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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Video Captures the Isolation of Being an LGBT Refugee in San Francisco

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 at 9:44 AM

click to enlarge junior.jpg

Junior Mayema came to San Francisco in November 2014, hoping to flee the racism and homophobia he’d experienced in South Africa. Being both gay and gender nonconforming, he was an easy target for police assault (his wrist was broken), and in Congo, his birthplace, “everything was impossible” because of his identity.

Journalist Brian Rinker (a former intern at SF Weekly) began documenting Junior’s story in April. At that point, Junior was a regular at Cafe Flore in the Castro and living in transitional housing near Divisadero. He received almost $300 per month in government benefits but was having a hard time surviving in San Francisco.

“Junior said he'd never seen poverty like he has in San Francisco, and being homeless scares him,” Rinker told me. “I think what irked Junior most was that he sought refuge in a world renowned, LGBT-friendly city only to find he still didn't belong and the only resources available to him were the same ones available to all poor people.”

Indeed, as Junior notes in the video, no programs in San Francisco specialize in housing or employment for LGBT refugees. He graduated from L.E.N. Institute on Market Street, a job placement program for low-income adults, and shortly after found a job at the ballpark. Still, he feels isolated and worries he might not realize his dream of becoming a lawyer in the U.S.

“He fears that if he doesn't make it he could end up like the thousands of homeless he sees every day wandering the streets, which isn't the most happy of endings,” Rinker said.

For Junior, life as an LGBT refugee in San Francisco is both liberating and lonely. “I’m not happy,” he declares in the video, yet he also avows, “I still have life to live.”

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Jeremy Lybarger

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