Strangers No Longer: Welcoming LGBTQ+ Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Sr. Tracey Horan

Today’s post is from guest contributor Sr. Tracey Horan. Tracey is a Sister of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana and hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. She has ministered as a teacher, community organizer and advocate accompanying migrant communities for over a decade, and has written on justice issues for HOPE MagazineGlobal Sisters ReportMessy Jesus Business, and A Matter of Spirit.

Today’s liturgical readings for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found by clicking here.

(Editor’s Note: Some names in this post have been changed for safety.)

Twenty years ago today, bishops in the U.S. and Mexico jointly published the pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” The letter was a resounding call for the welcome and inclusion of people who have migrated to the U.S. “Strangers No Longer” invited Catholics to consider the context in which people choose to migrate, what Catholic teaching has to say about welcoming the stranger, and how policy changes could facilitate this welcome. In its introduction, “Strangers No Longer” states, “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us.”

As a Sister of Providence who has ministered at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2019, I’ve been privileged to be part of this welcome, helping asylum seekers find refuge in the U.S., including LGBTQ+ people.

LGBTQ+ migrants are often at risk in both their countries of origin and on the journey to a stable existence, a clear example of “the most vulnerable among us.” A 2019 study found that, on average, four LGBTQ+ individuals were murdered each day in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mexico has also seen recent surges in anti-LGBTQ+ violence. Recent anti-asylum policies under the Trump and Biden administrations have heightened these risks as LGBTQ+ people seeking refuge are either expelled to Mexico or forced to wait there.

Where I minister, these numbers are transformed into stories. Last year, I met a Haitian man who escaped from his home because of death threats when his community discovered that he was gay. His partner was not so lucky: he had been murdered. For the first few days staying at our shelter, this refugee struggled to sleep as he was plagued with nightmares and images of what had happened. He also knew that as a gay Black migrant who did not speak Spanish well, he would be at risk of being targeted as soon as he left our shelter. Despite this reality, he quickly got to know a number of staff at our migrant center, slowly made his way toward healing, and sent us a celebratory text once he had made it to the U.S.

Vicencio and Rafael are a gay couple who were staying at our shelter with their son, Felipe. Vicencio and Rafael had both worked as professionals before facing threats in southern Mexico. Felipe is a lively six year old with seemingly boundless energy. At the shelter, the family contributed to our operations by volunteering in the day-to-day work of our first aid room and food services. One day, Vicencio and Rafael expressed hesitation about who might receive them in the U.S., given that they had not come out to their family members here. They doubted their family would accept them if they knew the couple were gay.

Before trying to match this family with possible sponsors, I wanted to make sure that such a group would be open and affirming of an LGBTQ+ family. One particular asylum support coalition had volunteered to sponsor a family, but because it included some Catholic churches I worried that it would not accept this particular family. When I reached out to the coalition’s contact, she explained that it would be members of her church, an open and affirming Protestant congregation, who would be welcoming the family. We talked briefly about honoring the couple’s agency around whether they desire to come out to the congregation or not.

After I hung up, it hit me how relieved I was that this agency would not be connecting them with a Catholic church. And then I grieved that I cannot count on my denomination to welcome a gay couple in need of sponsorship as they flee death threats. Certainly, there are Catholic parishes that would rise to the challenge, but knowing that some authorities in the Roman Catholic Church publicly exclude or condemn LGBTQ+ people was enough to give me pause.

Two decades after “Strangers No Longer” was published, we still have not lived up to the invitations it contains. In the letter, the bishops state:

“Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.”

Queer migrants are often caught up in discrimination based both on their legal standing in a country and their LGBTQ+ identity. These siblings of ours often bear the double burden of being labeled strangers by both the hierarchical Church and elected leaders of the state. I imagine this burden of double discrimination weighs on both shoulders, like the yoke that the prophet Isaiah says burdened those who walked in darkness (Is 9:3).

In many cases, our Protestant neighbors demonstrate for us the flip side of Isaiah’s message in today’s first reading. They show us what it means to shine a light in a land of gloom: to choose a double welcome over double burden as we receive LGBTQ+ migrants into our communities.

And as our grief motivates our desire for a more welcoming Church, Jesus shows us the way forward in today’s Gospel. He does take time to grieve the imprisonment of his dear cousin John. And then, he is propelled forward by God’s light to continue recruiting others to his revolution of the heart.

I later learned that after an initial welcome by a Protestant family, Vicencio, Rafael, and Felipe were also supported by two Catholic families: one that offered hospitality in their home and another that sponsored the apartment where they now live. Even as I grieve that LGBTQ+ migrants do not always receive this welcome in Catholic communities, I celebrate the individuals who cling to a Gospel that inspires their solidarity. May we who claim to follow Christ be inspired to do the same: to grieve what we see that is not of God, and to move forward creating the welcome Christ envisioned.

Sr. Tracey Horan, January 22, 2023

9 replies
  1. Sandra Even
    Sandra Even says:

    This story touches me deeply. I am Catholic and live in Southern California. I am called to minister to the LGBTQ+ community. How can I become more involved with helping and providing shelter for migrant families like this?

  2. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Sr Theresa
    I was at once elated by your work with LGBT migrant persons and families , and at the same time I felt shame because our official Roman Catholic Church has not come to welcome them With the same boldness and kindness withwhich other Christian churches have done.. I pray that our official Roman Catholic Church eventually come to realize that INCLUSION In a very special way must include LBGT persons.

  3. Maurice Richard
    Maurice Richard says:

    Thank you Sr. Tracey for your words. They are comfort and challenge. We still have plenty of repentance to go through even as we celebrate those who are supportive . . . Most concerning are those who stand in the middle and who never know where their lives will land . . . Lord, protect them, Lord change our hearts.

  4. hilary
    hilary says:

    This brought me to tears. Do people not realise that they had no say over their gender/sex in utero? And whatever that is, one is made in the image and likeness of G-D.

  5. Marsha A. Speth
    Marsha A. Speth says:

    Thank you, Tracey, for bringing this issue to light. I really hadn’t thought about the double prejudice these people suffer both in their own country and in ours. I, too, hope and pray more of our Churches will open their doors and hearts!

  6. Mary Montgomery
    Mary Montgomery says:

    Thank you, Tracey, for these reflections, invitations, challenge and the good news of welcome and care for the LGBTQ+ family recently received by a Protestant family and supported by two Catholic families. Gracias, mi hermana en Providencia!


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