How a Seattle man became a lifeline for persecuted LGBQT people in other countries

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At the end of the night, a Seattle resident receives panicked calls and messages from members of the LGBQT community in the Middle East – mostly gay men, thousands of miles away, fearing for their lives.

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He listens to them and comforts them as much as he can from the other side of the world. His phone is always on.

Other days, callers seek help to flee their country and seek refuge elsewhere. Failla, accompanied by a network of friends and human rights organizations on different continents, jumps into action. When they seek refuge in the West, he works to get these people safe at his own expense. He also helps them through the long, arduous UN refugee immigration process, which can take years.


The retired chiropractor’s compassion for refugees dates back to his time as a young man in Detroit, where his closest friends were refugees from Hungary. After moving to Seattle, he began helping refugees settle there.

But over the past decade, helping LGBQT people in the Middle East – where they face persecution and even death – has become their life mission.

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“I realized that I had spent my life helping refugees and that my own people were some of the most persecuted refugees on the planet,” says Fala. “Nobody knew about it. Most of my gay friends I spoke to had no idea how serious harassment was in different parts of the world.”

So far, Failla, 69, has helped organize the safe evacuation of around 80 LGBQT people in the United States, Canada, the UK and other countries.

“Homosexual people are discriminated against in every society and in every country, by their own countrymen and their families,” he says. “That’s what makes gay people such a unique and vulnerable population of refugees.”

A gay man in Turkey moved into 27 different apartments to escape the attackers

Failla keeps in touch with most of the people he helps and refers to them as his “children.” Some of them have taken this further by opening their doors to others in similar circumstances.

Granthshala spoke to half a dozen of his “kids” in Seattle, the United Kingdom and Turkey. Some did not want to reveal their identity for fear of risking the lives of their relatives in the Middle East. But he described a selfless man who answers his phone at ungodly hours and is always eager to help.

They say that Fella hates drawing attention to herself, so most of her help is done under the radar.

“I saved Michael on my phone as my guardian angel,” says Justin Agha, a Tunisian gay man he helped relocate from Turkey to Seattle.

“This is the main reason I am alive and reaching this point in my life,” says Agha. “If it wasn’t for Michael, if he hadn’t stepped in, I would have died and been buried in a cemetery in Turkey. Or I would have still been in Turkey, struggling.”

Phala and Aga were introduced through an LGBQT organization. At that time, Agha was hiding with her lover in the northern Turkish city of Amasya. Agha says that in order to stay safe after he was thrashed by assailants for being gay, he moved into 27 different apartments within his four years in the country.

That was in 2018, and his application for refugee status was in limbo. Without ever meeting him, Fala intervened, and reached out to US immigration officials and the United Nations International Organization for Migration on his behalf.

Failla pledged to find a place for the couple to live, work, and help with their PTSD. His application for refugee status was approved shortly afterwards.

When Aga and her boyfriend landed in Seattle in November 2019, Phaya and her partner of 21 years, Gary Hammer, met her at the airport.

After years of being in the shadows, Agha says it’s true for openly gay men to live without fear. On his first weekend in the United States, Failla took them Seattle Men’s Chorus Return.

“And there are 300 gay men in the men’s chorus who all invite him to that stage and clap and welcome him to the United States,” says Fala. “Can you imagine what it must have been like for these two kids who’ve just been hiding their whole lives, who have been beaten up and thrown in jail because they’re gay, to come to a place where 300 gay men welcoming them? I was in tears.”

Justin Agha, a Tunisian gay man, relocates to Seattle with the help of Michael Fella.

Failla also helps LGBTQ refugees find jobs and gives them life advice

Often the spread does not meet the people he is helping until his cases are approved and he shows up at the airport.

Once they arrive, he helps them build their resumes, motivates them to learn English, and learns their interests so that he can help them find jobs. He offers advice when they need a career change and counseling for people who are struggling with past trauma.

,It is important for me to train them and teach them how to get jobs.” He added, “I don’t want them to be out of the system. I want them to have the distinction of working hard and doing it for themselves. And when it does, it really pays off.”

Angry and scared, Afghanistan's LGBTQ community says they are being hunted after Taliban takeover

First gay couple fella helped, Btoo Allami and Nayyef live in Hrebid, Seattle, where they work in maintenance and kitchen design, respectively.

“Michael is our angel,” says Herbid. “I learn from him to be kind and to help people. The world needs more angels like Michael.”

Allami and Harebid both served with the US military during the Iraq War. Allami was a sergeant in the Iraqi army while Harebid was an American translator. The US applied for asylum for Harebid, allowing him to come to the US, but leaving Allami alone in Iraq trying to hide from terrorists who were targeting gay people.

Some of Allami’s relatives accused her of shaming the family and wanted her to be killed, they say. Panicked, Allami stuffed a backpack with pants and some T-shirts and fled to Lebanon.

2 gay Iraqi soldiers found love in battle.  Death threats started again

Harebid met Phala at a party in Seattle and told her his story. By then, Allami had applied for asylum with the United Nations refugee agency, a process he says was taking longer than usual because of translation errors. Fala flew to Beirut and participated in several interviews with him.

Allami eventually got a visa to come to Canada, where he and Herebid married. In March 2015, Allami moved to Seattle to be with her new husband.

Their love story was made into a documentary film, “Out of Iraq.” The couple now open their home to other LGBTQ people who have fled the Middle East. They try to help them get jobs and they teach them about their new culture in America.

Their goal is to pay it forward.

Btoo Allami, Michael Failla, Chris McKim, Gary Hamer and Nayyef Hrebid attend the GLAAD Media Awards in New York City.

He’s been receiving more requests for help in recent months

Since Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban three months ago, Fala has received more requests for help than ever before.

“It’s been challenging. I have so many people contacting me every day. There are stories of people getting killed. People are very desperate, very scared,” he says.

Fala has a network of volunteers who help refugees with everything from legal services to housing. He wants people to know that he doesn’t do it alone.

“As with every case, there have been many people who have helped every step of the way,” he says.

Faila plans to do this job for as long as possible.

“Nobody else is doing it and we need more people to help us, through the complexities of hiding people, to bring them through all the bureaucracy to rehabilitate them,” he says. “It really takes someone who’s going to be on their side and advocate for them.”

But he himself will not stop personally taking action to help LGBTQ refugees.

“I like to do this,” he says. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing one of these happy faces coming to the airport.”


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