Out in the World: Bay Area LGBTQ groups launch new immigrant center

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday November 15, 2023
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Center for Immigrant Protection co-founders Okan Sengun, left, and Anjali Rimi, announced the new project November 14. Photo: Courtesy Center for Immigrant Protection
Center for Immigrant Protection co-founders Okan Sengun, left, and Anjali Rimi, announced the new project November 14. Photo: Courtesy Center for Immigrant Protection

Two Bay Area organizations, The LGBT Asylum Project and Parivar Bay Area, have announced the launch of the Center for Immigrant Protection.

The groups are calling the new program an "enhanced partnership," centering their work on uplifting transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex immigrants' lives through accessible and comprehensive support services.

"Now is the time to strengthen our partnership between The LGBT Asylum Project and PBA, under the Center for Immigrant Protection, to ensure that all LGBTQIA+ immigrants in our community have access to life-saving services," stated Okan Sengun, who was appointed as CIP's executive director, according to the November 14 news release announcing the organization's launch.

Sengun, a gay Turkish man and attorney, is co-founder and executive director of The LGBT Asylum Project, which provides legal services to asylees.

"These services should not be limited to legal assistance but should also address a wide range of needs, particularly those of TGNCI+ immigrants," Sengun continued. "In order to meet the needs of our clients and all LGBTQIA+ immigrants in our community while they start their new lives, we are proud to officially partner with Parivar Bay Area."

According to the release, The LGBT Asylum Project and Parivar Bay Area have worked closely together and unofficially as CIP since 2019. The asylum project has provided fiscal sponsorship for three years of Parivar's five years of existence. The two organizations are officially launching the program as its own entity with the asylum project overseeing operations.

The LGBT Asylum Project and Parivar will continue their work as individual organizations.

According to the center's website, its mission is to "empower and advocate for LGBTQIA+ immigrants, ensuring their safety, well-being, and celebrating social belonging, while uplifting TGNCI+ identities, to belong in the United States of America, and to build a community of light, love, and unity. We strive to provide comprehensive and accessible support services, including legal assistance and social integration, while promoting awareness, education, and acceptance."

Anjali Rimi, an Indian pansexual transgender Kinner, co-founded Parivar. She stated she was proud to form the center to serve the "unique and unaddressed needs" of the LGBTQ immigrant community.

"We are dedicated to ensuring that TGNCI+ immigrants receive the holistic support they deserve so they are able to thrive in San Francisco and beyond," Rimi stated.

The center is the newest organization focused on helping LGBTQ asylees, refugees, and migrants in the San Francisco Bay Area that the Bay Area Reporter has reported on. Others include the Canadian-based Rainbow Railroad's Welcome Corps program, Oasis Legal Services, and LGBTQ Refugee Services, which is run by Jewish Family and Community Services of the East Bay.

There are also the International Rescue Committee and the Organization for Refugee, Asylum, and Migration that serve queer immigrants.

Rimi was traveling this week, but responding to the B.A.R.'s question through CIP's publicist about how the center's services will be different from other LGBTQ and ally organizations serving asylees and refugees in the Bay Area, she wrote, "The primary distinction lies in the absence of assistance from the U.S. government."

"Instead, we are focused on directly managing asylum cases, providing grants, and engaging pro bono lawyers," she continued. "Our approach is trans-centering, emphasizing belonging and inclusivity."

Sengun was unavailable for comment.

The LGBT Asylum Project has provided legal assistance specifically for LGBTQ asylum seekers since its 2015 launch, as the B.A.R. previously reported. The project operates on a budget of more than $500,000, according to its 2022 IRS Form 990. According to its website, the project has successfully won asylum cases in the United States for 116 people since its founding and currently has 198 active cases under the leadership of Sengun and ally co-founder Brooke Westling. In 2022, the organization reached out to 712 LGBTQ immigrants through legal consultations and asylum applications.

Rimi, who uses she/they pronouns, formerly led Parivar, which also has a budget of about $500,000, she said. (Parivar means family in English.) The organization creates transgender-centered programs and spaces focused on immigrants from the Global South who are living in the Bay Area, according to its 2022 annual report. Last year, Parivar reported supporting 7,500 clients by creating 72 community spaces and events, 23 transgender entrepreneurship projects, and launching 10 programs.

Sengun is overseeing the new center's 15 staff members, some of whom also work for the asylum project. A separate nine-member board of directors will oversee the center. Rimi is serving as president of the board. The center will operate out of The LGBT Asylum Project's Castro Street office.

Sengun is an experienced LGBTQ advocate for more than 15 years. Since 2012, he's secured asylum and legal protections for LGBTQ asylees, including a "deep commitment" to serving transgender migrants, according to the release. In July, Sengun was honored with the Vera Haile Champion of Justice Award by the City and County of San Francisco's Immigrant Rights Commission at its Immigration Leadership Awards ceremony.

For more information about the Center for Immigrant Protection, click here.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Updated, 12/14/23: This article has been corrected to indicate that the LGBT Asylum Project has won asylum in the U.S. for 116 people since is founding and that Brooke Westling is a co-founder. Anjali Rimi formerly led Parivar Bay Area.

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