Together without Fear: Dennis and Jose

By USCRI February 6, 2023

Dennis and Jose sat next to each other, fidgeting nervously but determined to tell their story. The overwhelming emotion in the room is joy, even though their story unfolds amidst deadly persecution in their home country of Guatemala. They are happy to be able to be honest.

Dennis knew he was gay at an early age. His first attempt to share his sexual identity with his family resulted in physical abuse and ridicule. He was 11. He was told he was mentally sick and only seeking attention.

But Dennis survived. He created a successful life for himself, protected from abuse and marginalization through secrecy. It was an isolated but stable existence. Then he met Jose. Remembering their first meetings brings a huge smile to Dennis’s face and a gentle squeeze from Jose’s hand. That was the moment life changed.

Privately, Dennis and Jose’s affection grew into a loving and committed relationship. They longed to be able to share their joy openly. However, homosexual relationships are not tolerated – much less celebrated – in Guatemalan culture. In public, Dennis and Jose were barely friends.

Several times, one or the other was outed. They would suddenly lose a job or be thrown out of an apartment. There are no laws or policies in Guatemala to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation in any sector, including employment, education, housing, health care, or access to services.

Hate crimes against people known to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are escalating. According to Human Rights Watch, during the first ten months of 2022, 25 members of the LGBT community were killed in the Central American country.  Some of them were known to Dennis and Jose. They were members of their tight LBGT community of friends.

Dennis and Jose dodged death threats until one evening Dennis was brutally attacked. They knew it was time to leave. “We had to put all our life into a 50-pound suitcase and flee,” he said.

“Relief!” is how they described what it was like to arrive in Raleigh. They could hold hands and walk outside together without fear.

But it is also extremely difficult to leave their community of friends whose lives are still in danger. They hope that speaking out about their experiences will raise awareness and put pressure on the Guatemalan government to do more to end the violence and protect against discrimination.

Resettlement is a community effort. Some of the key USCRI NC partners that helped welcome Dennis and Jose include:

Welcome House, which provided the couple with a temporary home while USCRI NC lined up appropriate permanent housing.

Retake, a nonprofit founded by photojournalist Danielle Desnoyers, whose photoshoots empower traumatized individuals to capture what’s important and create a keepsake as they rebuild their lives.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, which was the USCRI Welcome Home Project community partner for this family.

The Green Chair Project, which partners with USCRI to turn donated used furniture into warm and welcoming new homes.

The Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, who supported Dennis and Jose as they started to build new careers.

USCRI NC is grateful to all our supporters and community partners who came together to make this next chapter in Dennis and Jose’s life possible.

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