A part of me still can’t believe I can walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand. In Honduras, where I am from, a man showing affection to another man could be a death sentence. Even though I was just 12 when I fled seven years ago, I knew without doubt that I could never express who I was while in Honduras. I could never be free to be me.
Perhaps I would have stayed in Honduras and remained trapped in a false identity and a false life, if it had not been for a day that put my life on an entirely new trajectory.
I remember it clearly. I was on the bus that took me to school. When I got off, gang members were waiting for me. They told me that they wanted me to sell drugs for them. I never wanted to involve myself with the gangs. They are all over Honduras. I knew they were dangerous and very bad. They started to target me because my father had died. Gangs often target children in households where there is no father to protect the family.
There is no protection against this type of violence in Honduras. You cannot look for help from the police. They do not do anything when there are problems with the gangs. Maybe they are involved with the gang, or they may also be afraid.
I was very scared — not only for me, but for my mom and sister, who the gang could also go after to try to get to me. I also feared what would happen if they found out I was gay. As I was growing older, it was getting harder and harder to hide.
I knew I had to leave.
Once in the United States, I was one of the lucky children referred to an organization that gave me a free lawyer to help make sure my claim for protection could be heard, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
But for most unaccompanied children, going through the U.S. immigration system is another journey they must make alone. Immigrants, regardless of their age, are not provided a lawyer to help us make their case before an immigration judge and defend against a government lawyer who is arguing for our deportation. The majority of children do not have a lawyer to help them, but those who do are often given the chance to live in safety and start a new life.
Even with a lawyer, it was very difficult for me to tell my story and to understand the process. I had to work a lot with my attorney, Cynthia, and talk about difficult things. I had to learn to trust her to be able to tell her the hardest things I had never told anyone.
I don’t know what I would have done without Cynthia and KIND. There is no way I would have understood the law, procedures, or how to explain my experiences and my fear of returning. I very likely would not have received asylum and would have had to return to face the gangs that were threatening my life. I truly believe they would have killed me.
Instead, I was allowed to stay in the United States. As a young, gay immigrant, I struggled at first, learning English and integrating into my community. I was still fearful of expressing myself. In some ways, I was still living as that terrified 12-year-old boy in Honduras.
A turning point was my first Pride march in 2017. It marked me forever. This is who I am; these are my people, I thought. I can hold hands with another man. I can express my feelings. I am safe from the gangs that wanted to hurt me. I can respect myself and be respected by others. I am free. I have a future.
Today, I want to be an immigration lawyer to help children like me who come alone to the United States to be safe. I want to show how each immigrant who comes here is a person with a dream for their future. They want nothing more than a chance to live out their dreams without fear or persecution, no different than everyone else.
My future is still ahead of me and, thanks to the United States, the possibilities are many. Whatever I do, however, I will do it in safety and as my full, true self.
*Named changed to protect identity