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Source’s tip leads to scoop on LGBT immigrants’ safe haven

Orville Howden, 39, of Jamaica, is interviewed at a home in Worcester, Mass., recently renovated by the LGBT Asylum Task Force, Dec. 1. 2021. Howden, a gay man who moved into the house in November, said he fled Jamaica in October 2020 after his roommate in Montego Bay was killed for being gay. The Caribbean nation is among roughly 70 countries, mostly in Africa, where homosexuality is explicitly outlawed, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, a Swiss group that tracks such laws. (AP Photo / Steven Senne)

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Boston-based immigration reporter Philip Marcelo and photographer Steven Senne teamed up for an AP scoop on an American first: A Massachusetts church that supports immigrants has opened a new home for LGTB asylum seekers fleeing their countries because of their sexual orientation.

Marcelo has cultivated an impressive network of sources in the course of robust beat reporting in New England. Those contacts paid off when a lawyer who had previously connected Marcelo with a client for a national story reached out with a tip on the community of LGBT refugees who’d fled government-sanctioned brutality in their homelands because of their sexual orientation and identification. That set in motion considerable discussion about what these asylum seekers from Jamaica, Uganda and other LGBT-hostile nations would be willing to say — and whether they’d consent to be photographed.

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Pastor Judith Hanlon of Hadwen Park Congregational Church, and co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Task Force, is interviewed in the kitchen of a recently renovated home for LGBT asylum seekers in Worcester, Mass., Dec. 1, 2021, accompanied by Al Green, director of the organization.Transforming the multifamily home for the project represents the biggest investment the ministry has undertaken in its long-running efforts to help LGBT immigrants. – AP Photo / Steven Senne

Marcelo and Senne found subjects willing to open up. The result was an evocative, nuanced, unique and highly visual package that shed light on a little-reported aspect of immigration. Senne’s dramatically lit portraits further elevated the work.

Marcelo’s story is the latest in a series demonstrating that compelling narratives around immigration can be found, and told, far from the southern border.

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