A young couple fleeing terrifying persecution from an African country miraculously made their way to Marin County where they are seeking asylum and will realize their dream to marry, this week. Hailed as the first asylum seeking lesbian couple to marry at San Francisco City Hall, a renowned LGBT activist has kindly offered to join the celebration by officiating at the wedding, scheduled for Friday afternoon.
After years in limbo and a long harrowing journey Mari and Cara, (note we are using pseudonyms to protect family members from reprisal) finally made their way from Angola to the Bay Area in the United States. While seeking asylum, the couple is planning an historic wedding at San Francisco City Hall, which will be officiated by Anne Kronenberg, the American political administrator and LGBT rights activist, who is well known for her work as Harvey Milk’s campaign manager during his historic San Francisco Board of Supervisors campaign in 1977 and his aide as he held that office until the assassinations of Milk and Mayor Moscone. Their advocate and witness is Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African HRC, a former Marin County Human Rights Commissioner and last year’s San Francisco Pride Board’s community Grand Marshal.
Mari and Cara fell in love over seven years ago. Their outing as lesbians, first amongst family members, turned into many years of persecution.
After their parents found out they were in a lesbian relationship, they were kicked out of their homes. Mari’s mother invited them back and they thought her invitation was conciliatory. However that night after eating a dinner cooked especially for them, they both became violently ill. The food had been poisoned. They survived and fled to another part of Angola. Because of their appearance and perceptions by community they suffered extreme harassment and became targets, wherever they stayed.
Mari could not walk on the street without threats and derogatory comments. After renting a new apartment and starting a small business, their circumstances soon became a matter of life and death.
Neighbors would cut off the electricity and water supply and each time it was repaired it would happen again and again. Groups of people would appear intermittently outside their door shouting slogans and threats and preventing them from leaving the house. Their food began to run out and they had to take risks to go on the streets in a nearby area to sell belongings to survive. Their dog was poisoned, epithets were written on their walls, their business equipment was stolen and destroyed and they were told “we are going to rape and burn you.” Survival became impossible.
Nathan explained: “Their arrival in San Francisco, while life saving, is fraught with daunting challenges, and so Mari and Cara desperately need community support. LGBTI people are persecuted in 34 African countries, mostly because of old Colonial Penal Codes, ramped up anti-homosexuality laws, and provocation by Western fundamentalist religious extremists. There are very little mechanisms in place to help people into exile. There was virtually no help for Mari and Cara; and now very little in the way of resources to resettle here in the Bay Area. They are not allowed to legally work until six months after the filing of their asylum application.”
Mari and Cara, both talented musicians, are currently being housed in rural West Marin, thanks to the generosity of 2 host families. The accommodation will soon expire and the couple is looking for a room in Marin, the East Bay or City. A fund has been established to help them start their new life.
While the internationally renowned Cooley Law firm is providing pro bono legal representation to both Mari and Cara, in their quest for asylum, there are no humanitarian resources, and no ongoing funding to support LGBTI asylum seekers in the United States.
A fundraiser reception will be held thanks to the kindess of Destino restaurant, in the Castro, and radio TV personality, Michelle Meow. Anyone who would like to attend the fundraising event may contact nathan@AfricanHRC.org. Numbers are limited.
An Indiegogo fund has been started to help the couple at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/wedding-and-life-for-lgbt-asylum-seeking-couple/x/9186720 While the couple has received donations of services and some cash, much more is needed. We are hoping for a hotel to come forward and donate 2 free honeymoon nights in San Francisco.
The African Human Rights Coalition: African HRC, based in San Anselmo, provides case management, strategies, resources and humanitarian assistance to members of the LGBTI community in several African countries who are forced into hiding, or exile, including asylum seekers and refugees, as a result of anti-LGBTI laws or persecution. The ultimate goal is to help LGBTI people from Africa pursue freedom of sexuality, self-empowerment, and economic stability, whether in Africa or abroad, as the case may be. (www.AfricanHRC.org)