After a lifetime of hiding, gay refugees in Canada expected to prove their identity

May 08, 2017

Originally featured in The Globe and Mail

When they reach Canadian soil, gay refugees fleeing repressive, homophobic regimes face a maddening challenge. Fearing being beaten, jailed, tortured or killed in their home countries, they hide their sexual orientation all their lives. In Canada, they face a 180: to secure status as a persecuted minority, they are asked to prove their sexuality on the spot.

This means furnishing refugee boards with detailed documentation of their same-sex relationships – intimate texts, letters, photographs and other romantic artifacts they may have erased, or never manufactured, for their own safety. Other gay refugees have no boyfriends or girlfriends to show at all, having remained single out of fear.

Without proof, gay refugee claimants’ credibility is shot. How do they convince Canada to give them sanctuary?

On May 1, Canada will begin to address the unique circumstances that this highly vulnerable population faces with the country’s first ever guidelines entirely devoted to LGBTQ refugee claimants. The guidelines set out best practices and expectations for decision makers sitting on refugee boards nationwide.

“Before this, we’ve had to rely on board members having good judgment, having good discretion,” said Sharalyn Jordan, an organizer with Vancouver’s Rainbow Refugee and SFU professor, whose research has focused on helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) refugees to navigate the Canadian refugee system. “This makes me very hopeful that we will start seeing more consistent, more just decisions.”

Learn more about the current guidelines and the unique challenges gay refugees have faced coming to Canada.