Reimagining LGBTI refugee resettlement
Reimagining LGBTI refugee resettlement
LGBTI people around the world face persecution and violence. What role can technology play in helping gay and lesbian refugees find safety?
Because of their nonconforming sexual orientation or gender identity, LGBTI refugees are often rejected by their community and families.
Accessible video chat, online information and an international network of allies can provide immense support along their journey to resettlement.
ROLE: UX & Service Design, Project Management
PROJECT DURATION: 1 year
METHODS: Qualitative User Interviews, International Research, Journey Mapping, Community Outreach
TOOLS: Skype, Powerpoint, Helpline Email Forum, Keynote, Indesign, Photoshop
DELIVERABLES: Lives saved
User centered design was a part of my practice even when I worked with nonprofits. As a Program Manager at ORAM, Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration, I led the pilot LGBTI Refugee U.S. Resettlement Program in San Francisco, establishing a national model.
80+ countries currently criminalize homosexuality, punishable by death in more than 10 of those countries.
The US offers protection under the asylum program. But the odds of being resettled are incredibly few.
PATH TO RESETTLEMENT
At ORAM, I worked closely with LGBTI refugees currently living in countries of persecution or flight and facilitated their resettlement into countries of safety. With a team of researchers, lawyers and advocates, we formed insights into their needs and challenges.
To better understand the community we were serving, I mapped their tumultuous journey to safety:
Refugees are often unaware of the options of asylum & resettlement, and are afraid to seek help.
Rejected by their countries and families, refugees often flee alone, with an almost non-existant network of support.
Due to language and cultural barriers, refugees have difficulty accessing services once resettled in the US.
For refugees & advocates to learn about their rights and find resources.
Remote volunteers provide encouragement & support from around the world.
A social network of volunteer mentors & advocates formed by existing LGBTI communities.
Knowledge of the asylum and resettlement process is one of the first obstacles for LGBTI refugees. We set out to launch a website to serve as a project portal for those working in the field; providing information and resources to refugees and those seeking to aid them.
For maximum exposure to our target population, I scoped out the following site requirements:
As most refugees have access to a smartphone more readily than a computer. (Computer labs are scarce, expensive & risk exposure to users.)
Ensuring LGBTI refugees can safely view the site in countries of persecution.
To account for low connectivity in developing nations.
Many languages have no terms for LGBTI people that are not derogatory. Furthermore, some countries censor these terms from key word searches.*
*We had to be creative in our marketing strategy to overcome these barriers- such as placing advertising on hook-up apps and sites which had managed to circumvent censorship.
Due to resource constraints, the portal was launched as an MVP, primarily serving as a resource for advocates to share research, ideas and trainings.
A NETWORK OF SUPPORT
Understanding the compounded difficulties of being queer, foreign and a refugee, we launched the first pilot program for assisted resettlement of LGBTI refugees in the United States.
To help refugees integrate, we formed “Guardian Groups” within existing LGBTI and allied community groups. Guardians supported LGBTI refugees remotely through video chat and email, and upon resettlement provided them with resources and housing.
We advocated that LGBTI refugees be resettled in major metropolitan areas - (imagine being gay and Middle Eastern and resettled in rural Alabama). To account for the intersecting experiences of LGBTI refugees, major cities provide the best socio-geographical opportunities for integration and creating a new life.
This service design model guided Refugee Resettlement Agencies' future work with this especially vulnerable population. Our reports informed the Heartland Alliance International's Rainbow Welcome Initiative, backed by the United State's Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Obama administration.
I coordinated research and production of a short documentary, "No Place for Me", where LGBTI urban refugees in Mexico, Uganda and South Africa tell their stories in their own powerful words.