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March for Refugee Rights 2024

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2SLGBTQ+ people are under attack. Far-right groups and cynical politicians are scapegoating 2 Spirit, queer, and trans people for political gain. Using age-old tactics, they seek to stigmatize diversity, control our bodies, and maintain a system that favours their agenda. LGBTQ+ refugees are among those most impacted.

May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBT). Joining Queer Momentum as part of the National Rainbow Week of Action (May 11 to 17) being observed across the country, we’re uniting with community, allies, and partner organizations serving LGBTQ+ refugees to amplify our urgent plea for support for LGBTQ+ refugees. We’re calling on governments and elected officials at every level to defend the rights and safety of 2SLGBTQ+ Canadians, including refugees and newcomers.

Join The 519 during Rainbow Week of Action – together with our communities, allies, and partner organizations serving LGBTQ+ refugees – to amplify our urgent plea for support for LGBTQ+ refugees.

  • When: Thursday, May 16, 2024
  • Time: 11:30am to 2pm
  • Where: Barbara Hall Park [519 Church St.]

Featuring speeches by:

  • MPP Wong-Tam & MPP Stiles
  • Councillor Moise
  • Samia Hashi- Unifor Ontario Regional Director
  • Ian McKnight – Director, Programs, Toronto People With AIDS Foundation
  • Fae Johnstone – ED, Momentum
  • Latoya Nugent, Director of Community Engagement, Rainbow Railroad
  • Fred Hahn, President CUPE Ontario
  • Lisa Duplessis, Director, Programs & Services, The 519

Registration is optional but appreciated. If this event sells out and tickets are unavailable, you are still welcome. Please join us! Your presence and your voice counts.

Partner organizations: Pride Toronto, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI), Sojourn House Toronto, FCJ Refugee Centre, Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration, Toronto Metropolitan University, Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services, Rainbow Railroad

PDF: March for LGBTQ+ Rights Poster


11:30am to 12:30pm: Meet at Barbara Hall Park and Rally

Closest TTC station to Barbara Hall Park: Wellesley [16 Wellesley St. E.] on the yellow line.

12:30 to 2:00pm: Community March

Following a rally and speeches, we’ll march in community. From Barbara Hall Park, we’ll march west down Wellesley St., up Yonge St. to Bloor St., then westwards on Bloor St. to Avenue Rd., south on Avenue Rd. to Queen’s Park, and east across Wellesley St. to return to Barbara Hall Park.

Note about media presence:

This is a public event in a public space. Broadcast media will likely show up. To learn tips on how to stay anonymous at a protest, check out our resource below.

PDF: Tips to staying anonymous at a protest

LGBTQ+ Refugees Belong Here

Since the start of 2023, our New to Canada team has seen an unprecedented increase in refugees turning to us for urgent support. We’ve had over 8,000 LGBTQ+ refugees come to our doors - that's more than six times as many requests as we got in 2022.

LGBTQ+ people seeking refuge in Canada contribute so much to our communities and our country. When we work together to support LGBTQ+ refugees, we’re building opportunities for the most vulnerable and building stronger communities. At The 519, we are seeing unprecedented numbers of LGBTQ+ refugees seeking services: Over 8,000 unique individuals since January 2023.

LGBTQ+ refugees have specific needs that the traditional settlement sector often can’t effectively support. Some LGBTQ+ newcomers also can’t rely on their cultural communities for support, and many face issues of discrimination and lack of understanding by immigration lawyers and the refugee board.

What’s Driving this Crisis?

With nearly 120 million displaced people in the world, and 65 countries that criminalize 2SLGBTQ+ identities or activity, including 12 where the death penalty may be imposed, LGBTQ+ people around the world continue to face daily threats due to state persecution, hate-motivated crimes and violence, and widespread discrimination.

LGBTQ+ refugees face discrimination and barriers throughout the refugee and asylum processes, whether that be at border crossings, in accessing services, or having their identity and lived experience believed. With a persistent lack of action at the global level, LGBTQ+ refugees and the organizations that support them continue to navigate incredibly complex, dangerous pathways to safety.

Once LGBTQ+ refugees land in Canada, they face multiple barriers as they attempt to rebuild their lives from the ground up. Since The 519 began its LGBTQ+ refugee and newcomer programming in 2007, we have seen the deepening of chronic systemic issues that impact the wellbeing and safety of LBGTQ+ refugee claimants:

  • While interacting with immigration officers or the Immigration and Refugee Board, clients often face discrimination and a lack of awareness and understanding of
  • LGBTQ+ identities and persecution. This results in claimants being re-traumatized and erodes their trust in Canadian institutions.
  • Canada and Toronto are in an ongoing, long-time housing crisis. Unable to afford rental costs, many refugees start their time in Canada in shelters, on the street, or couch surfing.
  • With shelters at capacity in Toronto, many of our clients have been moved across the province. From Windsor to Cornwall to Thunder Bay, we hear from LGBTQ+ refugee clients who are isolated and unable to access LGBTQ+ affirming supports.
  • Navigating bureaucracy to access healthcare, financial support, and a work permit can often be difficult and result in delays, especially for people who do not speak English as a first language.
  • Access to critical services that help claimants access HIV care or trans-affirming resources is limited, and without support from LGBTQ+ organizations, refugee claimants are often not told they exist.
  • Many of our clients are unable to access supports from broader diasporic cultural communities once they arrive in Canada due to continued fears of persecution.
  • Many refugees arrive in Canada with little to no savings, and struggle with finding employment because of a lack of Canadian work experience. This is compounded by bad actors who take advantage of newcomers, promising to help them navigate the refugee process and vastly over charging them or defrauding them.

Most importantly, successful settlement goes beyond paperwork. What people need is human connection – a place where they can experience joy, grief, healing, and support. Community is an important building block for life in a new country. The journey of coming to terms with one’s reality, healing, and thriving is a long one that begins with being in affirming community.

Our calls to Action

Along with partner organizaitons and the From Borders to Belonging Coalition, we call for immediate action to better support refugees through the claimant and settlement processes.

Make the Rainbow RAP Partnership Permanent and expand supports

The Rainbow RAP Program is a program that provides start-up costs and three months of federal financial support for LGBTQ+ refugees who are privately sponsored by Canadians.

This Partnership has been successful for many years but has not been made permanent, making planning for potential sponsors difficult. Making the program permanent, and expanding the level of support from three months to six, will allow communities with less access to funds to effectively participate in private sponsorship.

Uphold the Right to Refuge

The Safe Third Country Agreement turns back refugees to the US, where LGBTQ+ refugees face particularly cruel treatment and potential deportation. The anti-LGBTQI+ climate in the US is worrying enough that the Federal Government recently issued a travel advisory. At a minimum, criteria for exceptions should be expanded to consider the additional risks that LGBTQ+ asylum seekers face in the US.

Treat anti-LGBTQ+ state violence as a crisis

The implementation of new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is a crisis for LGBTQ+ citizens of that country. We have seen time and time again how new laws result in an influx of LGBTQ+ refugees to Canada. The federal government should be ready and able to respond to these crises as they occur

Fund and mandate LGBTQ+ Understanding in the Settleement Sector

Increasing the capacity of the broader settlement and refugee sector is essential to ensuring that LGBTQ+ refugees get the support that they need and deserve. Funding and mandating LGBTQ+ awareness and capacity building within the settlement sector will help ensure that refugees, wherever they turn to support, are met in an affirming and positive manner.

More Support for Asylum Seekers

90% of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers are successful in their claims. Setting them up for success from the start through enhanced supports and reduced processing times is key to ensuring LGBTQ+ refugees can settle successfully.

Enhance training and understanding within the Refugee System

Establish that areas of refugee protection, resettlement, and settlement can deliver services that are safe and responsive to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC). In particular, overseas visa officers and Pre-removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) officers require enhanced SOGIESC responsive training, followed by evaluation.

Ensure all LGBTQ+ refugees as well as refugee claimants are well supported in communities of arrival, with legal, shelter and housing, social and healthcare needs met.

The scarcity of affordable housing and inadequate shelter spaces has particularly dangerous implications for LGBTQ+ refugee claimants and newcomers. Supporting LGBTQ+ refugee claimants during their application, ensuring they have access to legal aid regardless of province and hastening their access to work permits will have positive long term impacts on their settlement outcomes. We advocate reducing access barriers for refugee claimants while funding collaborations among 2SLGBTQ+ civil society and the settlement sector.

Expand IFHP coverage to include gender-affirming care

Gender affirming care is life saving care. But many gender-affirming surgeries and procedures are not covered by the Interim Federal Health Plan. Trans and gender diverse refugees deserve access to equitable and affirming care. The IFHP should reflect that.

How The 519 is responding

Everyone belongs at The 519 – including LGBTQ+ refugees. For many of them, The 519 is the first touchpoint for community, safety, and affirmation – the first place they can dream of finally living more authentically. As the largest and one of the very few LGBTQ+ -specific settlement services in Canada, The 519 provides unique wrap-around support to LGBTQ+ newcomers and refugees, providing one-on-one case support and settlement services to community members looking to rebuild their lives where it’s safe. Over the past few months:

  • We mobilized our communities to donate essential supplies and prepared 1,200 welcome kits for LGBTQ+ refugee claimants.
  • We redeployed all our staff in February 2024 to complete 1,000+ intakes for an event called Love In Action, our largest number of on-the-spot intakes for new refugee claimants. We also provided meals, referrals, and other essentials.
  • We continue to provide temporary housing and program supports to LGBTQ+ refugees at Pacewood, our shelter dedicated to 2SLGBTQ+ adult refugees.
  • Our programs and services like the Among Friends Refugee Support Program, the Mock Hearing Program, the LGBTQ+ Refugee Legal Clinic, FUEL, and more help refugee claimants with things like wayfinding, legal processes, friendship and community.

How you can help

The experiences of refugees are human experiences. They impact us all. The current climate of the world reminds us that LGBTQ+ refugees have no time to wait. The time for action is now, and you can support that work.

  • Donate to programs like ours that directly benefit LGBTQ+ refugees.
  • Look into sponsoring an LGBTQ+ refugee.
  • Challenge the misinformed narratives that victimize refugees and diminish their contributions.
  • Advocate for refugee rights and challenge systems that hinder their ability to lead enriched, authentic lives.
  • Confront queerphobia, transphobia, racism, and xenophobia both around you, and within yourself. Most of us don’t think of ourselves as prejudiced, but acknowledging biases needs to happen to make way for change. Stay open to learning!

You can also be an ally as an employer, landlord, healthcare provider, policymaker, or public servant. These are all areas in which refugees are often excluded, underserved, ignored, or taken advantage of.

  • Consider hiring LGBTQ+ refugees. Nurture their career growth. They bring a wealth of lived experience, international training, and resilience to the workforce. They deserve the ability to succeed, like all of us.
  • The rental market is set up to take advantage of people’s vulnerability and desperation, which also impacts LGBTQ+ refugees. Don’t be part of that system. Be gracious by renting to them, understanding that they need affordable and safe housing.
  • Likewise, if you are a public servant, remind yourself of the impact of your words, actions, and policies on the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society – including LGBTQ+ refugees.

Impact stories

Gloria: Among New Friends

Chris: We Shall Overcome Someday

Harvey: Out of the Closets, Into the Streets

The issue in the media


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Join our Army of Lovers and fight back hate!