Texas’ LGBT community responds to help gay Iraqi refugees
Two gay Iraqi refugees who are living in Houston came to Dallas for the Creating Change conference earlier this month seeking assistance.
After being kidnapped, raped, robbed and stabbed in Baghdad, Yousif Ali and Nawfal Muhamed escaped to Syria and were given refugee status by the United Nations. The United States granted them asylum.
But after arriving in the United States, Catholic Charities, which administers many of the federally funded programs for refugees, provided only limited assistance.
Other refugees are given furnished apartments. Ali and Muhamed were sent to different cities.
On his own, Muhamed made it to Houston from Nashville where Ali had been given a bare apartment and left to sleep on the floor.
They were housed near other Iraqis where they remained in danger and continued to be abused because of their sexual orientation.
The Unitarian Universalist office at the United Nations, the only faith-based U.N. office with an LGBT refugee program, brought the pair to the Dallas conference hoping to find some help.
After an article appeared in the Feb. 12 Dallas Voice, offers for assistance arrived.
Bob McCrainie of Texas Pride Realty in Carrollton saw the article.
He contacted Leslie D. Wilson, an associate in his Houston office. Wilson contacted Dallas Voice about his connection to a social service agency in that city that provides housing for homeless youth to age 25.
Through Geronimo D. Desumala III, the LGBT/SOGI (sexual orientation/gender identity) human rights program associate with the Unitarian U. N. office, Ali and Muhamed connected with the Houston agency.
They met with a social worker and case manager at the organization — which isn’t gay but does regularly work with LGBT youth — about housing.
Wilson said his understanding is that the two Iraqi men should have a new place to live by March 1.
In addition, a transgender woman in Houston, also with refugee status, went with them to the agency and will also be receiving housing assistance.
Tim Brookover is president of the Houston GLBT Center. He is now working with Ali and Muhamed and has been in touch with Desumala.
He called Ali and Muhamed "very resourceful."
He has been to their apartment and said they had one twin bed, a kitchen table that someone in their complex was throwing out and, on the wall over a desk, a rainbow flag.
Brookover said he is in the process of signing up the GLBT center as a partner agency with the Furniture Bank.
Once the pair is in their new apartment, that organization will provide them a larger bed and some additional furniture.
He also introduced them to his friend, Hassan Zaidi, who took several days off from work to take them to Montrose Counseling Center, which does some case management, and to reapply for food stamps.
Meredith Lines works with Life Time Fitness and wrote to Dallas Voice that she might have a job for them. Her e-mail was forwarded to Brookover.
This week, she said, "I’ve been working with Tim at the GLBT center working on their employment.
They have both applied online, and at this point I am trying to place them with the correct department."
Brookover said Lines has been wonderful, coaching the pair every step of the way.
He said she helped them with their online application and told them to call her when the facility sets the interview so she could prep them further.
She said, "I believe they would both be wonderful in the cafÃ© or our operations department."
Cash donations were offered by a number of people who wrote to Dallas Voice about the original article.
"That’s one piece of the puzzle we haven’t worked out yet," Brookover said.
Desumala said they were hesitant to just have people write the two checks.
Brookover suggested that donations could be sent to the Houston GBLT Center, 3400 Montrose Blvd., Suite 207, Houston, Tex. 77006. The center has tax-exempt status and donations would be deductible.
Specify that the money is for Ali and Muhamed, he said, and it would be used for expenses such as their upcoming move.
Brookover said working with them has been a most gratifying experience.
"We’d love to see them get in school. They’re smart. They’re sweet. They’re funny," he said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 26, 2010.
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