media release

Gender-persecuted refugees need support

November 22, 2012

Sharalyn Jordan, 778.881.2915,
Jennifer Marchbank, 778.782.7607, 604.996.6195 (cell),
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Photos available: (Sharalyn), (Jennifer)

Simon Fraser University researchers, the Surrey Pride Society and Rainbow Refugee hope an upcoming lecture will increase public awareness about changes to Canada’s refugee claim process that disadvantage refugees fleeing sexuality or gender persecution.

The issue is under discussion at the second lecture in a free public lecture series hosted by SFU’s Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) and the Surrey Pride Society.

The one-hour talk, Seeking Refuge from Persecution Related to Sexuality or Gender Identity, takes place on Monday, Nov. 26, 7:00 p.m., Room 3090 at Surrey Central, SFU Surrey. The speakers will discuss how changes to Canada’s refugee-claim process, effective in Dec., will reduce the success of claimants seeking refuge from sexual orientation (SO)- or gender identity (GI)-based persecution.

Sharalyn Jordan, an assistant professor in SFU’s education faculty, Chris Morrissey, co-founder of Rainbow Refugee, and other members of the advocacy group for SOGI refugee claimants will discuss how the changes could even jeopardize lives.

Based on available statistics, Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender people face imprisonment in 76 countries. They are tortured or executed in at least seven of those.

The speakers are particularly concerned about claimants’ reduced time for producing, upon arrival in Canada, a fact-based written account of their alleged persecution in their country of origin. The time frame will be reduced from 28 to 15 days.

The speakers say this change will hit SOGI refugee claimants hardest because their background makes it inherently challenging for them to document and recount their persecution — never mind doing so within 15 days.

“They are bridging gaps in cultural understandings of sexuality and gender, dealing with the mental health impacts of alleged persecution, and dislocation-, racism- and refugee stigma-related stressors,” says Jordan.  

The SFU counselling psychologist garnered the 2011 International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Outstanding Dissertation Award for a community-based research project on the topic with Rainbow Refugee.

“Imagine being a SOGI refugee who has narrowly evaded arrest, stayed in hiding while you figure out how to get out of your country, and then one of the first questions you are asked by a Canadian Border Services officer in uniform, sometimes behind bulletproof glass is, ‘why are you making a refugee claim?’ These claimants don't know when it is and isn't safe to talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity,” explains Jordan.  

Jordan says no other kind of application requires refugee claimants to relay such intimate, stigmatized aspects of their lives as those for SOGI claimants.

“As a researcher, I know that people who have experienced sexualized violence are more likely to have difficulties with post-traumatic memory disturbances and dissociation that can interfere with giving coherent testimony.”

Adds Jennifer Marchbank, an SFU GSWS associate professor and the Surrey Pride Society’s president, “We in Canada need to know about these issues…homophobia and transphobia exist here but we have more protections. Others overseas need our support in escaping life threatening persecution for just being who they are.”

Backgrounder: Gender-persecuted refugees need support

Seeking Refuge from Persecution Related to Sexuality or Gender Identity will feature Chris Morrissey, the founder of Rainbow Refugee, talking about the advocacy group’s efforts to help SOGI refugee claimants navigate Canada’s application process.

Morrissey is a community organizer for the migration rights of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender people in Canada. In 2000, along with Vancouver lawyer Rob Hughes and others, she co-founded Rainbow Refugee, an offshoot of LEGIT, a group Morrissey founded in 1992 to help same-sex couples understand Canadian immigration laws.

This month the federal government awarded Morrissey the Governor General’s Golden Jubilee Award for outstanding Canadians.

At the Nov. 26, 7 p.m. talk, successful refugee claimants who were helped by Rainbow Refugee will share stories about their persecution. Here is one such story about one of the refugees assisted by Rainbow Refugee:

“Angela, is a young African woman from a country with a 10-year prison sentence for same-sex relationships. When her father arranged for her to marry a much older man she confided in her sister about her girlfriend. Her sister told their parents. Angela was then locked up and regularly beaten by her father for over a month.

Rumours spread through her church and her town resulting in her being expelled from her church. When she was let out, she was attacked by neighbours throwing stones. She was also assaulted by a gang of young men. She ran away into hiding until her uncle managed to get her out of the country.”

Willeen Keough, GSWS chair, says: “Cultures may differ on understandings of human rights, but surely protection from violence and persecution because of sexuality and gender identity should be part of the global canon. Rainbow Refugee can explain how to make this happen and how we can help.”


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