LGBTQ+ Refugees Face Uncertain Future due to Lack of Community Resources

SFU and DiverseCity collaborated on a recent study about the satisfaction of refugees in the Lower Mainland

Laura Mannix, Manager of Refugee and Specialized Programs at the resettlement organization, DiverseCity. (Ashley Hyshka)

People who flee their home countries due to persecution of their sexual orientation often encounter new and unique challenges once they arrive in the Lower Mainland. Unfortunately, their situation is typically made more difficult by a lack of available services to help them acclimate to their new home.

“LGBTQ+ newcomers tend to be a minority within a minority,” says Laura Mannix, manager of refugee and specialized programs at the resettlement agency, DiverseCity. “Their vulnerability is even more compounded.”

Simon Fraser University, in collaboration with DiverseCity, recently released a report identifying a lack of resources for LGBTQ+ newcomers in Surrey, and how best to remedy the situation.

“Let’s acknowledge the fact that there are no services in Surrey [for LGBTQ+ refugees],” says Jennifer Marchbank, professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at SFU. Despite this lack of resources, Marchbank explains that over “the past few years, Surrey as a city has settled over 50 per cent of the refugees coming to the province.”

The study was conducted by graduate students in Marchbank’s course “Gender Violence and Resistance”, while DiverseCity commissioned the study using asset mapping, surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Mannix believes that Surrey lacks LGBTQ+ resources due to the city not having as strong of a “progressive mentality” compared to metropolitan areas like Vancouver.

The study revealed the need for Surrey to have more counselors, practical training for front line workers, people who can provide resources for LGBTQ+ newcomers, and LGBTQ+ specific services within settlement agencies. Currently, many of DiverseCity’s clients are forced to transit to Vancouver from the neighbouring cities to access existing resources and services.

The study also identified gaps within medical services, community and group support, family relationships, schools, and spiritual and religious needs.

One of the services that Mannix wants to establish is a peer support group in which LGBTQ+ refugees can connect with other members of the community in a safe and confidential environment. He also recommends the creation of more health care and social connection-based resources.

“All migrants are vulnerable and all migrants have needs, but if you’re LGBTQ, you might not feel that you fit within the LGBTQ+ Canadian culture,” Marchbank says. “People are walking a tightrope.”

When LGBTQ+ people move to Canada, they can experience isolation both from their own cultural communities from with other members of the local LGBTQ+ community, which only exacerbates their hardship with adjusting to living in a new country.

Marchbank believes that, while settlement agencies are performing extraordinary work for refugees, because so many vulnerable demographics are competing for resources and funding is often difficult to attain many go without the help that they need.

Many LGBTQ+ refugees who immigrate to Canada do so because being homosexual or transgender is not accepted, and is sometimes considered illegal in their home countries. One of Marchbank’s students told her that, “In Arabic … there’s no lexicon of terms like LGBTQ.”

Marchbank has observed that many people immigrating to Canada for this reason are from regions like South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, India, and Chechnya. There, people who identify as LGBTQ+ can face violence, discrimination, disownment from family members, and rape.

“They fear for their lives and have been violently or systemically discriminated against,” Mannix says.

Joseph Thorpe, Queer Representative for the Kwantlen Student Association, says that the KSA plans on establishing a “safe space” on campus for LGBTQ+ students, where students will be free to “ask questions and find support.”

“Our goal is to make sure students are feeling safe and accepted on campus, and know that they have support,” he says. “Kwantlen has always been up to the challenge of making sure everybody’s inclusive.”

The KSA is trying to recruit more people to be a part of KPU’s Pride collective, which is currently in the process of planning more awareness campaigns and workshops.

Thorpe says that LGBTQ+ refugees need “somebody who really understands where they’re coming from.” While advocates and community centres have the best intentions, most newcomers still find it difficult to establish a bond with someone who genuinely understands their challenges in life and point of view.

Marchbank says that one of her proudest moments was when DiverseCity representatives secured funding using the report about the lack of available resources for LGBTQ+ refugees. From this month onwards, they will be be able to provide group support and services for LGBTQ+ newcomers.

“It’s small, but it’s the beginning,” she says. “This is [how] academic work has created social change.”