US: How a lifeline for LGBT persecution in the Middle East began on the Google bus to Silicon Valley

Sitting in morning traffic on a Google bus, Kevin Steen wasn’t thinking about founding an international organization to save LGBTQ lives in the Middle East. Work emails and weekend plans with his boyfriend were on his mind.

Then, his phone lit up with panicked texts from a friend in Jordan.

Mohammad’s family had found out he was gay. His father had beaten him up, badly. He was disowned and kicked out of his house. He fled without anything. He was in the street with nowhere to go.

“I was scared for Mohammad because his dad threatened to find and shoot him,” Steen recalled. “It was an honor crime waiting to happen.”

Anxious to help from 7,500 miles away, there was only one thing Steen could do while stuck on a bus crawling to Silicon Valley: He started Googling for resources. Yet, the program manager for the world’s most powerful search engine was stumped.

He couldn’t find any groups supporting people in Mohammad’s situation. Many organizations assist refugees after resettlement, but Mohammad required immediate aid in his home country.

He was a young college student suddenly on his own and in danger. He needed housing, food and clothes in Jordan before he could flee to safety. Steen wired his own money so Mohammad could rent a room, then ended up paying for a series of rooms. Mohammad had to keep moving because his father was on the hunt.

Two years earlier, Kevin Steen was standing alone in the hallway of a Jordanian college when Mohammad introduced himself.

“I was taken aback. Mohammad just walked up and said hi,” Steen said. “My gaydar was going off from a thousand miles away.”

Mohammad was looking for a new English-speaking study partner. He didn’t feel comfortable with the students from Florida and Australia previously assigned to him.

“They were Christians and always reading Bible verses to me,” said Mohammad, who was Muslim. “When I saw Kevin, his smile and kind look gave me a warm feeling.”

Steen was a junior at the University of Southern California, studying Arabic for a semester in Jordan. He was a leader in the queer community at USC. He grew up in the Seattle suburbs and was a teenager when he came out as gay to a supportive family. Yet in Jordan, Steen went into the closet for the first time. Read more via San Francisco Examiner