New Philadelphians who are resettling from another country will now have more opportunities to learn about and get involved with local LGBT resources, thanks to a new program at William Way LGBT Community Center.
The center, with partner HIAS Pennsylvania, recently launched an initiative to connect LGBT refugees, immigrants and asylum-seekers with Philadelphia’s LGBT community. With financial backing from DVLF, William Way recruited a team of volunteers who will work one on one with the immigrant participants, and is also looking for organizational support.
The effort came to fruition after a meeting among representatives of the center, HIAS, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Nationalities Service Center and the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Office of Immigrant Affairs.
“We were really interested in understanding the issues impacting LGBT immigrants and refugees and how the center can be a better resource for that population,” said Candice Thompson, William Way COO. “We all identified the need for services in the city that are more responsive to LGBT immigrants and we see ourselves as being able to meet some of those needs.”
Thompson noted that many immigrants are resettled among people who share their country of origin; for LGBTs, that trend can be isolating.
“Immersing them in communities that may have discriminated against them abroad isn’t always the best strategy,” she said. “So we wanted to help develop a strong community of LGBT immigrants and resources that folks from all over the world could tap into.”
Among the project’s aims are to enhance the LGBT cultural competency of agencies that may serve LGBT resettlers and to reduce language barriers to make LGBT resources more accessible to this population.
The center will also connect participants to its own programming, as well as to resources at other community organizations.
“We see ourselves as their connection to social, civic and cultural opportunities,” Thompson said. “We want, in their first 90 days and beyond, for them to be able to tap into and become educated about resources here in Philadelphia. There are so many for LGBTQ people.”
Helping in that process will be about a dozen “Ambassadors,” local LGBT community members who will be trained by HIAS PA and matched with the immigrant participants; Thompson said she anticipates there being up to 10, primarily from Uganda and Syria. The volunteer Ambassadors will meet with the participants several times a month and introduce them to local organizations, activities and events.
The center is also looking to enlist local organizations in the work. Thompson noted as an example that the Falcons Soccer Club has already signed on to participate; the center will refer immigrant participants interested in the LGBT athletic community to the club, and representatives will be ready to show them the ropes of the organization. The Falcons are also raising money for clothes, soccer cleats and more for the immigrant participants.
“They’ve been a wonderful community partner,” Thompson said of the club. “We’re looking for other social, recreation and cultural opportunities folks can participate in. We’ll refer people out to those groups and then the groups will have a specific person we know we can point to that they can meet and who will take them around in the community.”
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