While pursuing higher education in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Julis Boris became deeply involved with La Colombe A.S.B.L., an advocacy group dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights, especially transgender rights, in the Eastern Congo.

Boris said they were arrested twice monthly and sexually assaulted. They needed to leave the country, and they were accepted into the human rights advocates program at Columbia University. But after the government of DRC caught wind of Boris’ advocacy, they had Boris arrested for "promoting homosexuality on behalf of Congolese people."

Boris knew they could not return to their country. They became homeless. Then they found out about the LGBTQ Asylum Task Force in Worcester.

“They paid for everything. I only had $40 in my pocket,” Boris recalled. “And when I got to the Union Station in Worcester, [Pastor Judy] was there waiting for me.”

Pastor Judy Hanlon is the co-founder of the LGBT Asylum Task Force, a ministry of Hadwen Park Congregational Church that's uniquely focused on supporting immigrants fleeing their countries due to their sexual orientation.

This operation started 15 years ago, when she got a call from an attorney who had noticed her activism relating to same-sex marriage. The attorney was representing a young, gay man from Jamaica. He was hungry and tired, and he believed God hated him. Pastor Judy was moved by that conversation. She dedicated herself to providing him with food and housing, all with financial support from the church. And word soon spread.

“We are the only organization in the world ... that houses and feeds [asylum-seeking] people,” she explained. "We don't do the legal work, we don't do the medical work, we connect."

The Task Force's mission goes beyond shelter and food; they provide emotional support and a path to financial independence. Asylum seekers are placed in apartments with their own keys for privacy, and the task force helps them to find attorneys, doctors and mental health care.

It costs $55,000 a month to house 30 people. Last fall, they housed up to 40 people. They’ve received three new residents in the past five days.

“As the need grows and as more and more people come to us in need of support, as more and more people support us financially, we continue to grow the program,” said Director Al Green, who himself found help from the task force.

Green was a civil engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. At the end of his studies, he was forced to go back to Jamaica — and back to hiding his sexuality.

“[I was] having to go to extreme lengths and making sure that there was a woman accompanying us whenever we went out just to eat at a restaurant. That was very traumatic for me mentally,” Green recalled.

One day, he and his friends were attacked outside a movie theater. He knew he couldn’t stay in Jamaica any longer.

“I had grown accustomed to spending four years in the United States being free to be myself and to live completely as a gay man, and then having to go back to living in that environment,” said Green.

He returned to the U.S. and was referred to the LGBT Asylum Task Force. He recalled feeling welcome when one of the first things he saw was a rainbow quilt walking into the church.

“The second thing that I noticed when I sat down was this same-sex couple sitting, holding hands in front of me. And I'm not someone who cries very often, but at that moment I did cry. It was the first time I felt like I belonged somewhere,” Green said.

The annual fundraising gala for the LGBT Asylum Task Force is Sept. 30 at the DCU Center.