What motivates us?
In 72 countries same sex acts or gender non-conformity is punishable by prison, public lashing, or even death. Two additional countries have harsh laws that repress homosexuality.
In 7 countries LGBTQ people face the death penalty. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Somalia have the worse record. Sudan, Yemen and Nigeria have not had verified executions recently.
There are even more countries in which social persecution of LGBTQ people is rampant. Persecution can include: extreme bullying, extortion, blackmail, torture, rape, honour killing, and denial of work, education, housing or other basic needs.
LGBTQ refugees are often at risk in the countries to which they have fled. Many host countries are themselves extremely homophobic and transphobic. Discrimination comes from governments, citizens, and even other refugees.
Of the 26 million refugees in today's world only a fraction are LGBTQ, but they are often in grave danger, even in the countries where they seek refuge. And they almost always lack traditional family support.
Alone we cannot change the world. But the fact that we care can inspire change. One person at a time, we demonstrate our common humanity.
It is not an easy process to find a safe refuge if you are a member of a persecuted sexual or gender minority. It can take many years and you will have to face many difficult barriers for the chance to express yourself without fear. Here is a crash course in what LGBT (and Q2SI, etc.) refugees have to go through in order to resettle in a safe country.
STEP 1: Self-Awareness as LGBT
STEP 2: Learning There are Better Options
Most persecuted LGBT persons are aware of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), but they may have vaguer notions of places where they might be treated with respect regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. When they learn that others have successfully escaped persecution and that a better life is possible, they realize there is hope and that they may have some options.
STEP 3: Getting Out of Their Home Country
Leaving is often very difficult. To break family ties is unthinkable to many. And no one readily chooses the inevitable risks, isolation and financial insecurity of being a refugee in a foreign country, vulnerable and unable to work. Some countries that persecute LGBT people are surrounded by neighbours with equally repressive regimes. If suddenly faced with an urgent need to escape, persecuted LGBT people have little choice but to cross the border into another homophobic country. In some cases, their own family may be out for their blood. Flight to a safe country requires money and knowledge, and usually a visa. Some LGBT young people do not finish school because of severe bullying. Without an education they may never have the skills and financial resources to move to a safer country.
STEP 4: Getting Refugee Status
If a person does manage to escape their country of origin they can start the process of applying for refugee status. Not everyone is successful in convincing the UNHCR or the country to which they have fled that they are LGBT and that returning home is not an option. Once in the second country they may not be allowed to work, attend school or language classes, or obtain secure housing. Some turn to illegal labour or even prostitution just to survive.
STEP 5: Applying for Permanent Settlement
Some countries to which refugees flee will not allow them to permanently settle. The refugee may need to ask for permission to settle in a safe third country. If the second country or the UNHCR grants them refugee status, they may apply for permanent residency status in another country they would like to immigrate to.
Canada, the United States, Australia, and some European countries provide safe places for LGBT refugees. In recent years European and Latin American countries have increased involvement in resettlement.
STEP 6: Waiting for a Decision About Resettlement
Once they have made their choice of where they will go, refugees apply and then wait for an interview with embassy staff. In a painfully long process, Canada screens them to make sure they meet the criteria of the Refugee and Humanitarian Resettlement Program. Refugees undergo medical, criminal and security screening. Not every person referred by the UNHCR is accepted for resettlement in Canada. Refugees may wait a year, two years, or much longer until they are accepted into Canada. During this time they must try to find a way to live — not an easy task.
Finally, after this long ordeal, a phone call informs them that a flight has been arranged for them. They may also need an exit visa from the country in which they live as temporary residents. In some circumstances people are denied the opportunity to exit after all this effort and waiting.
STEP 7: Settling in Canada
When the refugee arrives in Canada they have a new status: that of permanent resident. They have reached safety, but this is only the beginning. Now they have to start their life all over again. They often don’t know anyone in Canada. The vast majority speak only rudimentary English or French. They need to find a place to live, get a job, and learn to speak, read and write, often with little help. Getting health care, finding transportation, managing the weather, and dealing with all the intricate customs and rules of a foreign country: these are all things that we take for granted every day, but they are real challenges for resettled LGBT refugees.
Adjustment to this new life in Canada is slow and fraught with challenges. That’s why ROAR is here to help. ROAR reaches out to LGBT refugees by connecting them with private sponsors who will guide them throughout the process, both pre- and post-arrival. We assist them to settle permanently in Canada. We prepare them for what they will find when they get here. We help them find places to live and get access to language classes, health care and education. We provide financial assistance as well as all the other kinds of support.
ROAR volunteers offer a trusted, friendly face to LGBT refugees, both while they are waiting overseas and after they arrive in our country. We help them begin a new life in a safe place. In the words of a sister organization, Capital Rainbow Refugee in Ottawa, ROAR "is committed to providing safe haven to sexual minority refugees fleeing dangerous situations. We also want to provide a compassionate and welcoming environment where they can build a better life, free of persecution. We are privileged to be in Canada, not only because of this country’s commitment to humanitarian action, but because of the freedoms we are able to enjoy on a day-to-day basis."
We strongly believe that to take action in support of LGBT refugees is to celebrate our common humanity and the value of every human life.
Many people in repressive countries are hindered from developing the insight, confidence or even the language to self-describe as LGBT. Words are often a barrier to self-awareness and self-acceptance. In all the major world languages words that are used to describe people of sexual and gender minorities often resonate with extremely negative meanings. Family and broader social pressures to conform and participate in heterosexual life including marriage may result in submerged self-identity. Without positive role models and supports, many people lack the self-confidence to identify as a sexual or gender minority person. Objects of senseless hate and vicious persecution, they may live in denial and self-loathing. Even those who have come to terms with their sexuality still live in constant fear of being outed.