SFU education professor Sharalyn Jordan was recently recognized with a YMCA Peace Award. (Photo: YMCA of Greater Vancouver)

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Education professor Sharalyn Jordan receives YMCA Peace Award

December 16, 2015
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By Diane Luckow

For the past 11 years, SFU education professor Sharalyn Jordan has been helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) refugees to navigate the Canadian refugee system.

Her hard work was acknowledged in November this year when she received a YMCA Power of the Peace Award for social change, in the individual category.

The award—a medallion— acknowledges remarkable individuals or groups who, without any special resources, demonstrate a commitment to the values of peace through special contributions made within their community—locally, nationally or globally.

Much of Jordan’s volunteer work on behalf of LGBTQ refugees has been done through Rainbow Refugee, a non-profit organization that assists refugees who are fleeing from the more than 80 countries where same-sex relationships or gender nonconformity are considered criminal offences.

A professor in the SFU education faculty’s counseling psychology program, she also researches the mental health issues these refugees face as they navigate Canada’s refugee claim system.

“Mental health literature doesn’t capture the complexity of people navigating social stigma and intercultural identity transitions alongside dealing with trauma and the day-to-day micro-aggressions that racialized queer and trans people face every day,” says Jordan.

Sharalyn Jordan (Photo: YMCA of Greater Vancouver)

Her volunteer work has involved both mental health counseling and practical support for people making refugee claims.

As well, she has been a committed advocate. In 2012, she wrote and presented briefs documenting the potential harms of a federal government plan to overhaul the refugee protection system. Jordan says the new legislation, enacted in 2013 despite objections from community advocates and scholars, does not give LGBTQ refugees enough time to organize for their refugee hearing, and has resulted in increased use of prolonged detention. This summer, she also wrote an affidavit for a federal court case involving two gay men from Croatia. Ultimately, it helped to quash parts of the new refugee act that denied the right to appeal for refugee claimants from designated countries of origin, many of them violently homophobic.

She says the Peace award “is very moving for me. A couple of my students got together with refugee members to do the nomination—it’s my community work and academic work coming together.”

Jordan’s refugee volunteerism is nowhere near finished however.

“Most of the refugee mental health literature continues to presume that refugees are straight. There’s very little on the mental health implications for LGBTQ refugee protection and settlement.”

In the long term, says Jordan, “I want to develop ways for refugees themselves to be part of the research process and inform it. I want to look longitudinally at ways that people and communities can better organize to sustain themselves in terms of opportunities for healing from trauma, and for a greater sense of social connectedness and belonging.”

That’s why she’s now involved in Our Communities, Our Voices—a project in Surrey that has trained young refugees to help conduct and interpret focus groups to identify communities’ priorities for settlement and integration supports. The focus group participants include refugees settling in Surrey, with groups for Arabic, Karen, Spanish and Swahili speakers as well as focus groups for LGBTQ refugees, privately sponsored refugees, service providers, and City of Surrey decision makers.