“Are you going to sleep in the same bed?”
When Matthieu Jost and his boyfriend booked a room through Airbnb during a trip to Barcelona in 2011, their romantic getaway took an unexpected turn. Their host didn’t know her guests were a gay couple, and she wasn’t comfortable allowing them to share a bed for the evening.
Deflated and dejected from the experience, the couple went back to Paris the next day.
That incident led to Jost co-found Misterb&b, which launched at the end of 2013. The rental website allows LGBTQ users to book short-term accommodations without fear of discrimination. With more than 310,000 listings in over 135 countries, the hosts who sign up to rent their apartments on Misterb&b are gay.
Jost tells NewNowNext it’s his personal mission to make sure no LGBTQ traveler has to experience the discrimination he did.
“I decided I wanted to spend my life trying to prevent those situations from happening, to myself or anyone else in my community,” he says. “I want to make sure my community is welcomed everywhere, and can travel safely across the world.”
Just over a year ago, Misterb&b launched its most ambitious project yet. After news broke in 2017 that Chechen authorities had arrested, detained, and tortured more than 100 people suspected to be LGBTQ, the site rolled out a new feature allowing hosts to open their homes to take in queer and trans refugees later the same year.
Today, when new hosts sign up for Misterb&b, they are asked if they would be okay with hosting an LGBTQ refugee during an emergency situation.
Nine out of 10 hosts say “yes,” according to the company.
Jost says it’s critical that LGBTQ refugees have a place where “no one will question, challenge, or harass” them because of who they are.
“These folks are vulnerable, they are hungry, they are scared,” he claims. “Providing them with a place to lay their heads goes a long way in helping them get back on their feet—physically and mentally.”
Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director of OutRight International, says relocating to a foreign country can be “extremely challenging” for LGBTQ refugees. Individuals seeking asylum in the U.S. aren’t permitted to work for the first six months of their application process, meaning they must rely on their informal networks of friends for support.
“You come here with whatever you have and then you have to wait,” she tells NewNowNext. “You have to find somewhere to stay with the savings you have or whatever support you get from anyone.”
LGBTQ refugees may be less likely to have these kinds of safety nets than other asylum seekers. Many of the queer and trans people who come to the U.S. seeking shelter flee countries where homosexuality is illegal. At least 70 nations criminalize same-sex relationships, with penalties ranging from fines and jail time to a death sentence.
Spencer Tiger, the public affairs manager for Immigration Equality, says LGBTQ refugees lacking support or resources are at an extreme disadvantage when making asylum claims.
This is especially true when it comes to housing, Tiger tells NewNowNext.
“They need housing so that they can receive paperwork,” he claims. They need housing to have the ability to take a shower, get dressed, and go to an interview. For someone who is establishing a new life in the U.S., having a home is such an integral part of that.”
Although Immigration Equality doesn’t have data showing the impact of having secure housing, Tiger sees how important advocacy is every day. Currently, the New York City-based nonprofit is offering legal services in more than 650 active cases. Those individuals are dramatically more likely to win their case if they have a lawyer.
“Without an attorney, nine out of 10 asylum seekers will have their case denied in immigration court,” he claims. “Immigration Equality wins 99% of the time.”
Even with advocate support, LGBTQ asylum seekers will continue to face challenges. As of January 2018, the Asylum Division of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had a backlog of more than 311,000 cases. Many refugees wait years for their application to be processed, and that still doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made it increasingly difficult to seek asylum in the U.S. Two years ago, the president arbitrarily issued an executive order freezing all asylum claims for 120 days.
Byt the resources that Misterb&b provides a fool-proof solution to the problems that LGBTQ refugees encounter. The company has faced criticism in the past regarding transferring payments to its hosts on time, as well as about the quality of customer support it offers to clients.
The company claims these issues were triggered by an update to its payment methods and has said they have been since resolved.
However, Google is continuing to do the company no favors. Some of the first search results for Misterb&b warn users to “stay away,” while a forum poster on TripAdvisor last year threatened the company with “legal action.”
Jost says Misterb&b plans to continue improving and expanding the service through a recently launched crowdfunding campaign on its website. The company hopes to “extend [its] presence in more cities so that [they] can offer a safe network to more and more LGBTQ travelers,” he claims.
At the time of this article’s publication, rooms are available in U.S. cities ranging from Los Angeles and New York to Albuquerque, Billings, Charleston, Indianapolis, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, and St. Louis.
As continues like Egypt and Tanzania have joined Chechnya in targeting LGBTQ people, Sjödin says more entities must step up and be part of the solution.
“No one wants to leave their home if they don’t have to,” she claims. “LGBTQ people are persecuted in so many countries, especially people who try to do something about the injustice and inequality. It takes effort from many different kinds of institutions to support them.”