by: Peter Voeller
A couple of years ago, we had a young student from Russia come to study for a quarter. Studying English was not his strong suit and he didn’t return the following quarter. I kept hearing from him over the months, encounters with the ‘Russian Mafia’ in town, working illegally, living by the airport … he’d call from time to time for advice on his crisis of the day. Then one day he came in with an older man he’d been living with and announced that he wanted to file for asylum based on sexual orientation. This news widened my eyes in that I had no clue that he might be gay. I gave him the information I had on the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force and the names of some decent lawyers who might be willing to take on his case.
Over the next few months, I was able to help by getting a letter from his family translated into English for use in his appeal and find him a translator who could help during the hearing. His family had suffered greatly because of their son’s perceived sexual orientation. His grandfather suffered a heart attack after being beat up and his father lost one eye in a similar bashing. Feces were smeared on their house and anti-gay graffiti written on the walls. It seems that the family sent him to the U.S. as a last resort that he could find a life here .
The student found himself in a couple of unhealthy living situations and asked me where he could meet some decent people. I suggested Gay Bingo, a local nonalcoholic, nobar social event which has become quite popular. After that, things started to look up for him. The next thing I knew, he was calling saying he’d met someone nice and was in love.
Later, he had his hearing and the lawyers believed that it had gone well and he had a good chance of getting the asylum. He marched with the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force in Seattle’s June Gay Pride Parade with his new partner, carrying a big ole American flag.
In July, he had a commitment ceremony with his new partner, with my partner and I attending and me being one of the witnesses to sign the document. He is currently having a background check in both countries, which is the final step to being granted asylum. It has been an interesting series of events and the outcome is much more positive than I would have dreamed at various points along the way. It really is a success story of sorts for one young gay man in the United States.
This article appeared in the Fall 1998 edition of Lesbigay SIGnals