What We Carry With Us

LGBTQ+ Refugees Show and Tell

Sep 23, 2021

Having nearly lost everything, what do you cherish most? 

Documentarian Sam Ball and his colleagues at Citizen Film invite refugee storytellers from around the world to explore that question in short films and multimedia artworks.

What We Carry with Us: Refugee Storylabs is a series of micro-documentaries and multimedia installations showcased in public spaces –from New York’s Times Square to UC Berkeley’s Magnes gallery– and viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The latest instalment is now streaming on Frameline’s YouTube channel.

LGBTQ+ refugees describe their experiences, hopes and desires by telling stories about prized possessions.

Tamara Touma and Basel Hamrah from Syria tell stories about mementos (a gold chain, a teddy bear) that remind them of loved ones back home. Zander Liberty, who escaped Uganda after his partner was murdered for being gay, explores new beginnings. His flashy “magic” high tops take him to San Francisco. After years in hiding, he wants to be seen.

Mx. X, on the other hand, must stay in hiding to be safe while they seek asylum. They push back on being considered an “outlaw.” Telling their story about a mystical broom that sweeps away violent bigotry is one of their many acts of resistance.

Hector Romero’s story offers hope that American law can offer protection. Hector, who produces drag shows at Oasis in San Francisco’s SoMA district, fled Mexico as a teenager when he was nearly murdered by a homophobic acquaintance who sought to hunt him down. Hector lived underground for years, but he was finally granted asylum. Armed with a new US passport, he travels back to Mexico with his new boyfriend and tearfully reunites with family.

Films produced in Citizen Film’s What We Carry with Us: LGBTQ+ Refugee Storylab premiered in June at Frameline45, the world’s most popular LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and will stream on Frameline’s YouTube channel for the foreseeable future.

Frameline’s social channels also showcase visual art by Refugee Storylab participants. Miral Mokhtar’s painting is inspired by sacred Egyptian art that depicts women loving women. Miral’s work defies the Egyptian government, which tries to erase the country’s LGBTQ+ cultural history by removing ancient frescoes from the public view.

The 14 refugees who participated in What We Carry with Us: LGBTQ+ Refugee Storylab draw the world’s attention to an underrecognized LGBTQ+ resistance movement. Frameline proudly participates in that movement by connecting emerging storytellers to audiences worldwide.

Watch micro-documentaries now on Frameline’s YouTube channel.

Frameline and Citizen Film’s What We Carry with Us: LGBTQ+ Refugee Storylabs were produced by Citizen Film in collaboration with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and made possible by the Creative Work Fund and the San Francisco Arts Commision. Participants would like audiences to know about the following agencies: Community Support Initiative for Refugees, Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, JAYU, Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay, Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life (UC Berkeley), Oasis Legal Services, Rainbow Refugee, and the Trans Empowerment Initiative. Please consider supporting these agencies’ efforts to resettle LGBTQ+ refugees and draw attention to their stories. Contact sarah@citizenfilm.org for more information.