Changing the lives of LGBT immigrants in the United States, including my own

Fernando Elizondo, Legislative Fellow from Mexico

It's been approximately five years since I came out to myself as a gay man. It was precisely during my masters studies in the United States, when I was first exposed to a truly open and diverse environment, that I was able to overcome all of my fears and hesitations to admit it. Because of this, when I first learned about the Legislative Fellows Program run by Partners of the Americas, I was doubtful of the impact that this program could have in my personal and professional life, since I'd already “lived the American experience”.

How mistaken I was!

Since returning to Mexico from my graduate studies abroad in the U.S., I have dedicated my professional life to the defense of human rights in my hometown of Monterrey. My work has particularly involved cases of immigrant rights and LGBT rights, among other areas. So in the end, it was my curiosity to learn more from the work of an American non-profit that finally convinced me to apply to be a Legislative Fellow.

After the initial shock of being selected, I began the process of working with the Partners staff to select my host organization. It was during this time that I learned of an organization that worked precisely on the intersection of the two areas that I had been dedicating the past three years of my work to: LGBT immigrants.

Immigration Equality is, without a doubt, the leading organization in all of the United States working to protect LGBT and HIV positive migrants. On paper, the organization sounded like an amazing place to work at, but after having worked there for a month, I can honestly say that reality completely exceeded any and all of my expectations.

During my four-week fellowship at Immigration Equality, I worked as part of the legal team. From the moment I walked into the office on my first day, I could tell that it was going to be a very hectic month packed with work. In total, I was assigned to work on four cases during my fellowship, all of which were concerned with LGBT immigrants, particularly trans women from Latin America who were seeking asylum in the U.S. because of persecution in their home countries. Being able to work so closely on the cases, especially having the opportunity to be a translator in two asylum interviews, completely changed my impression of the U.S. immigration and asylum policy. True, the immigration policy in America is far from perfect, but during my time at Immigration Equality, I realized that there are many things that the U.S. is doing right and that countries such as Mexico can learn from.

But beyond the impact that this experience had on my professional life, my time at Immigration Equality also changed me on a very personal level. Every single person working there is deeply committed to the organization’s mission. They are one of the most passionate groups of individuals I have had a chance to work with and they firmly believe in the work that they do. They might hear these words very often, but they all truly are saving lives.

Being a gay man from Mexico, there were times where many of the cases I worked on or the clients I met with hit very close to home for me. And that is why I feel so thankful. Thankful to the staff for having been so patient with me and having let me work hand in hand with them. But also, thankful in a more symbolic way for all the work they are doing for the LGBT community, particularly those from Latin America.

After one month, it was very hard for me to say goodbye to Immigration Equality and the amazing friends I had met. But fortunately enough, I landed right in the middle of another incredible group of individuals: the other Class III Legislative Fellows. After a month in New York City, I was bound for Washington, D.C. where I finally got a chance to meet all of the other Fellows. Men and women from five different countries that dedicate their work to creating change and impacting the lives of others in their own fields of expertise. I still do not understand how but in just six weeks, each and every one of these individuals became a part of my family.

Now, as I sit here at my desk reflecting and looking back at my experience as a Legislative Fellow, I am still not sure if it all truly happened. The work I was able to do, the experiences I was able to live, but above all, the people that I was able to meet have honestly changed me forever.