By ORAM Staff

Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration staff members and LGBTI refugees Ali Khoie and Subhi Nahas were honored with the Horizons Foundation’s first-ever Courage Awards at the foundation’s 35th Anniversary Gala on October 3.

An estimated 700 attendees gathered at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel to celebrate the LGBT foundation’s milestone. Since Horizons’ inception in 1980, it has granted over $32 million to organizations supporting the LGBTI community’s needs to secure rights and celebrate the lives of LGBT people.

Horizons Foundation Honorees (l to r) refugees Subhi Nahas, a gay man from Syria, left, and Cameroonian couple Gertude Metsiegoum and Carine. (Photo: Courtesy of the Horizons Foundation)

Ali and Subhi spoke about their experiences as gay men living in Iran and Syria, respectively, and their escape from persecution. The two shared their plight fleeing their homelands to Turkey, and the uncertainty of being refugees and being resettled several months ago in San Francisco.

Subhi, 28, escaped Syria after being terrorized for being gay by the country’s military and insurgent militias. He was attacked by his father to the point of hospitalization. Afraid for his life, he arranged to cross into Lebanon. He remained there for six months before moving to Turkey, where he lived for three years before he was resettled to the US.

Coming to the US has been a whirlwind for Subhi, who went from being an LGBTI activist in the charged homophobic environment of Turkey to speaking about his experience of being a gay refugee before the United Nations Security Council at its first-ever LGBT meeting in August.

“I felt honored to share my story with people who genuinely care,” said Subhi, who hopes to “pave the road” for other refugees like himself.

Ali, 38, left Iran when he understood that living underground wasn’t living at all. Terrified of being discovered for being gay and desiring to live openly as a gay man, he journeyed to Turkey where he lived for nearly two years before being resettled to the US recently.

Ali felt honored to receive the Courage Award.

“It was empowering,” said Ali, explaining that as a refugee, “when you come to a different country you feel paralyzed at first. No matter how confident you are, a lot of things happen that make you question whether you can really make it.”

Receiving the Horizons award “was one of those things that push you forward and make you feel strong,” he said.

The foundation honored nine other recipients aside from Ali and Subhi. Other refugees honored included Cameroonian lesbian couple Getrude Metsiegoum and Carine who resettled in San Francisco with their daughter in 2014.

“Horizons is proud to honor this courageous group of LGBT refugees, who weren’t afforded even the most basic human rights and protections in their home countries,” said Roger Doughty, executive director of Horizons. “Together, these awards show clearly both how much the LGBT community has achieved and how very far there is to go before all LGBT people enjoy safety, equality, and dignity.”

The Horizons Foundation has become a leading funder of international LGBT rights, launching the Global Faith and Equality Fund, an $8 million donor-advised initiative in 2013. Horizons also provides grants to local organizations for assisting LGBT refugees/asylum seekers who are already in the San Francisco area. These grants help with critical services including housing, food, medicine, medical and mental health services and legal aid.

“It’s very important that our community is focusing more on this critical issue,” said ORAM Executive Director Neil Grungras, about the Global Faith and Equality Fund. “It’s a natural focus after marriage equality.” He expressed gratitude to ORAM board member attorney Fred Hertz, who was an essential force behind the refugee awards.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, was also honored with a Courage Award at the gala.

“This Global Faith and Equality Fund is enormously important, given that much of the assistance to refugees in the world comes from faith communities,” said Neil. “We must engage the faith community at every opportunity, creating relationships of trust with faith leaders, who are key to refugee assistance.”

In 2011, ORAM launched its Rainbow Bridges initiative, working closely with faith-based organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide. The project, involving Guardian Groups largely in faith communities, brought together congregants and clergy alike to assist newly-resettled LGBTI refugees. The model has since been adopted by several organizations in the U.S.

“It’s a great privilege for Horizons to recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of each of the 2015 honorees, especially at this major anniversary celebration,” said Robert. “Their presence and their words made a most inspiring evening for all.”