Inside The Plight of LGBTQ Refugees As They Await Asylum

By
Photography Raphaël Chatelain

Published August 28, 2019

Earlier this year, as certain politicians weaponized a caravan of migrants from Central America for their own public gain, the photographer and activist Raphaël Chatelain embedded himself in the group to document their plight. What he found were people escaping violence, poverty, and, especially in the case of the LGBTQ refugees he befriended, persecution. Temporarily settling into an abandoned house in Tijuana, Mexico, which its residents christened “Casa de Luz,” Chatelain chronicled the lives of the strangers he met as they waited for asylum.

“Tony (right), who is 22, made the decision to flee his country so that he could finally be free to express himself. Guato (left), who is 18, lost his father to violence. He doesn’t want the  same to happen to him. Here they are in the bedroom they share in ‘Casa de Luz’ while waiting for their asylum papers. Tony has a ritual of putting on headphones when he comes out of the shower and doing a full dance routine in front of the mirror. Guato saw that I was about to take a picture and struck a pose.”

“Cristóbal is resting after doing his laundry in a river separating Guatemala from Mexico. There was something calming and joyful about the rivers. This was the moment after an exhausting day of walking when people could finally relax, be playful, and forget for one moment the misery they were fleeing.”

“Francesca is a trans asylum seeker from El Salvador. She is a survivor of violence and mutilation. When I first met Francesca, it was in a little town in Guatemala. She was tagging along with a group of strangers so she wouldn’t be alone at night. She and her LGBTQ peers protected each other in the caravan, even though they didn’t know one another. She went from being skeptical to being the one holding the flag high and proud as they walked across a subcontinent.”