Keith Johnson has simply had enough. “Now that the United States has become a theocracy quickly headed toward all-out fascism, the time has come to leave,” says Johnson, a 50-year-old business consultant from Port Charlotte, Florida.
“As a gay man, I see that the persecution has just begun toward me and my brothers and sisters with the promotion of our exclusion from Constitutional guarantees-if not at the national level, than at the state level.”
Similar stories have been filtering in from the United States ever since the watershed national elections on Nov 2, which saw the already conservative US federal government tilt farther to the right and saw gay marriage banned in 11 states. Canada appears to be high on the list for many disenfranchised Americans looking to trade in their zip code for a postal code.
“Canada offers the individual respect for whom they are, healthcare for all, and the democracy that the United States has lost to corporations and hard-line religious institutions,” Johnson says.
Initial interest immediately after the election was high. But it’s unclear how many Americans are serious about immigrating.
“Well, what we’ve noticed is an increase in inquiries,” says Chris Morrissey of LEGIT-Vancouver, The Lesbian and Gay Immigration Taskforce. “Our website, for example, the day after the election, had a 300 percent increase in hits. [But] in terms of actual numbers of people who have contacted us, I wouldn’t say there is an increased number.”
Immigration lawyers who specialize in gay, lesbian and transgender cases have witnessed a similar spike in interest.
“It was unprecedented,” says Rob Hughes. “You can’t tell how many are serious but people are disgusted with the 11 same-sex marriage ballot proposals.
“What is interesting,” he notes, “is the inquiries are different. It’s not bi-national couples who weren’t able to get citizenship in the US and are turning to Canada as an alternative this time around. Most inquiries are from American couples who want to move for political reasons.”
The immigration process can be an intimidating challenge, even for the most motivated folks. Although the amount of red tape going from the US to Canada is significantly less than if you’re going the other way, the piles of forms and regulations can make anyone nervous.
“People aren’t very educated about the immigration process,” Morrissey notes. “Generally, because Canada does have a process for partners of Canadians, and because Canada accepts refugees based on sexual orientation and gender identity, there is thought that if you’re gay you’re going to get some additional bonus-which, of course, isn’t true.”
Johnson says that even though he doesn’t know the particulars of the immigration process, he has faith that a gay man can get a fair shake when trying to immigrate to Canada.
“I have confidence that the Canadian government will not hold secret from me the information required to successfully immigrate,” he says.
Is his confidence well placed? Do gay and lesbian applicants generally get through Canada’s immigration process unscathed?
“In June of 2002, there was a new immigration act that was passed and implemented,” Morrissey says. “That was the point at which recognition of same-sex partners was put into the family class.
“So, prior to that there was systemic discrimination. Applications were processed, but they were processed on humanitarian and compassionate grounds; they weren’t processed as members of the family class.”
Now, gay Canadians can sponsor their foreign partners for immigration and have their relationships officially recognized.
But the perception of discrimination is still present, Morrissey notes, even if the actual discrimination isn’t.
“In countries other than the US and Canada, many of the people who process [Canadian] applications are local people who have been hired and trained by Canadian immigration,” she points out. “Sometimes in those situations people don’t declare their sexual orientation. They have concerns that even though the system is supposed to be confidential, that if they are looking at someone from their own country that the word is going to get out and there are a lot of complications as a result of that.
“It’s very difficult to tell if it’s actual discrimination, but there is certainly the perception of discrimination, no question. And the fear of discrimination.”