No More Strangers: Welcoming LGBTQ+ Migrants at the US-Mexico Border

Sr. Tracey Horan

Today’s contribution is by guest author Sr. Tracey Horan. Tracey is a Sister of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana and is from Indianapolis, Indiana. She has been a teacher, community organizer and advocate for facilitating migrant communities for over a decade and has written on justice issues for HOPE Magazine, Global Nurses Report, messy jesus shop, and A matter of the mind.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 3rd Sunday of the year can be found here.

(Editor’s Note: Some names in this post have been changed for security reasons.)

20 years ago today, bishops in the United States and Mexico jointly published the pastoral letter “No More Strangers: Together on the Journey of Hope.” The letter was an overwhelming call to welcome and accommodate people who have migrated to the United States. Strangers No Longer invited Catholics to reflect on the context in which people choose to migrate, what Catholic teaching has to say about welcoming strangers, and how policy changes might facilitate this welcome. The introduction to Strangers No Longer states, “We judge ourselves as a faith community by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.”

As a Sister of Providence ministering at the US-Mexico border since 2019, I have had the privilege of being part of that welcome and helping asylum seekers find sanctuary in the US, including LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ migrants are often vulnerable both in their countries of origin and on the way to a stable livelihood, a clear example of “the most vulnerable among us”. A 2019 study found that an average of four LGBTQ+ people are murdered every day in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico has also seen a recent surge in violence against LGBTQ+. Recently Anti-asylum policies under the Trump and Biden administrations have increased these risks because LGBTQ+ people seeking protection are either deported to Mexico or have to wait there.

Where I serve, those numbers turn into stories. Last year I met a Haitian who fled his home because of death threats when his community found out he was gay. His partner wasn’t so lucky: he had been murdered. For the first few days of our stay at our shelter, this refugee struggled to sleep as he was plagued by nightmares and images of what had happened. He also knew that as a gay black migrant who didn’t speak Spanish well, he would be at risk of being targeted as soon as he left our accommodation. Despite this reality, he quickly met some of the staff at our migrant center, slowly made his way towards healing, and texted us celebratoryly when he made it to the US

Vicencio and Rafael are a gay couple who lived in our shelter with their son Felipe. Vicencio and Rafael had both worked as professionals before being threatened in southern Mexico. Felipe is a lively six-year-old with seemingly limitless energy. At the shelter, the family contributed to our operations by volunteering in the daily work of our first aid room and catering services. One day, Vicencio and Rafael expressed concerns about who might receive them in the US, since they hadn’t come out to their family members here. They doubted that their family would accept them if they knew the couple was gay.

Before attempting to match this family with possible sponsors, I wanted to make sure such a group was open and affirmative of an LGBTQ+ family. A certain Asylum Support Coalition had volunteered to sponsor a family, but because it included a number of Catholic churches, I worried that it would not accept that particular family. When I reached out to the coalition contact, she explained that it would be members of her church, an open and affirmative Protestant congregation, who would welcome the family. We spoke briefly about honoring the couple’s agency, whether or not they want to come out to the congregation.

After I hung up, I realized how relieved I was that this agency wasn’t going to associate her with a Catholic church. And then I grieved over not being able to count on my denomination to welcome a gay couple who need sponsorship while fleeing death threats. Certainly there are Catholic parishes that would rise to the challenge, but knowing that some authorities in the Roman Catholic Church publicly disfellowship or condemn LGBTQ+ people was enough to stop me.

Two decades after the release of Strangers No Longer, we still haven’t lived up to the invitations it contained. In the letter, the bishops state:

“Our shared faith in Jesus Christ drives us to seek ways that foster a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends boundaries and calls us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we can build just and loving relationships.”

Queer migrants are often discriminated against based on their legal status in a country and their LGBTQ+ identity. These brethren of ours often bear the double burden of being labeled aliens by both the hierarchical church and elected leaders of the state. I imagine this burden of double discrimination resting on both shoulders, like the yoke that the prophet Isaiah said weighed on those who walked in darkness (Isaiah 9:3).

In many cases, our Protestant neighbors are showing us the flip side of Isaiah’s message in today’s first reading. They show us what it means to shine a light in a murky land: to choose a double welcome rather than a double burden as we welcome LGBTQ+ migrants into our communities.

And while our grief motivates our desire for a more welcoming church, Jesus shows us the way forward in today’s Gospel. He takes time to mourn his dear cousin John’s imprisonment. And then he is propelled by God’s light to continue to recruit others for his revolution of the heart.

I later learned that after an initial welcome from a Protestant family, Vicencio, Rafael and Felipe were also assisted by two Catholic families: one who offered hospitality in their home and another who sponsored the apartment where they now live. While I regret that LGBTQ+ migrants are not always as welcome in Catholic communities, I celebrate those people who hold to a gospel that inspires their solidarity. May we who profess to be Christ followers be inspired to do the same: to mourn what we see that is not of God, and to go forward and create the welcome Christ He envisioned.

Sr. Tracey Horan, January 22, 2023