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Out of the Closets, Into the Streets

October 17, 2019

The first time Harvey* visited the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood, he felt overwhelmed, and left right away. He had spent his entire life in the closet, and the sight of rainbow flags left him overcome with emotions.

His life in Turkey did not leave any space for him to accept and express his queerness without dire consequences. Despite that, he was ridiculed often for seeming different.

“All my life, I have told people that I don’t love anyone, just so that I can continue to hide – even from my own self.”

He travelled to Canada to study, and for the first time in his life, gathered the courage to explore ‘gay life’. Although the first trip to the Village ended abruptly, he made his way again after he noticed a poster at a library about The 519’s newcomer and refugee support program. He registered for our newcomer orientation and after the initial intake met with our refugee program coordinator to find out about his options.

“It was a daunting decision to file my refugee claim. I had no money for a lawyer, no work permit, and my family who know nothing about my sexual orientation were expecting me back in Turkey.”

But after he qualified for Legal Aid, and with support from community he was slowly building through The 519 and a queer meetup group, he decided to explore the possibility of starting over and creating a new reality for himself in which he can love himself and someone else without fear of persecution.

“If I didn’t have Legal Aid support, I would not have had this choice.”

Harvey filed his claim and started attending Among Friends, The 519’s refugee support group. Through the group, he was able to get a referral for vocational training in the hospitality sector and is now working as a server assistant at a restaurant. Even though he is now busy with his new job, he often hangs out in the Village and volunteers for The 519 and other LGBTQ2S focused organizations.

“Just one year ago, I was afraid to admit my own sexual orientation. Now I have an understanding about homophobia and can confidently call it out. I want to become an activist for LGBTQ rights in the Middle East – create awareness about sexual orientation and gender identity and support queer people.”

Harvey was nervous and excited about his upcoming hearing, which was on the same day as his 25th birthday. This turned out to be one of his best birthdays. He had a positive hearing and can now look forward to a new life.

*Pseudonym used for privacy and safety of the participant.