by Greyson C. Brooks, LGBT-FAN National Coordinator, Co-Founder and lead of Better Together NYC, and Anthropological NGO Consultant
Brooklyn, NY – Last August, my colleague, Kent Klindera, and I were sitting at a beer garden in Brooklyn, debating whether or not professionals would be interested in meeting to combat the paucity of key services available to LGBTIQ asylum seekers and asylees in New York City. If this was going to work—if we were going to get a sufficient breadth of stakeholders in one room for the first time to 1) know the people and services available in our city, and 2) foster case coordination and interorganizational use of these resources—then this forum we were planning to bring everyone to the same table had to first and foremost be a participatory dialogue.
On an overcast morning in December, we initiated that dialogue with 120+ attending activists, service providers, immigrants, and public officials at Better Together NYC’s first public forum. After detailing the necessity of a unified front to assist the queer asylum community—including sharing preliminary results of a needs assessment survey detailing the travails of navigating the current labyrinthine hodgepodge of services—the floor was open for discussion. As an anthropologist specializing in international and community developments, I knew first hand that the efficacy of this endeavor would only be as fruitful as the extent of involvement and buy-in by participants. Kent and I thus posed a seemingly simple question: Based on participants’ observations, if they were asylum seekers, how would they want the process in NYC to change?
Forum participants had boatloads of ideas, both practical and idealistic, feasible and far-fetched, short-term and generational. It is a vexing task for individuals, whether they’re providers or recipients of services, to not only realize there are others with similar experiences, but that each of those experiences is a small clue to deciphering how the current situation can be improved. People’s experiences guide and inform them, and collectively, we were able to pool our knowledge and start the process of affecting programmatic change to improve the lives of queer asylum seekers and asylees.
Over the last year, we have formed a task force with committees working to streamline service referrals among a growing coalition of service providers; begun locating and increasing available temporary housing; partnered with the Mayor’s Office to improve public education and outreach; augmented advocacy efforts and increased regional awareness; and begun securing avenues for public and private funding. In a city where over one-third of the population is foreign-born, no one knows exactly how many LGBTIQ asylum seekers and asylees reside here. But we do know how to approach this problem to affect positive change: collectively, methodically, and holistically, knowing that each stakeholder wields an invaluable fraction of the answer that we all seek.