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We Shall Overcome Someday

December 17, 2019

The emotional trauma of not being able to live a safe and authentic life with her partner in Jamaica was getting unbearable. So Chris made the difficult decision to leave behind her partner of nine years and come to Canada to find a way for them to live together – openly and safely.

After completing her professional training as an acupuncturist and receiving a rejection on her application for a work permit, Chris was out of options. She had invested three years of her life, spent her entire life’s savings, and chosen to live so far away from her love – just to find a safe place to call home. Going back to the same life of fear was not an option.

“In Jamaica, one night as we were leaving a party together, a group of people started following us, hurling homophobic slurs and threatening to rape us. I fell and hurt my leg. Afterwards, I decided to get a tattoo where the fall had left a scar – ‘only God can judge me’.”

It was a challenging time for Chris. Struggling to find a way to stay in the country and make a living, she fell into a deep depression. With support from The 519 and Legal Aid Ontario, she was finally able to file her refugee claim in 2018. Attending Among Friends, our weekly LGBTQ refugee support group, practising meditation, and being able to access free therapy helped her through those terribly tough times.

“We pay attention to the stories of abuse and talk about refugees’ needs for settlement support. But we also need to focus on the mental and emotional needs of refugees who have endured so much emotional trauma and continue to experience mounting barriers in their quest for safety – leaving them so vulnerable to mental health issues.”

Chris waited a year for her hearing, which ended with a delayed decision. Her experience made her realize how critical it was for refugees to have legal support to prepare them for their hearing, which is a highly challenging and emotional process.

“If you have lived your entire life hiding in a homophobic state, it is very difficult to prove your sexual orientation. You don’t have police reports to show for the abuse you have experienced. And it is a nerve-racking moment for the claimant whose entire life depends on the decision.”

Chris finally received a successful decision after two months. She is employed and feels relatively more settled than before. The fear for the safety of her partner, and the homophobia that she continues to experience systemically and socially are still her present-day realities. Although she feels she still has a long way to go before she feels safe enough to live her authentic life, she knows she is in a much better place to deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

*Pseudonym used for privacy and safety of the participant.