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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Donations needed for LGBTQ+-affirming spiritual leader's recovery
by Kayleigh Padar
2021-10-12

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In July, Sofia G. Sarabia—an activist and community leader who provided spiritual counseling to LGBTQ+ youth and undocumented immigrants—suffered an unexpected stroke that injured her brain and left her immobile and unable to speak or eat.

Though Sarabia is showing signs of improvement—she can now sit up, show emotion and move her mouth in an attempt to speak—insurance won't pay for continued rehabilitation because this progress isn't towards "independence," said Sarabia's wife, Alicia Vega, who's been with her for 12 years.

If Sarabia loses access to rehabilitation—which insurance will stop funding Oct. 11—it will set back her recovery.

Norma Seledon and Consuella Brown, who are friends of the couple, set up a GoFundMe to help pay for Sarabia's continued rehabilitation services and provide other necessary resources for her recovery.

When Sarabia eventually leaves the rehabilitation facility, she'll need 24-hour-care with help from a professional and a wheelchair-accessible home.

"Whatever she needs, I've tried to show up as best I can," Brown said. "My partner [Seledon] and I as a couple have just tried to be there. That's what community and family are for. I would hope that if this happened to me, that people would step forward. If Sofia is willing to fight, then we should fight with and for her."

So far, donors have provided more than $6,400 of the $25,000 goal. "I'm just overwhelmed with gratitude," Vega said.

Directly after the stroke, Sarabia was completely unconscious and needed a feeding tube. Doctors weren't sure if she would recover or what recovery would even look like. Vega said, "It was completely devastating, I just stayed at the hospital for as long as they would let me."

After a few weeks, Sarabia began to open her eyes and started to move the left side of her body. Vega said it's likely she won't regain control of the right side of her body due to where her brain injury is.

Now that Sarabia is "medically stable," she's living in a rehabilitation facility where she's being cared for while she goes through physical therapy and speech therapy, Vega said. Though Sarabia is breathing on her own, she can't speak or answer questions.

"The only way she really communicates right now is by emotion, so I'll know something if [she is] happy or if it makes her upset," Vega said. "Since she's gone to the rehab facility, I have not physically seen her because of the COVID-19 regulations, so that's been very difficult."

Prior to suffering the stroke, Sarabia was a healthy 47-year-old training to become a pastor through Lincoln United Methodist Church, which offers services in English and Spanish simultaneously. The church community's support in Sofia's recovery has "made all the difference in the world," Vega said.

"Getting the financial support is obviously important, but it's also really important for people to say prayers for her recovery," Vega said.

Sarabia and Vega co-founded Queer Youth Exploring Spirituality (QYES) and worked to provide a "healthy, spiritual place" for religious LGBTQ+ youth. Sarabia also founded Amigas Unidas En La Fe, a lesbian and bisexual Spanish-speaking spirituality group.

Sarabia was especially talented at one-on-one connections with the young people she worked with, Vega said. She devoted her time and energy to helping people understand they're loved and "precious children of God" despite what they may have heard otherwise from their families or previous religious communities.

"It was really her gift," Vega said. "When I would see her run these retreats and spiritual workshops and see her doing her thing, it was powerful. She clearly just had a gift to help people connect spiritually."

Others around Sarabia noticed "her gift" for connecting with people as well, Brown said. Sarabia is able to support others naturally "through the essence of who she is." Seledon said she has long admired both Sarabia and Vega's dedication to helping young people and knows others in their community do as well.

"Service is really central to who they both are and how they walk through the world," Seledon said. "Supporting [Vega] is an easy ask for people because people love her and admire her, and know about the work she and Sofia do. This came from community support, everyone was asking if she'd create a fundraiser. It's scary to know there's a threat to our community, a threat of not having [Sarabia] anymore."

In addition to her work with QYES, Sarabia was also active with Lincoln United Methodist Church's immigration rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras/Familia Latina Unida, where she helped to support undocumented people.

Sarabia also received the Bruce Scott Courage and Justice Award for helping Lincoln United Methodist Church officially become a LGBTQ+ affirming institution. It's one of the few Spanish-speaking Methodist churches to officially support LGBTQ+ people.

"She would describe to me, even as a child, she felt this spiritual draw to God and this drive to console people and to create affirming spaces," Vega said. "There aren't a lot of churches that are 100% LGBTQ+ affirming and I think that it moves things forward for all of us when an openly queer person goes through the process of becoming a pastor and then creates a community space."

To donate: www.gofundme.com/f/help-lgbtq-spiritual-leader-recover-from-stroke .


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