NEW YORK (PIX11) — There are many countries around the world that criminalize same-sex consensual relationships. That’s why a team of advocates headquartered in New York City fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ immigrants seeking asylum.

It was a long, painful journey for Jude Black to discover and be able to fully express their true self. Coming out in their country would have meant persecution and imprisonment. They found support and guidance from an organization called Immigration Equality. 

Black is non-binary and came to the United States from Saudi Arabia in 2014. They grew up in a culture with very rigid gender roles. They could not live as their authentic self because if they came out, they could face the death penalty. 

“For the most part in Saudi, I was pretty much closeted my entire life. I couldn’t fully express who I was,” Black said.  

Thanks to Immigration Equality, a national organization based in New York City, Black is now safe. They are one over 1,500 LGBTQ individuals Immigration Equality has helped win asylum. The organization, with a staff of 15, coordinates a network of 1,400 lawyers all across the country who donate their services to more than 700 clients in 30+ states. 

“The demand for our services is greater than ever. We never want to turn anyone away,” said Kristen Thompson, the communications director at Immigration Equality.

The organization, founded more 25 years ago, specializes in fighting for LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive individuals, providing the legal support they need to live safely in the U.S.

Black’s dream is to one day open a center where people can come and be their true selves, to create the safe space they didn’t have as a teenager. 

“In over 70 countries, same-sex relationships that are consensual are criminalized and it’s unsafe to be LGBTQ+,” said Thompson.

Black is now an advocate for other LGBTQ+ people struggling to live proudly and openly and to find a sense of belonging in America.

If you want to support the work Immigration Equality does around the world, visit this website.