Knowing what’s at stake for Black LGBTQ refugees has inspired Tsion Gurmu’s life work of protecting their legal rights. For the past four years, the Ethiopian legal expert has served as an immigration and international human rights attorney, launching the Queer Black Immigrant Project (QBip) at the African Services Committee (ASC) to provide pro bono legal help to immigrants fleeing anti-homosexuality in their countries. A 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 Law & Policy honoree—and the new Legal Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI)—Gurmu states in her own words why fighting for LGBTQ youth is imperative for the continent and the next generation.
The particular focus on LGBTQIA+ Black youth immigrants highlights the extraordinary homophobic and transphobic repression and violence that still exist across the globe, as well as the anti-immigrant and racist sentiments many still battle against in the US. On the one hand, homophobia and transphobia plague African and Caribbean communities. On the other hand, xenophobia and racism are deeply rooted in largely white US LGBTQIA+ communities, and is reaching a boiling point in the current political climate. In order to dismantle the multi-layered systems of oppression faced by various communities, it is imperative to work intersectionally and invest in movements that raise the voices and demands of those most marginalized.
I developed a storytelling project with the Queer Black immigrant project (QBip), which is a groundbreaking venture that makes it possible for LGBTQIA+ Black youth to use their voices and technology to share previously untold narratives in an act of resistance against dominant narratives about race and immigration. The storytelling project has the power to change the way people think about policies and systems, including immigration, employment, health, and racial justice, and build a broader coalition of people for just immigration and a less racist society. It also has the power to combat the dangerousness of the single story of Africa and the Caribbean, and achieve a “balance of stories” by building human connections and bridges across communities, defying long-held traditions of how to tell African Diaspora stories in the West… Youth participants in QBip’s oral storytelling project have challenged systems of oppression in bold and imaginative ways that highlight the impact of intersecting forms of discrimination faced by LGBTQIA immigrants based on age, race, ethnicity, gender, class, immigration status, and other factors that drive exclusion, and reframes divisive xenophobic narratives into narratives of interconnectedness.
I find joy in leveraging the role of attorneys as gatekeepers to the oftentimes invisible stories of marginalized communities in order to bring hidden injustices to the community and policy level.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity