Several LGBT advocates called on city council to make Vancouver a sanctuary for LGBT refugees as the city prepared to launch Pride Week and raise the rainbow flag July 28.
Chris Morrissey, who has worked on LGBT immigration and refugees issues for more than 20 years, said a committee has been investigating the idea of establishing Vancouver as a safe haven and urged city councillors to support the initiative.
“People who come based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV status face more barriers and more challenges and difficulties than other refugees,” Morrissey told city council in a special session prior to the mayor’s Pride Week proclamation. “We don’t like to pit one against the other, for sure, but it is also important for us to acknowledge that queer refugees face additional barriers.”
She would like to see the entire Lower Mainland become a sanctuary for LGBT refugees and hopes other mayors will support the proposal, too.
Claiming refugee status is already a difficult process for many claimants, who have to prove both their sexual orientation and that they were persecuted for it, Morrissey points out. Easier access to information, resources, support and safe housing would be helpful on arrival, she says.
She’d like the City of Vancouver to set aside some of its social housing units now under development for gay refugees seeking asylum.
Fred Kabali, who left Uganda in 2010 after being threatened with prison time because he is gay, suggested that Vancouver provide a safe house or apartment for openly gay people who arrive in the city.
Lawyer barbara findlay says she’d like to see included on every civic publication a specific statement that the city welcomes queer people and a list of supportive resources.
She says the recent approval of trans-inclusive policies by both Vancouver’s school and parks boards shows this is a welcoming city.
It takes careful thought to make a safe haven, she notes. Otherwise, “you are likely to end up making the mistake of having a house for refugees where you put queer refugee claimants with other refugee claimants from the same country, who will kill them,” she warns.
“We are really, really lucky — we are incredibly lucky — we are so privileged to live in a city where city hall is having a proclamation of gay pride,” she adds.
After the special council session, Mayor Gregor Robertson declared July 28 to Aug 3 Pride Week in Vancouver.
The proclamation recognizes that diversity, equality, acceptance and pride make “us so much stronger as a city.” It also states that the City of Vancouver is “resolutely committed to ending homophobia and transphobia in all of their forms.”
Robertson noted that Vancouver’s 2014 Pride mission to the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, built on that commitment when it advocated for LGBT rights and inclusion at future Olympic and Paralympic Games and raised awareness of the need to end homophobia in sport.
Councillor Tim Stevenson looked up at the large rainbow flag now adorning the north face of the city hall tower and joked about draping it around Toronto’s city hall, a not-too-veiled reference to the troubled relationship Toronto Mayor Rob Ford enjoys with the gay community there.
“When we create an environment that is supportive, we create a community that fosters new ideas, arts and culture,” Dean Nelson told the crowd at the proclamation.
“We have to share the enormous privilege we have living in Vancouver with queers here and abroad so we have a city of sanctuary, a city of welcome and a city of pride,” says Nelson, one of this year’s Pride grand marshals.