My name is Ilo and I’m from Caracas, Venezuela.
When I was – it was 10 years ago, or something like that, I was in Venezuela. I used to practice medicine there. At the time, I started dating this girl who is originally from New York City. And it was – it was really nice. It was – I was very much in love and it was a very good relationship until a person in our neighborhood, our neighbor, kind of started getting suspicious because she was staying over in my house all the time. She ratted us out to her family, who lived across the street from me. When that happened, I – it’s like our whole community found out about it.
I felt rejected in every aspect of my life. My friends and people who were like my family asked me not to be part of their lives anymore. Except when they were sick, they would call me. My girlfriend’s family who I grew up with, basically, and who I had as my own family, stopped talking to me and they asked me not only to not come visit them, but they actually asked me to move away from the neighborhood.
Added to all of this, life as a gay person in Venezuela was very hard. People in general are not very receptive and they they make jokes about gay people all the time. It was also the police were a threat. I remember one time, they – I was with one of my girlfriends and they stopped me. There was no reason for me to stopped, but when they realized that I was gay, they tried to take my car away. I had to be really careful because they wanted to plant drugs on my car, just kind of to create a very difficult situation for me. The only way that I was able to get out of that was by paying under… you know. And we were targeted all the time, so whenever I went out, I had to try to be with one of my guy friends as a – what do they call it? A beard?
A couple of months later, my girlfriend, who is from New York City, moved back. And so I was now even in a worse place because I didn’t even have her. So I tried to get a visa to come and visit and and try to figure out what we’re going to do with our lives. And I was rejected.
A couple months went by. I was getting more and more desperate and one of my aunts finally reached out to me and offered to help me with some money so that I could come here and practice medicine and study. So I applied for a student visa and I got it. In three days, I got a ticket, I said goodbye, I packed everything and left.
Once in the US, it was amazing for me. Suddenly I could hold my girlfriend’s hand. You know, for me, just that was such a difference from Venezuela. I started as a student and I had a problem with my visa or something. I was just studying to pass the boards and they told me that I needed to go back to Venezuela after a year being here. I was horrified. It was – it’s not a thing about lifestyles, because my life was actually in danger. The situation in Venezuela had been getting worse and worse with the regime and everything else. As a gay person in a lawless country, it would have been fatal.
I talked with my girlfriend at the time and we decided to seek help with Immigration Equality, which is a nonprofit organization that helps people like me. They heard my story and they agreed that my life would have been in danger if I’d returned to Venezuela and so they accepted my case and they helped me out.
I had to wait a couple of months before I could apply and in the meantime, I couldn’t work. It was very hard for me because not only I couldn’t work, but the money that I had saved in Venezuela, I couldn’t get out of Venezuela because the regime put all these rules and didn’t allow people to get their own money out. So all the money that I had worked for, I had to give away in Venezuela. It was useless here. So I was pretty broke. It was pretty – it was really hard, not being able to contribute and not knowing if things were going to go through or not, it was really hard.
I was given asylum once the process started, like six weeks after. It was incredibly fast. One of the fastest cases, I think, that anybody has seen. at least that I know of. Getting asylum was a huge victory for me because, first of all, it meant I was safe. And secondly, I could work. Luckily enough, I found a good job, which I am still at, writing medical stuff and doing videos about medicine and teaching all the doctors.
It’s been a very amazing change that’s gone little by little, but at this point, seven years after getting asylum, I feel like, well maybe there was a reason for that or the difficulties also have their very good side.
This year has been kind of crazy. But I – in the middle of all these things that are happening in the world, I got citizenship, in 4/20 of this year. It’s a reason to breathe even more and it’s good to feel safe and that threat over my head is kind of gone. I still can’t believe it but it happened.
I think before I used to live in absolutes and I had ideas about things – how they should be and how they shouldn’t be. And now I understand that the condition of humanity is to not be an absolute and things change. Here I am, ten years later, and I feel like I’ve lived and I’ve learned, I think, to have compassion, to not judge because we don’t know what people are going through most of the time, and the importance of empathy.