Alex’s Story by Chris Ash

Alex’s story is a composite created for Freedom Network USA’s Decal Project campaign. Use allowed provided appropriate citation.

Content warning: homophobia, trafficking in commercial sex, threats of deportation

Alex, 21

When Alex was 16, his deeply religious family found out he was gay. After weeks of fear and escalation, he left home, feeling rejected by his family and convinced he was safer on his own. For a while, he stayed with Hugo — a guy he’d met who offered to protect him and make sure he had food — but to “pay his part” of the expenses, he had to have sex with people, and Hugo collected the money. He came to care very deeply about the two other teens who stayed with Hugo under similar arrangements and was afraid of what might happen to them if he left.

Alex was also worried about what might happen to him, or to his family if he left. Alex had been born in the U.S., but his family included several undocumented immigrants. His family’s rejection hurt, but not enough to want them to get into trouble, and Hugo spoke often of having connections who could get people deported “with just one call.”

When he was 18, Alex was referred to an anti-trafficking nonprofit for services. They didn’t offer housing for men in their residential program, but Alex went to a few sessions with their therapeutic team. He tried fitting in, but the case manager’s constant reassurances that “a lot of men who have been through trafficking situations like yours worry that they might be gay too” felt invalidating and hurtful.

For the last two years, Alex has been receiving case management and help to get his records expunged through a legal nonprofit his old case manager told him about. They helped him find a therapist he felt comfortable with as well as financial support to cover therapy. He still struggles a lot with being able to pay his bills and finds it hard to trust people, but overall, he is starting to feel hopeful. He’s taking High School Equivalency prep classes at the local Hispanic center and hopes to enroll in an associate degree program in Human Services next fall. One day, he hopes to start a shelter for LGBTQ youth.