Story by Jon Dillon, National Headquarters, Casework and Outreach Associate
When I, and I would assume most people, think about social justice issues, reconnecting families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies is often far from the first topic that comes to mind. We live in a world where identity, poverty, and politics, among other causes and combinations of these factors, create injustices that capture the spotlight whether it be in media, politics, or conversations around the dinner table. Before working with the Restoring Family Links program, I must admit that this was the case for me as I whole heartedly pursued my own social justice issue – gender and sexual minority rights. Yet, as with most social justice issues, the linkages between gender and sexual minority rights and reconnecting families are not hard to find.
A couple years ago, I had the opportunity to intern with several organizations advocating for gender and sexual minorities in Uganda. While there, I witnessed the struggles and hardships of this community, but also their resilience and dedication to supporting one another in what often seemed (and continues to seem) like an up-hill battle. I also heard heart-wrenching stories of family disavowals – families being torn apart, not by factors of war or disaster, but by the fear and disdain of a form of identity solely based around an individual’s perception of self and love. Often the story ended there: separation with no hope of resolution or reconnection. However, there were always the few stories of a father, mother, aunt, uncle, or sibling reaching out to their loved one to restore that broken bond and heal the emotional wounds and worries caused by family separation.
While these separations often take place domestically, it is becoming more common for those persecuted because of their gender and/or sexual identity to seek refuge in nations with more friendly attitudes towards sexual and gender minorities. It is within this intersection that I find myself pondering the place of the Restoring Family Links program. While hundreds of advocates fight for this community to have the right to be who they are (or simply the right to live), is there a place for the Red Cross to reconnect those who have fled with those who, in some cases, they fled from? This is obviously largely dependent on the ability of rights advocates and individuals to change the hearts and minds of the general public and governing bodies that dictate and support the discrimination of gender and sexual minorities. However, since family is defined by context, the American Red Cross understands that there is a place for reconnection between sexual and gender minority refugees and their family back home. Simply put, the humanitarian need for families to reconnect after a separation is understood to be a paramount need for the emotional and psychological vitality of the world’s newest set of refugees and asylum seekers regardless of the source of that separation, but perhaps more importantly because of that abrupt separation and the context.
This is just one of the many intersections between the Restoring Family Links program and social justice issues. From exploring the root causes of migration to the drivers of conflict, global injustices continue to pull people apart. However, this also pushes people together. It is my hope that through these new interactions, those who have suffered at the hand of injustice can find new opportunities to right wrongs and rebuild broken bonds.