For a little over a year, staff members at the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) have been discussing ways to assess the unmet needs of the LGBT immigrant community on Long Island. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find organizations focused on the needs of this community. With 25,000 to 50,000 LGBT immigrants living on Long Island, this is a major part of the newcomer population. Changes in marriage and immigration laws have made this an exciting time for same sex couples to come forward and make themselves heard. More accepting attitudes towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people have improved the situation for everyone.
Many LGBT immigrants have not had their voices heard in the past. They have faced discrimination here in the U.S. and they often come from countries where their sexual orientation is criminalized and considered shameful. Many were persecuted in their homelands when their families or neighbors discovered that they were gay or lesbian. Even here in the supposedly enlightened U.S., it was illegal for lesbians and gays to enter the country until the 1990s, and same-sex marriage was not recognized for immigration purposes until last year.
In many parts of Long Island there are no spaces where LGBT immigrants can come together to develop a community voice and agenda. Immigrants are often isolated by language, immigration status or nationality from one another and from the larger LGBT community. Many immigrant organizations are build around houses of worship, which are not always welcoming of openly gay or lesbian gatherings.
CARECEN is hosting a meeting on June 26th at 7 p.m. at 91 N. Franklin Street (Suite 208) in Hempstead to discuss the needs of the LGBT immigrant community on Long Island. The discussion will be open and it will be facilitated by Hofstra Professor Lauris Wren and CARECEN’s Elise Damas. Anyone interested in participating should call Elise at 516-489-8330, or just show up next week.