How to accept your LGBTQ2S+ identity after leaving a homophobic country
By: Callum Denault
Published on: September 5, 2022
“It is absolutely imperative that every human being’s freedom and human rights are respected, all over the world.” These are the words of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the first world leader who is openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and/or Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2S+). While Canadian values stand for equity and inclusion for all, some parts of the world are intolerant of the LGBTQ2S+.
Out of the roughly 195 countries in the whole world, 88 at least partially support same-sex marriage, and 24 have fully legalized it. Unfortunately, it is illegal in 72 countries. The LGBTQ2S+ community is intersectional, meaning members of the community can also belong to a racial minority, have a disability, or be migrants. This changes the experiences of each member of the community. For example, a black, trans woman could experience a different type and increased amount of discrimination than a white, cisgender gay man.
With an estimated 281 million migrants around the world as of 2020, it would only be natural for there to be many people leaving their home countries to move to places that are more accepting of people who are LGBTQ2S+.
“We have inquiries from all of the most draconian authorities on the planet, so we get lots from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq,” said David LeBlanc, managing director for Ferreira-Wells Immigration Services. Ferreira-Wells specializes in helping LGBTQ2S+ newcomers and refugees.
LeBlanc added in many of the countries his organization gets inquiries from, people risk being hurt or even killed for their identities.
Internalized homophobia and how to stop living in denial
Internalized homophobia is when bisexuals, lesbians, gay men, and other members of the LGBTQ2S+ harbour negative beliefs and attitudes towards their community. Society in general is heteronormative, meaning there is an expectation everyone is or should be straight and cisgender.
Signs of internalized homophobia include wishing to not be attracted to certain genders, feeling shame about one’s identity, trying to “pass” as straight and cisgender, as well as distancing oneself from people who are openly part of the LGBTQ2S+.
Growing up in conservative, homophobic communities, not seeing positive examples of LGBTQ2S+ people in media, and lacking a strong support system, are all factors that lead to internal homophobia.
Internalized homophobia increases your risk of mental health issues and relationship problems. People who are afraid of asking for help—including those worried about the stereotype that the LGBTQ2S+ are sexually promiscuous—also risk suffering from sexually transmitted diseases. One way of handling internalized homophobia is by challenging harmful stereotypes about the LGBTQ2S+.
Accepting yourself as a newcomer from a homophobic country
Ray Carino is a volunteer executive board secretary with the Asian Community AIDS Service (ACAS), a charity which helps East and Southeast Asians in Canada who are members of the LGBTQ2S+ and/or have HIV/AIDS. Carino works as a corporate analyst for Rogers, and he is also a gay man from the Philippines.
The Philippines has an anti-discrimination bill which would prevent prejudice against people on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, but it has yet to be passed.
“It hasn’t been passed by the congress because most of the congress people are homophobic,” Carino said.
“They don’t understand that people who identify as a queer person need this bill turned into law. There is nothing that protects queer people in the Philippines.”
Carino’s mother arrived to Canada before he did, having worked in the Middle East before transferring with her employer to a position in Canada. She sponsored Carino and his sister to arrive in 2011. A community organization in Ottawa received Carino and his sister along with other recent immigrants. While the two of them did get informed about various organizations that help families, they were not told about any LGBTQ2S+ supports.
The town Carino is from—Urbiztondo, in the Pangasinan province—is six hours away from the Filipino capital of Manila. He said while there are more resources for the LGBTQ2S+ and people with HIV in areas surrounding Manila, the outer parts of the Philippines lack both resources and education.
“Sex education is next to none in the Philippines,” said Carino, referring to the country’s outer areas such as Pangasinan.
After spending two years in Ottawa, Carino moved to Toronto and found ACAS through independent research while looking for a charity that can help LGBTQ2S+ people from Southeast Asia. Speaking English as a second language, ACAS helped provide Carino with services in his native tongue.
ACAS offers services in nine languages other than English. These are: Filipino, Viet, Chinese, Korean, Malay, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, and Laotian.
“Coming out to myself was exhausting,” said Carino, adding he educated himself upon arriving in Canada. Seeking aid from charities like ACAS helped the process.
He advised that other LGBTQ2S+ immigrants who are not ready to come out to their friends and family do come out to one person they can trust.
“I’ll use my gut feelings. If I’m friends with someone, I will know way more than what their family knows about them. Always hanging out with them and sharing ideas or your feelings with them will make you know that you’re ready to tell that person.”
Helping as an LGBTQ2S+ ally
There are ways for allies of the LGBTQ2S+ community to help LGBTQ2S+ refugees make their way safely into Canada.
Collaborations between organizations that support the LGBTQ2S+ and immigrants can help reduce discrimination against members of both communities. Programs that increase healthcare access for immigrants and cultural competency training for healthcare providers can also improve the lives of newcomers from diverse backgrounds. Along these lines, the UNHRC has a checklist for providing aid to refugees from LGBTQ2S+ backgrounds.
LeBlanc said Ferreira-Wells is working with a Syrian national who has “quasi-status” in Turkey. LeBlanc requested the young man’s name be changed in this article to protect his identity, so he will be referred to as “Mohammed.”
Mohammed is living in Turkey after his father outed him as gay to the authorities. If he is deported back to Syria he risks being executed. Mohammed needs to walk into a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) office in order to get refugee status, but the Turkish authorities do not allow people from certain countries to enter the UNHRC building.
Despite not seeming to want him in Turkey, the Turkish authorities also beat Mohammed as punishment for his failed attempt to illegally emigrate into Greece. LeBlanc attributed this to “cruel bones and intentions.”
Without refugee status, Mohammed has to apply to immigrate to Canada through a point-based merit system. LeBlanc said “young, single males that have limited education [and] limited travel” are flagged by an artificial intelligence—including Chinook—so someone can later deny the applicant entry. Other Western nations like the United Kingdom have similar point-based merit systems that would not accept Mohammed.
“Here’s a young man who is 21,” said LeBlanc. “He has the ability to be saved. But the whole system is engineered against him, and time is not on his side.”
LeBlanc said he “begged” a director from End of the Rainbow in Calgary to form a tenuous connection with Mohammed, which the director was able to do. He said this connection is rare, because organizations like the Rainbow Railroad that rescue LGBTQ2S+ people from homophobic countries are severely underfunded and lack public support.
“They’re overwhelmed with requests and they don’t have time to respond,” said LeBlanc, later adding, “I wish someone would swoop in and give money to them the same way they do to museums and public institutions.”
There are several charities that help members of the LGBTQ2S+ living in discriminatory countries emigrate to Canada, including the Rainbow Railroad, End of the Rainbow, and The 519. See these lists for more LGBTQ2S+ charities in Toronto and Canada, if you need help or wish to donate to the cause.
Citizens, permanent residents, and people registered under the Indian Act can sponsor a family member to come live in Canada. You can also sponsor refugees through certain community organizations.