Being a Queer Migrant in the Pandemic
By Muhammad Salman Khan
Members of the LGBT Asylum Task Force, a Worcester-based group that provides support to queer people fleeing persecution in their home countries to apply for asylum in the United States, march in the 2018 Boston Pride Parade. Credit: O’Neill Associates.
The fear and panic that existed around the coronavirus pandemic has only made me numb. I’ve been already living a life of social isolation since last year, away from my family and loved ones long before we were all forced to live life in the lockdown, cut off from our daily routines and our human connections.
People call me “Sal” in the States. Originally from Pakistan, I had to flee my country to live my truth as a gay person. As an activist and journalist, I’ve continued striving for equality and human rights from the US, but now I’ve been forced to cage myself from this invisible threat that has killed millions.
I had to seek political asylum in the US in 2019 and now I live in Worcester. Boston Pride (my first time attending was last year) was an experience that I miss. The few weekly community events I used to go to were all closed now. I’d started feeling a little homesick. I have no friends and family here, living on your own takes a toll on you.
Due to my precarious immigration status, I’ve been unable to work or do much. I got my work permit this March, but there were no jobs. As a financially-struggling, queer asylum seeker, it has been quite a stressful time for me. The lockdown just worsens the social isolation that I was already in.
Social isolation adversely affects one’s mental health. I have been quite depressed, sad, and lonely which has intensified during the lockdown. To overcome the pain of my displacement and social isolation, I just look forward to a day where I will be free to live my life without any fear and live my American dream.
My story is not unique, Aredvi Azad lives in Western Massachusetts. They are a non-binary immigrant who fled Iran’s anti-LGBTQ+ persecution to seek asylum in the US. After being granted asylum many years ago, they became a US citizen just over a year ago.
Having lived most of their adult life in the US, Aredvi has had limited chances to see their family. Due to the “Muslim Ban” in 2017, their parents’ visas were revoked and their trip to the US canceled. So, after obtaining their US passport, Aredvi was excited to travel abroad to see them after 12 years apart.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, Aredvi’s family had to cancel their travel plans once again. Their inability to have their parents come to the US has deeply affected them. “The hardest part of the pandemic on a personal level has been the awareness that my family is thousands of miles away and I have no idea when I can see them again. There is no way for me to travel to them, and no way for them to travel to me,” they lament.
Despite being a US citizen now, Aredvi is fully aware that they cannot access all the citizenship privileges many Americans take for granted. “When you are queer and an immigrant, finding a community becomes very hard. I have always felt that I don’t quite belong in the queer community for being an immigrant, and I don’t quite belong in the Iranian community for being queer,” they add.
Hassan Ghanny is an Indo-Caribbean queer author and journalist based in Boston, who volunteers for a mutual aid collective called Boston Food Not Bombs. The collective provides community meals to folks in Cambridge, Massachusetts every Saturday, offering crucial relief to many who are homeless or living in poverty.
Coping during this time has been a challenge for him. He would feel guilty, as a young and healthy person, if he didn’t help people who are either immunocompromised or financially struggling during such uncertain times. Because of the risks associated with his volunteering, Hassan has also self-isolated from his roommates who are working from home or laid off.
Despite the trouble the pandemic caused Hassan, it also proved to be a positive and healthy way for him to socialize. He wants to continue helping his community, low-income people, people of color, and queer communities of Boston. Though he is himself a gay man, a child of immigrants, and a person of color, he thinks this crisis is so unprecedented and so massively impactful that it’s “all hands on deck” right now to help everyone.
Hassan does not consider himself a hero, he believes as humans we have our limitations and that crisis impacts us all. “I use to think Boston was a fairly disconnected city, but I’ve seen the connections flourish across barriers out of necessity. I feel connected vicariously through that connectedness, so I hope those networks stay in place as we move through and beyond this the crisis,” he adds.
Muhammad Salman Khan
Muhammad Salman Khan (Sal Khan) is an LGBTQ+ activist and journalist from Pakistan currently on asylum in the US. He is based in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he actively volunteers for Boston Pride, Worcester Pride, and other community-based organizations. He is a campaigner for LGBTQ+ equality, immigration, and racial justice issues. He tweets at @IamGreenGuru and can be reached through his email at firstname.lastname@example.org,