Refugees Resettled in Maine Give Me Hope in Humanity

Deo, Uber driver in Portland, Maine by way of Tanzania and Burundi.

While visiting my home state of Maine I used Uber to get around Portland

During one trip the driver, Deo, and I started talking.

He has lived in Maine for 10 years.

And he is an immigrant from Burundi, one of the poorest countries in Africa.

In 1993 the first democratically-elected President came to power there.

Voter turnout was 97%.

Later that year the President was assassinated, and civil war erupted.

After two of Deo’s children died the same year, he walked 600 miles to Tanzania.

For the next decade he called two Tanzanian refugee camps home while assistance from the United Nations helped secure his asylum in the United States.

In 2008 he relocated to Maine after a short stay in Iowa.

Maine Used to Champion Refugees

For close to a decade Maine championed refugees, and whether that is because its population is rapidly aging and attracting younger workers was strategically smart or if it was a humanitarian gesture, I can’t say.

Either way, it was a powerfully good thing.

And unlike Wyoming, Maine had a plan to assist people in need.

But as of January 2018, an amended Act curtained Maine’s participation in what remains of the federally-funded refugee resettlement program.

In truth, since the U.S. presidential election of 2016, refugee resettlement in Maine and elsewhere has all but ended.

Between October 1, 2017 and March 15, 2018, 91% fewer refugees came to Maine.

That’s 21 arrivals versus 229 in the same period the previous year.

Yet for Deo, life here is good.

He works in Portland and belongs to a supportive community that both sees and believes in his worth.

I’m encouraged

After all he has witnessed and experienced, he reports being treated fairly and with respect in the whitest state in the country.

And his reflection on Maine matters to me; I want to live where human life is valued and compassionate acts are not only tolerated but are sanctioned.

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Deo’s Uber profile shows he has a 4.86 overall rating with almost all evaluations being perfect 5-stars.

He says on the Uber app, “I am honest and take care of people.

“I love gospel music.

“I am filling [feeling] nice when I give people rides.”

Take Action!

•  Read about the Wyoming student who wrote a refugee resettlement plan for the only state without one.

•  Listen to Maine Public Radio, The Year the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Unraveled, by Deborah Amos, Jan 1, 2018.

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Ellen Synakowski (she/her/hers) lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com. She is a Registered Craniosacral Therapist (RCST), is on the Board of Directors of the Biodynamic Craniosacral Association of North America (BCTA/NA), and is a practitioner of both HeartMath and The Connection Practice.

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.  — C. West

 

Growing Up In a Town Hospitable to Lesbians and Others With Non-Binary Lifestyles

 

I’m pretty sure the central-Maine town I grew up in was modestly hospitable to lesbians and other women who didn’t fit neatly into a heterosexual mold.

There were the two close friends who worked in Newberry’s.

The egg lady who made deliveries smoking a pipe.

And the Page sisters in Burlingon I visited with my grandfather.

In hindsight it didn’t seem to matter if these and so many other women I knew were lesbians or fell somewhere else on the LBGTQIA+ spectrum.

Rugged Little Town

Lincoln is carved from a forest of white pines and birches.

Many of the 13, grey-blue lakes that dot the landscape are framed in pink quartz and granite.

It’s much closer to Canada than any major American city.

And it is still the place my heart calls home.

 

It’s a rugged little town whose sole industry, making paper, closed down as reading became digitized and competitors in China and Finland prevailed.

Overt femininity peaked for many of us in the experimental years of high school.

Perhaps it tapered as the practicalities of living in a remote part of the state took over.

Where snow gets deep and stays.

And summers are breathtaking but require a certain no-nonsense approach to black flies and mosquitoes.

Yet it seemed as long as you were white, Christian (though not necessarily practicing), Republican (as evidenced by not declaring to be a Democrat), a hunter or recipient of the hunt (as my mother was with the necks of deer for mincemeat canning), you were  accepted.

My decade of influence was the 1960s.

Lesbianism and other lifestyles weren’t talked about, but in hindsight they sure seemed to be accepted.

Especially if you were a lone woman or part of a quiet, female couple.

Anti-discrimination in Wyoming and Maine

The second-ever Pride Week just ended in Laramie, Wyoming, the town my husband and I have lived in for the past 11 months.

It’s where Matthew Shepard attended college and was brutally murdered 20 years ago by being beat up, tied up, and left for dead at the base of a fence.

Laramie now has a city ordinance – the only such one in the state – that prohibits “discrimination of any person based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.”

Unlike Maine, Wyoming doesn’t yet have state-wide protection laws.

State anti-discrimination laws
Grey = no state protections; dark purple = states that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; the rest of the state laws are somewhere in between.

Women’s Alternative Lifestyles in Lincoln

Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins
Olympia Snowe (left), represented Maine in Congress for 34 years – 16 as a House Member and 18 as a Senator. Susan Collins (right) has been a Maine U.S. Senator for 22 years.

I have to wonder how the women who chose alternative-lifestyles managed in Lincoln back then.

How did they deal with inheritances, hospital visits, and the whole next-of-kin thing?

And more generally, how much of who they were did they have to keep secret?

Still, I don’t recall — even once — anyone making a face or a fuss over how someone else chose to live.

And this was a time before precedence, formal laws, ordinances or activists for equal rights having much of a voice.

Maine Congresswoman and Senator, Margaret Chase Smith, 1940-1973.

It may simply have been a case of getting along with one another.

Through my eyes it was a matriarchal community, starting with my grandmother, then my mother and her strong, funny friends.

And might that be part of the answer?

When not goaded to separation by hateful media and cruel religious takes on right and wrong, could it be that people naturally accept one another?

Even act kindly?

Maybe as time has passed and Maine continues to elect centrist, independently-minded, female leaders,  Lincoln’s ease with people just as they are continues to grow.

I know my own has.

Take Action!

Read about Lincoln, Maine

Learn about aging LBGTQIA+ in Maine. “AARP Maine/SAGE Maine: Statewide GLBT Aging Project Report,” by Jane Margesson, March 22, 2013.

Learn about SAGE: Advocacy and services for LGBTQ elders

Support  Wyoming Equality.

Learn about EQMaine – Equality Maine

Learn about non-discrimination in Maine

Read about Wyoming’s Safe Zone, free online trainings for LBGTQIA allies.

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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West