention. Amnesty International recognized me as a prisoner of conscience. Members of the U.S. Congress and parliamentarians from Canada, Germany, and the European Union advocated for my freedom. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that my trial was unfair, my detention arbitrary. I was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Alex White, Ireland’s minister for communications, energy and natural resources. All of this international pressure forced the Egyptian military to release me on the eve of the first anniversary of the revolution on Jan 24, 2012.
Upon my release, after spending 10 months in prison, I came to realize the horrors which the Egyptian military carried out against the demonstrators in Tahrir Square while I was detained. Several massacres had occurred in which hundreds or maybe thousands of peaceful protesters were killed by the military and the police.
No more military aid for Egypt
I decided to use my new fame to appeal to the world to stop arming Egypt. I made my request to many politicians in the United States and Europe, with no result.
In March 2012, I was invited to Washington by the non-profit Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) to discuss U.S. military aid to Egypt. I met several officials from the White House, the State Department, and the US congress. During my visit, I learned that the U.S. government’s arms deals with Egypt are made for years forward, and that the United States won’t stop sending these weapons any time soon, even when those same weapons are used to kill democratic activists in Egypt. I made similar trips to several European capitals, and realized that Europe will continue to arm North African dictators, as long as these dictators continue trying to halt the immigration from the former European colonies in Africa to Europe.
In June 2012, after a disputed presidential election, the Egyptian military delivered power to an Islamic government. The new Islamic government led by Mohamed Morsi started a new wave of persecution. In October 2012, they charged me with blasphemy, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. I learned about the charge while I was studying in Germany. In December of that year, they charged me with treason, a crime that could be punished by the death sentence. The treason charge was made because I gave a speech at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about peace between Egypt and Israel. Luckily, I was still studying in Germany and I’ve never been back to Egypt to face trial.
In June 2013, the Egyptian military launched a coup d’état against the Islamic government, throwing its leaders in prisons, sentencing thousands of its followers to death, and massacring hundreds of its supporters in the streets of Cairo. Although it was clear to the whole world that the Egyptian government is killing, torturing, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of innocent Egyptians, the flow of cash and arms from the West to Egypt’s military never stopped. Annual U.S. military aid to Egypt is around $1.3 billion annually, and the EU sends around €5 billion each year. The UN and the other international organizations ignored what was happening in Egypt, and did nothing to stop the massacres.
By the end 2014, I found myself in an awkward situation. Those who had imprisoned and tortured me are now in power in Egypt. Egyptian democrats were either in prison or in exile. If I go back to Egypt, I might face prison, torture, and even death. The world was going to continue sending arms and cash to Egypt, whatever the Egyptian military does. The world is already closing its eyes to the genocide in Syria, and doing nothing about the continued use of chemical weapons there.
This was the moment I realized that I can’t go back to my country. This was one of the hardest decisions I ever made in my life. I was throwing away a career in Egyptian politics, giving up on what I fought for all my life. I knew that I might not see my family and friends again, and that I may live the rest of my life a stranger in a strange country. I did everything in my power to make Egypt a better place, and I failed. Becoming a refugee in the United States wasn’t a happy choice; it was painful choice I was pushed to take because all the other options are horrifying.
Maikel Nabil Sanad is an Egyptian writer, former political prisoner and refugee from his country. He currently lives in Washington, D.C.
By Alexander Wheeler, AsylumConnect Blogger; and Katie Sgarro, AsylumConnect Co-Founder and President
South Korea: a country with a booming economy, cutting-edge technology, addictive K-Pop music, and internationally celebrated barbeque. Many people know it for its rapid industrialization, beauty obsession, and proximity to its Northern neighbor. While its human rights failures are often beat by close and neighboring countries, it’s important to recognize that LGBTQ Koreans are still forced to live in the margins of mainstream society.
South Korea is a fiercely heteronormative place – where the recently elected president, Moon Jae-in, a former human rights lawyer, has participated in anti-gay rallies and made anti-gay statements, in line with many of the country’s influential Christian churches and lobbies. The government refuses to take action against the violence and discrimination faced by its LGBTQ citizens – consistently failing to pass anti-discrimination laws that would protect sexual minorities.
The South Korean military has been accused of a “witch hunt” against gay soldiers. According to the 2016 Human Rights Country Report issued by the U.S. Department of State, “LGBTI individuals and organizations continue to face societal discrimination. The Military Criminal Act’s ‘disgraceful conduct’ clause criminalizes consensual sodomy between men in the military with up to two years imprisonment.”
In May of 2017, for the first time, the Korean military enforced this decades-old ban and sentenced a gay soldier to six months in jail for having consensual sex with another male soldier.
In the latest roundup, 18 gay service members were identified and are now facing criminal charges, even though they had sex on leave or off duty. In contrast, when a male and female officer were caught having sex on duty, they were suspended for three months without criminal charges. During this recent crackdown on gay soldiers, mobile phones were seized without warrants in order to identify other gay soldiers through contact lists and dating app profiles. Since all able-bodied men aged 18-35 are required by law to compulsory military service for 21 to 24 months, being gay in South Korea is becoming increasingly dangerous.
As the Korean military continues to target gay soldiers and the government fails to institute anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual minorities, seeking refuge in countries like the United States is becoming a tried-and-true option for gay men afraid of being victimized during compulsory military service. Yet, while right-wing Christian groups in South Korea consider homosexual activity in the military to be a disruption to its readiness to fight North Korea, President Donald Trump recently announced a ban on transgender people serving in the United States military – citing “disruption” that “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion.” It is suspected that pressure from the Family Research Council, a powerful Christian conservative group, strongly influenced President Trump’s decision.
Despite the Trump administration’s attempts to roll back social progress and civil rights, the United States remains a “beacon of hope” for many persecuted LGBTQ people worldwide. For LGBTQ Koreans, even in this highly charged sociopolitical context, the U.S. continues to represent safety, freedom, and a rare chance for authenticity. And as a result, persecuted LGBTQ people from around the world will continue to seek asylum in the U.S. It’s imperative that we all – including the Trump administration – remember this.
Organizations, like AsylumConnect, exist in order to ensure that persecuted LGBTQ people are able to find safety and community when they arrive in the U.S. – even in the face of bigoted administrations. Through resource guides and information sharing, we can arm LGBTQ asylum seekers with the information they need to successfully integrate into safer environments. The United States needs to remain a beacon of hope, because for many, there is simply no other option.
By Alexander Wheeler, AsylumConnect Blogger
AsylumConnect is fueled by a team of committed volunteers who live all over the world and bring a breadth of skills, experiences, and perspectives to the organization. Seasoned directors and new associates alike innovate through various mediums to serve LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. by providing a user-centric platform. At AsylumConnect, we face growing pains and celebrate advances together, and it’s important for our users and supporters to know who we are. With this in mind, our blog will feature a profile on one of our team members each month to offer a glimpse behind the scenes of our operation.
Joanna Tasmin is about to celebrate her “sweet sixteen.” She’s a math nerd, design wonk, and also our Creative Director here at AsylumConnect. As Creative Director, Joanna is able to combine her left-brain design style with a lifelong commitment to asylum seekers. She currently lives in Singapore, where she’s a student at United World College, and grew up in the U.S., where her parents sought asylum from Indonesia in 1998.
Joanna remembers listening to her parents’ late-night, adult-only conversations, exposing her to the complicated and frustrating reality of seeking asylum in the U.S. It’s an issue she inherited and, by now, knows by heart. So, when she first heard about AsylumConnect, she knew she had to join the team and lend a hand to the global community working to serve both asylum seekers and promote LGBTQ rights.
At first, she wondered if she was too young and inexperienced to contribute to a global movement. She saw so much that needed to be done and didn’t know where to start. But, instead of waiting to graduate from high school, or even college, she decided to act now. Joanna answered her calling to help some of the most vulnerable members of society, becoming a key member of a team of digital nomads fighting for basic human rights.
Joanna’s tenure with AsylumConnect is her first of many steps along a lifelong path of advocacy and impact dedicated to promoting LGBTQ rights and advancing immigration policy. She’s fighting the systems faced by her parents two decades ago, and LGBTQ asylum seekers today.
AsylumConnect’s team is still growing, and we are actively looking for our next generation of leaders. If you’re passionate about our mission and committed to service, collaboration, and innovation, check out our open associate and director team positions!
By Alexander Wheeler, AsylumConnect Blogger
On June 25, 1978, Harvey Milk aired his now-famous words while delivering his “That’s what America is” speech at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Parade:
According to Milk, it was time for LGBTQ people to shed light on themselves, screw the light bulbs back in, and open their curtains wide. By calling on LGBTQ people to make themselves known to their families, friends, and foes, Milk was advocating for greater visibility of LGBTQ communities. Almost 40 years ago, Milk rightfully recognized that heightened visibility would prove to be a powerful prerequisite for LGBTQ liberation and equal rights.
Milk’s plea came nearly a decade after the Stonewall Rebellion of June 28, 1969, which most historians consider to be the birth of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Nearly 50 years later, considerable progress has been made in liberating LGBTQ communities and fighting for equal rights. All over the world, year after year, LGBTQ people and allies come together to celebrate Pride month in June. While Pride is a time to recognize strides and accomplishments within the LGBTQ rights movement, it should also be a time to realize how much work still needs to be done.
At the time of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in 1969, police raids targeting bars catering to LGBTQ customers were common. In contrast, one month ago, police in Dhaka, Bangladesh raided a monthly gathering of gay men at a community center and arrested 27 of them “on suspicion of drug related offenses.” About a year ago, Julhas Mannan, a gay rights activist, was hacked to death in Dhaka after drawing attention to himself for helping to organize a march for gay and transgender youth. LGBTQ visibility comes at an incredibly high price in some countries, and “coming out” can too often be a matter of life and death. At least 73 countries continue to criminalize homosexuality, and in 10, homosexuality remains punishable by the death penalty.
Arrests and extreme acts of violence, such as those in Bangladesh, stand in stark contrast to Pride events in countries with more visible LGBTQ communities, like the United States. However, despite progress made in the U.S., nondiscrimination laws still only cover approximately 48% of LGBTQ Americans, leaving the majority of LGBTQ people in the U.S. vulnerable to lawful discrimination. According to a 2015 poll, 63% of LGBTQ people reported experiencing discrimination in their personal lives, at work, or in accessing housing and education.
Within the global LGBTQ community, the quest for equal rights remains steep. Harvey Milk’s call for greater LGBTQ visibility almost 40 years ago still rings true to this day. Access to equal rights shouldn’t be contingent upon LGBTQ communities’ willingness to “straighten” themselves out. But even so, “coming out” in many contexts is costly and dangerous. Fortunately, some persecuted members of the global LGBTQ community are able to seek asylum in countries like the U.S., where they will not face arrest, torture, and death because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression.
However, seeking asylum in the U.S. is not without its difficulties. According to Human Rights Watch: “The U.S. government stands alone among developed countries in denying asylum seekers both employment authorization and governmental assistance.” AsylumConnect was co-founded in 2014 to help counteract this injustice: to connect LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. with trusted human and social service providers, and to map networks of LGBTQ allies willing and able to help some of the most vulnerable members of society. AsylumConnect aims to bridge this unacceptable gap in human services created (and perpetuated) by foreign and domestic governments.
Without obscuring the diversity of experiences that make up the global LGBTQ community, LGBTQ people and allies in the U.S. must not treat the plight of their LGBTQ counterparts around the world or seeking asylum as separate from their own communities. Pride month is a time to celebrate progress, but it should also be a time to galvanize and unite against persecution faced by our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
Since Donald Trump became the 45th President of the U.S., we have witnessed waves of xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia wash over America. But we refuse to stay silent. In this video, members of the AsylumConnect team share their thoughts on why it is important to value diversity and protect the rights of LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees.
On March 25th, 2017, Katie Sgarro, AsylumConnect Co-Founder & President, travelled to Cambridge, MA to pitch AsylumConnect as a finalist for the 2017 Harvard Social Enterprise Conference (SECON) Pitch Competition.
As Co-Founder and President of AsylumConnect, I can attest to asylum seekers’ and refugees’ resilience and heroism. They deserve to be in this country. They are an invaluable asset to the U.S. - not a danger.
Trump’s recently signed executive order for “extreme vetting” of refugees flies in the face of everything our nation stands for. It jeopardizes the lives of innocent human beings. This ban is a disaster for our nation, for the global community, and for justice. Many refugees don't have months.
On Tuesday, November 8th, 2016, the world watched as Donald Trump became president-elect of the United States. I remember watching the election results with a group of friends with many different identities based on gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nation of origin, etc. I worried how they as well as myself would feel represented in federal politics beginning next year.
In the sphere of LGBTQ rights, our cause for concern is due to Trump’s decision not to pledge support for the Equality Act — a bill that calls for banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the past, Trump has also made statements disfavoring the historic Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
At AsylumConnect, our stance on the election of Trump and the future of LGBTQ rights is as follows:
We sincerely believe in using this recent presidential election to fuel our cause even further and to make sure that our organization serves as a reliable and high-quality resource for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. We are committed to looking forward to the future and ensuring protection and equality for ALL.
Our response to this election is that the niche we fill is more important than ever. Amongst calls to limit and even ban asylum seekers from entering the United States, we are working to change the existing rhetoric through improving and scaling the AsylumConnect catalog. As the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) stated in their video entitled “Obama & Clinton: Moving Equality Forward”: “All of our progress over the past 8 years is on the line in this election.” In relation to issues of immigration, our cause for concern stems from limitations placed on asylum seekers. For example, Out Magazine released the following statement: “In addition to putting in jeopardy legal unions for bi-national couples, Trump's harsh anti-immigration stance, with unspecified plans to ban all Muslims from entering the country and shut down borders, may prevent at-risk LGBT asylum seekers from finding refuge in the U.S.” Therefore, our work to create a centralized and accessible database for LGBTQ asylum seekers is vital.
To put it simply: we have work to do. We will continue fighting for LGBTQ rights and protection of LGBTQ asylum seekers. Your support is more critical than ever right now. Join AsylumConnect in the campaign to protect LGBTQ asylum seekers and their right to be in this country. Please consider donating to our cause today: http://www.asylumconnect.org/donate/.
We encourage you to also consider joining our passionate team: http://www.asylumconnect.org/join-our-team/.
Thank you for your continued support of AsylumConnect and our cause. We are ready to take on this challenge and to continue our fight.
Here at AsylumConnect, we are dedicated towards highlighting progress being made both locally and around the world. In this segment, we focus on the African Union and 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights.”
The African Union was established in 1999 in order to promote further integration of the African Continent and make meaningful strides towards social, economic, and political reform.
This year places special importance on the idea of “coming together.” The issue of LGBTQ+ rights significantly contributes to this theme. As it currently stands, rights protecting individuals that identify as LGBTQ+ are limited. For example, several countries such as Uganda and Nigeria have out-lawed same-sex relationships and imposed anti-gay laws. It is evident that stronger protections and awareness of LGTBQ+ issues are imperative.
The idea of “coming together” is embodied in the message of human rights. Although the African Union recognized the importance of LGBTQ+ rights, concrete actions towards achieving equality are still necessary. I believe one way forward is for the African Union to release a statement on LGBTQ+ issues and identify clear action steps that must be taken. One of the areas that I believe should have more focus is medical treatment for LGBTQ+ individuals. In Africa, stigma and discrimination are rampant. This leads to a wide variety of health problems that often go untreated.
The LGBTQ+ community in Africa is often forced to go into hiding due to severe threats and legal punishment. Mental health often becomes an even greater issue with this type of treatment.
I believe collaboration and unity need to be more heavily emphasized in order for the African Union to be truly successful in its dedication towards human rights. As of now, many countries are in disagreement over LGBTQ+ issues. For instance, Botswana, Kenya, and Zambia pledged to uphold basic freedoms for marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community in Africa. I believe one way to accomplish this is through strengthening unity among legal systems and institutions in the African Union.
I am excited to see this commitment from the African Union as LGBTQ+ stigma is a major barrier. By keeping this conversation at the forefront, I believe the African Union will be able to succeed in uniting the African Continent and upholding basic rights.
We look forward to keeping up with the progress happening in Africa! Many thanks to Olive Musoni, AsylumConnect volunteer translator and African correspondent, for the pictures.
Be sure to look out for future blog posts highlighting members of the AsylumConnect team and their stories. Thank you for your support!
My summer internship began with hearing from the Democratic LGBT Caucus on Capitol Hill. I heard from representatives such as John Lewis (D-GA) and Mark Takano (D-CA). In the wake of the Orlando attacks, our country has been faced with reexamining its core values. Issues such as gun control and equality are at the forefront of political debates. The Orlando shooting serves as a painful reminder of the work that still needs to be done in our country especially in regards to LGBTQ+ issues. However, progress has been made. As of July 2016, California became a leading state in textbook reform. Public school students in the state will now directly learn about LGBTQ history and prominent figures within the movement. Additionally, the United Methodist Church just elected its first openly gay bishop in June 2016. These historical changes remind us that progress can be made.
In the Dominican Republic, calls for better treatment of LGBTQ individuals and communities increased after Orlando. In fact, the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic sparked conversation on this topic given his status as an openly gay man and advocate for the LGBTQ community. His accomplishments include developing the country’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce and helping activists organize LGBT campaigns.
At AsylumConnect, our mission is to connect LGBTQ asylum seekers with fundamental human needs resources upon their arrival in the United States. We will continue striving towards this mission and ensure we are protecting all asylum seekers. We must stand together as a community and continue to fight for fair treatment.
We created a Visibility Video to raise awareness for LGBTQ equality and justice following the Orlando massacre. Check it out below and thank you for your support!