Stories of Change

Safe Space Program Participant, Isaiah

The Radical Welcome of Safe Space

“You are safe here.” With these simple yet profound words, we stepped into the welcoming embrace of an LGBTQ+-affirming community house for refugees, supported by CWS’s Safe Space* program in Kenya. This declaration, voiced by Isaiah, a program participant and leader, encapsulates the essence of what Safe Space strives to create: a haven of belonging, comfort and acceptance.

For many, this feeling of security is found in our homes, places of worship or other “third space” spots like local gyms and coffee shops. These sanctuaries allow us to be ourselves, free from fear or judgment. Yet, for countless LGBTQ+ individuals across the globe, such safe spaces are a rare and precious luxury. Instead, members of this community must navigate a world that compels them to shrink their personalities so that one slip-up doesn’t cost them their safety or, in some cases, their lives.

In the community house we visited, Isaiah’s presence seemed to match or perhaps create the energy in which we sat. He wore bright orange pants, a white top and Converse sneakers that subtly but bravely revealed rainbow outlines. In one word, Isaiah was radiant. He spoke with confidence and you could see the way the other program participants admired and felt safe with him. As we each introduced ourselves, the participants let us know that in this home, they are all brothers and sisters; a sentiment that not only perpetuated kindness and welcome but courageously challenged what a family structure means.

As we sat in a circle in this space that was flooded with light and warmth, the participants shared pieces of their stories. Many revealed the harassment they face each day on the streets and the concern about whether they will even make it home that night. Some told stories of heartbreak when their families rejected them, disowned them and left them with nothing.

One individual shared that every night, he and his fellow program participants hold a church service in the privacy and safety of the community house. Despite the rejection some of them had faced from religious figures, they held onto their faith, choosing to believe in its goodness. He wondered if any churches existed that welcomed queer individuals and was excited when our local colleague shared that Safe Space partners with faith leaders to create LGBTQ+-affirming churches. Even more surprising to him was the news that CWS is a faith-based organization. His excitement was matched by our own realization of how unique and radical this program truly is. In a world where many queer individuals struggle to find acceptance in religious spaces, here was CWS, a faith-based organization saying, “we accept you, we care about you and we support you.”

Through each word, and each story that Isaiah and the participants voiced, there existed a deep intentionality. It became intensely noticeable what this space truly meant for each participant. What it meant to be called “brother” or “sister”; to be seen the way you see yourself and to laugh and speak without wondering if you have shown too much. In this space, individuals could peel off the armor that they were forced to carry, and in their greatest vulnerability, they could be seen and loved.

*CWS’ Safe Space program works to develop spaces for LGBTQ+ refugees and locals where they can find belonging and access additional care including shelter, psychosocial support, legal resources and healthcare. The program aims to develop public attitudes that are affirming and inclusive of LGBTQ+ communities by partnering with and educating faith leaders. You can click here to learn more about our work in CWS Africa. 

Note: For the safety and protection of the program participant in this story, faces have been hidden and a pseudonym has been used.

This story was written by Mariana Gama, CWS Program Communications Specialist