Katie Sgarro is an Outstanding Alum of CGI University. Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) is a network of student leaders who have made Commitments to Action to address today's most pressing challenges.
What would you do if you couldn’t be yourself?
Too many members of the LGBTQ community continue to grapple with this question every day. From the bloodied gay activist in Russia to the attacked lesbian couple in Jamaica to the harrassed transgender woman in Mexico to the beaten bisexual man in Syria, LGBTQ people around the world still face varying levels of persecution simply for being who they are.
For the LGBTQ people living in one of the 73 countries where it is still illegal to be gay, “coming out” is not a choice. LGBTQ people in these countries face imprisonment, public humiliation and “corrective action” (including rape by government officials). In 10 countries, being gay remains punishable by the death penalty.
As a result, every year, thousands of LGBTQ immigrants and asylum seekers come to the United States fleeing persecution in their home countries based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Yet upon their arrival in the U.S., many do not know where it is safe to go for help.
In 2014, I co-founded nonprofit AsylumConnect with my classmate at the University of Pennsylvania to fill this information gap. Initially inspired by my co-founder’s personal experiences seeking LGBTQ asylum in the U.S., we created the AsylumConnect catalog. The AsylumConnect catalog, available on web and mobile devices, is the first online resource database for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. The catalog enables LGBTQ asylum seekers to safely integrate in their new home through providing a platform for them to easily access resource information and referrals to meet their needs in key areas, including: housing, legal, food, medical, mental health, social support, employment, and education.
The AsylumConnect catalog seeks to act as a lifeline for LGBTQ asylum seekers - eliminating their fear of prejudice (all resources in the catalog are verified to be LGBTQ-friendly), lack of income (the catalog is free), and confidentiality concerns (the catalog does not require any personally identifiable information). Without the catalog’s information on where it is safe to go for help, LGBTQ asylum seekers face detention, homelessness, anti-LGBTQ providers, or no other option besides returning to their dangerous home country.
For me, AsylumConnect and the fight for LGBTQ equality has always been personal. When I started working on AsylumConnect at the age of 21, I still wasn’t “out.” It was AsylumConnect which finally motivated me to “come out” at the age of 22 in order to fight for others' basic human right to live authentically.
Because everyone deserves the safety to be themselves.
Katie Sgarro is a social entrepreneur and LGBTQ advocate. She is currently Co-Founder & President of tech nonprofit AsylumConnect. Katie has led AsylumConnect for the past 4 years in establishing the first online resource database for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. She received her B.A. cum laude [...]