As the same-sex marriage debate intensifies among states grappling with its legalization, gays from foreign countries are turning to the U.S. for help in escaping from – oftentimes – severe cases of persecution. Such a trend opens the door for the Christian community to help those for whom Christ also died, according to one pastor.
In many places around the world where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people are not accepted in society, they face various hardships and threats, such as imprisonment, beatings, forced marriages, and even death. Back in March 2011, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his support of a United Nations declaration signed by the U.S. and 85 other countries calling for an end to violence and persecution against LGBT people worldwide.
"We will continue to promote human rights around the world for all people who are marginalized and discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity," said State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton. "And we will not rest until every man, woman and child is able to live up to his or her potential free from persecution or discrimination of any kind."
On Tuesday, the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services issued new guidelines for how LGBT immigrants coming to the U.S. seeking asylum should be treated. The guidelines address not only the legal issues when it comes to interviewing LGBT people, but also how to approach questions about possible sexual abuse they may have suffered.
"This guidance will give officers the tools they need to gather the necessary evidence for validating an asylum claim, while respecting the often sensitive issues that potential asylees must navigate based on their past persecution," said Immigration Equality's legal director Victoria Nelson in a statement. The organization deals with equality issues for LGBT people trying to emigrate to the U.S.
There are about 250 such cases of LGBT people seeking to come to the United State to escape persecution each year, according to Steve Ralls, a spokesman for Immigration Equality. Although LGBT people get persecuted all over the world, especially in the Middle East, many of those that come to America seeking asylum are from Jamaica - as those who live farther away find it more difficult to make the trip and escape to the States.
Homophobia is especially prevalent in Jamaica, a 2011 study on the attitude and perceptions of Jamaicans toward same-sex relationships revealed, in which 85.2 percent of respondents said that they did not think homosexuality among consenting adults should be legal.
Nelson confirmed in an email to The Christian Post that the highest number of LGBT asylum seekers come from English-speaking Caribbean countries and especially Jamaica, where many LGBT people face horrific violence and even death.
In the U.S., LGBT people experience protection from many of the hardships they have fled from in their former countries – and a U.S. pastor says that now is the time for churches in America to show that despite the widespread opposition to gay marriage, they are true to their claims that they still love and want to protect the individual.
Evangelical Christians hold to the biblical view that homosexuality is sin, and that God enables believers to overcome sin.
"This is an opportunity for the Evangelical Church in America to stand up and actually open their arms to offer protection and grace to the LGBT refugees from other countries," pastor Tim Lucas of Liquid Church in New Jersey told CP.
"In Africa right now there is a homophobia that has turned very violent and is the antithesis of what Jesus Christ came to do, which is to reconcile all men to God."
"Specifically, the American church in general has had a sad history of judgment toward the gay community and I think this is actually a wonderful opportunity to begin reversing that public perception," Pastor Lucas urged.