In February, two young men descended the escalator together in the arrivals section of the Ottawa airport. They were smartly dressed, in red sweat pants, blue hoodies, and blue suede running shoes. The young men were no longer refugees from the Middle East. They entered Canada as Permanent Residents, ready to start their new lives here. As they descended, they spotted us immediately: almost two dozen members of Capital Rainbow all smiling and waving a rainbow flag. Soon we were all hugging and making introductions. Some people they recognized from the photos and bios we had sent. Others they knew quite well having shared their most personal stories of persecution as we prepared their paperwork during Skype calls.
In both their homeland and the country where they were in hiding as refugees it is illegal to be gay, and sometimes citizens enforce society’s intolerance with discrimination and violence. So they have spent a long time anticipating and hoping they would be able to settle in Canada. One man told us that he went too quickly through the X-ray machine in Toronto and was told to re-enter. So he went back, put one hand straight forward and the other on his hip and strutted. The customs officer laughed and said “welcome queen” and they all laughed together, knowing they had reached a country that has progressed significantly on LGBT rights.
We bundled them up in donated winter clothes and everyone headed to the home of one of our members where their names were on the wall and on a cake with a big “welcome.” In their first week, they eagerly joined us in snowshoeing, skiing, and skating on the canal. It has been a record cold winter, but armed with their new winter boots, they tell us they don’t feel the cold.
Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) sponsored the couple in partnership with the Canadian Unitarian Council, under a program that provides modest government support for LGBT refugees, including access to one year of supplemental medical insurance. The first couple we sponsored together arrived in Canada almost three years ago. They were a lesbian couple from South East Asia. They are doing well, and are now supporting themselves independently.
As with the first couple, CRR is responsible for the settlement of this male couple over the next year, both financially and socially. They are staying temporarily with two members of the group while they look for an apartment. Members of CRR have already taken them to see the totems at the History Museum, Parliament Hill, and an IMAX show about life for the Inuit in the North. The group has made connections for them with a family doctor and dentist. They are currently enrolled full-time in English classes, and have their first job interview this week.
This project has been very rewarding for everyone involved. The lesbian and gay newcomers to our country are very grateful for our support. They call the members of our group ‘family’. And we feel we have benefited so much from their love and their hopes for the future. CRR would like to express our appreciation to the CUC for having faith in us and for supporting this project. We should also mention that the lesbian and gay community across the city has been very supportive. Members of OutLaw, the uOttawa LGBT law students’ group, have undertaken important legal work for our applications. Prominent members of our community donated both funds and goods. We have received additional financial support from the LGBT seniors’ network and the Pride women’s dance. Everyone pitching in together has changed the future of these LGBT refugees. Indeed, our new friends tell everyone that they are “so happy.”
Sometimes dreams do come true.
For information on refugee sponsorship with the CUC please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Capital Rainbow Refuge