(Editor’s note: Ken Williams met the Rev. Judith K. Hanlon, pastor of Hadwen Park Church and a founding member of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, at the Compass to Compassion consultation in New York. Hanlon, based in Worchester, Mass., shared this compelling story by Juan, as told at a church conference last year in San Diego. Juan’s story puts a human face on LGBT asylum issues. SDGLN is using an alias for the person who is telling his personal story to ensure his confidentiality and to protect family members who live in El Salvador.)
My name is Juan and I was born in 1976 in San Salvador, El Salvador. My life growing up was horrible. I was sexually, physically and verbally abused my entire life due to my sexual orientation.
My mother worked as a maid. She was raped by her employer. When she got pregnant, she had to leave her job and go live with her parents. For that reason, I do not believe that my mother ever loved me.
I finally met my father in 2005. Publically, in his presence, I was called a faggot by neighbor boys. He turned to me with disgust and asked, “Is this true?” I said yes, and he said, “I don’t want a f***ing faggot for a son. Pretend I never met you.”
That was the last time I saw my father.
Enduring endless abuse
My mother was an alcoholic and beat me constantly. She was embarrassed because the neighbor children called me a faggot.
She would beat me with her hands or with her belt. Sometimes she would hit me on the head or on the back. Sometimes she would grab pieces of wood to hit me on the legs with them.
Other times, she would tell me to take off my shoes and socks and make me stand out in the hot sun barefoot. She would tell me that she was going this so I would not walk and behave like a faggot. She told me to walk like a man. I was a child. The pain was unbearable.
Next to my grandparents’ home was my aunt’s home and her three sons. They physically abused me my entire growing up years. Their father told them that I was a faggot and that meant that they could torture me whenever they wanted to. I was so alone. I spent most of the time reading old newspapers.
My grandparents weren’t very tender to me, either. On several occasions my grandmother asked me why I behaved like a faggot. I never answered here because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong, just being myself.
Abandoned by his mother
My mother was so embarrassed and angry that finally, when I was 13, she just left. She left me and my two younger sisters to be raised by my grandparents. One day she was there and the next day she wasn’t. We didn’t hear from her for many years.
For money, I carried water because no one had running water in their homes. It was my grandmother’s business, but I did the work. The water source was about 10 minutes from my home.
A man named Jose from our neighborhood told me he would pay for my service, but the day that I went to deliver the first bucket he made me take it inside his house. He then pushed me against a wall holding a knife and raped me.
Remembering brings back terrible memories. (At this point in his speech in San Diego, Juan breaks down and cries, sits down for a moment to compose himself, before mustering up the courage to continue his story)
This man abused me sexually for the next three to four years. When I worked for my grandmother, he would be right behind me. The abuse was so much that I started to refuse my grandmother and she would beat me. I was terrified of leaving my home so I let her beat me. It stopped when the man moved away.
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