“No one gets left behind. No one is left out. All are treated with dignity and respect."

— Joseph Gosnell, CC OBC, Laxts’imilx Laxsgiik, Nisga'a Nation


International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia #IDAHAT

QMUNITY hosted its 11th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHAT) breakfast on May 15, 2015.

When I arrived, I was surprised by the number of fine womyn and men among others on the gender spectrum, all of whom made the effort to wake up early on a Friday morning to gather and raise much needed funds in solidarity for such a worthy cause.

On the table to my left was a policeman, with whom I swapped stories. He shared his experiences at the Hate Crime Unit of the Vancouver Police Department, fighting hate crimes of all kinds, including those rooted in homophobia and transphobia. I explained to him the anal tests enforced in police stations on men arrested in countries like Lebanon and Egypt, as an assessment of suspected homosexuality. The very same civic uniform leading the way in Vancouver’s Pride Parade is what the LGBT+ community dreads in many countries around the world.

“Forty percent of LGBTs worldwide are criminalized,” noted Chris Morrissey, founder of Rainbow Refugee, as she spoke about how the Canadian refugee process works. Morrissey is an LGBT+ rights advocate and leader of the society that represents international queer refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers to Canada. Morrissey took the stage and made it very clear why and how each one of the attendees can and should make a difference.

Abdessamad IDAHAT Vancouver

Moments before Morrissey took the floor to speak, Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer of the City of Vancouver announced that May 17 would henceforth become observed in Vancouver as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or IDAHAT — a proud moment for Vancouver. For me, it brought back memories of when we first celebrated IDAHOT in Lebanon about a decade ago. This year Lebanese celebrities spoke up on IDAHOT. The situation for LGBT+ individuals in the Middle East is not an easy one to comprehend. We hear of beheadings in one country and of a ‘gay haven’ in another. We hear of immediate deportation of HIV+ individuals in one place and full low-barrier, state-sponsorship of transgender surgeries in another.

I am often faced by a dilemma of what image to portray when I am asked about the current LGBT+ situation back home. The issue is that each situation is unique and “home” is not one big, uniform space. Each situation differs from one alley to another and from one day to the next; it is complex to say the least. The best way to help is to invest one’s time and interest to learn about the complexities, just as much as investing tax-deductible dollars to charitable and noteworthy causes in Canada.

Danny-and-Aamer-Circle-of-Hope_insetDanny Ramadan, a “former refugee” as he self-identified on stage, brought that message home. Danny and his partner Aamer were sponsored by a group of Vancouverites, of which I was part. We created the Danny and Aamer Circle of Hope in 2013, which has since evolved into the Foundation of Hope. Danny narrated his personal story about home and family in Syria. He spoke of his dear friends “whose shadows are with me today on stage”, friends he left behind, leaving him with “survivor’s guilt.” But Danny also shared the joy and laughter they had, the ties and love that bonded them together, and the story of how they came together, then fell apart just as their country did. Danny put faces and names to those we only know of and talk about as “LGBT+ refugees”. He painted an authentic image of the very people we are stepping up to help. I saw him standing high and with much deserved dignity, enjoying our hospitality in Canada, but not our “charity”. He brought identifiable stories to those in the audience, made us laugh with their laughter and shed tears with their pain. By the end of it, Danny received a well-deserved and prolonged standing ovation.

Danny, it is true that “home is where you feel comfortable sharing your stories with others”. My heart sank as you shared your regret for losing your Syrian home keys on your journey. Danny, what a beautiful gesture it was to finish your storytelling by tossing your set of “Canadian home” keys up high in front of us all.

Ahla w sahla – Canada baytak: Welcome to Canada – it is your home.

And kudos to Qmunity for pulling together such an inspiring event. It was my first attendance, but will definitely not be my last — it is sure to become an annual favorite of mine. I have started a personal monthly donation to Qmunity and I encourage you to do the same.

By: Dr. Hasan Abdessamad, MD FRCSC FACOG

This post was simultaneously published at habdessamad.com


Historic milestones: first grant application released and charitable status achieved

April has been a landmark month for Foundation of Hope. On April 2, 2015 Canada Revenue Agency officially granted FOH its status as a registered charity. This means all donations made in Canada within six months prior to this designation, and from this point onward, are eligible for a tax credit.

Foundation of Hope anticipates this historic milestone will bolster its fundraising efforts to date leading up to STRUT, the first major event of 2015. So, either get those heels on and start practicing your walk or get to the event’s website and sponsor any one of the teams of courageous participants.

The generosity of those who have made financial contributions to date has also afforded FOH to begin awarding grants to eligible organizations. On April 6, 2015, FOH released the first chapter of its grant funding process, which is dedicated to Canadian civil society organizations providing community services to newly settled LGBT+ immigrants (newcomers). It is FOH’s mission to provide financial support that permits these organizations, many of which are volunteer-based, to continue to do the incredible work that first inspired the creation of FOH from a small group of dedicated volunteers.

So if you are a donor please consider giving to FOH. Your contribution means the world to us. If you are a community service provider and eligible for grant funding, check out our grant application today.

In the words of Margaret Mead,

“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Words to live by.


Launch of STRUT

The STRUT launch was held on March 28th, 2015 at the Junction cabaret in Vancouver’s Davie Village. Over 250 colorful guests attended and there were many highlights. Most notable were the stories shared of two courageous newcomers who both arrived in Canada as refugees.  Speakers Tannaz (Iran) and Moe (Gambia) were incredibly inspiring as the both shared their personal struggles and offered hope for the future. You could hear a pin drop in the room as the eyes of an attentive audience welled with tears.

Symone Says set off an evening of festivities as an amazing hostess. She opened with an fitting number, “These Boots are Made for Walking”. Kara-Kata Afrobeat provided an evening of upbeat and energetic African music while the models, both men and women, strutted their stuff on the runway in stylish stilettos to the cheers of the audience.

The launch party captured the purpose and vision of why the Foundation of Hope was created – to ensure LGBT+ refugees across the world have an opportunity to be successful and feel supported from their first step onward, either towards safety or to a new life in Canada.

STRUT is a one-mile walk-a-thon in heels for LGBT+ refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers to Canada. The whole concept behind STRUT centers around what a privilege it is to freely express one’s gender identity in Canada, without fear of government or societal persecution. It is hard to imagine having to wait in fear over a lifetime, then manage to escape and get off a plane not knowing where to go with barely enough money to eat, find housing, or gain access to basic healthcare.  This would be a challenge for any newcomer seeking asylum, but less so than also having to navigate a system that has little understanding of LGBT+ issues.

Refugees do not need pity; they require access to services that are non-discriminatory.

STRUT is our community’s chance to show how open and accepting we truly are. Walking a mile in heels demonstrates the power and perseverance of the struggle for equality around the world. This walk-a-thon is going to be hard, but in some countries, it could very well be deadly.

Come STRUT with us on June 6th, 2015 @ www.STRUTvancouver.ca


Carl Meadows


Hope in community: exploring Vancouver’s queer newcomer services provider network

As our foundation closes in our first round of grants, it is important for us to build relationships with the LGBT+ community and with those who eventually might apply for them. Part of that work involves getting to know the various service providers and grass roots organizations that do great work with LGBT+ newcomers.

As a board member, I have been assigned a number of tasks and recently I visited Catarina Moreno, Program Manager for Qmunity, located in the heart of Davie Village. Cat invited me for tea and a tour of the place, which includes a library with a youth lounge, meeting rooms for free counseling services, and the Bute Street Clinic jointly administered with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). When we sat down, she began by telling me about Qmunity’s four main program streams.

“We build community through a range of programs including drop-ins for free counseling and health and wellness services,” Cat told me. “We provide queer competency training that allows services providers to remain respectful and offers teaching tools for schools. We advocate through various forms of engagement to increase our visibility and we provide space for connection that celebrates queer community.”

Qmunity increasingly provides services to LGBT+ newcomers as part of a larger services provider network (SPN), which I attended with Cat the same weekThe group includes representatives Mosaic Settlement and Family Services, Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of BC, and Raven Song Community Health Centre, among other attendees.

The group gives service providers a chance to network on each other’s resources and identify gaps in the community. But after a while the discussion seemed to focus on one issue: housing.

Finding safe, long-term housing is an issue for many refugees who often face additional discrimination. Under the resettlement assistance program, government-sponsored refugees have access to temporary housing such as Welcome Houses, but only for as little as two weeks, according to Dorcas Mendez of ISS. Living in or near downtown Vancouver is also expensive, but that is also where most services for LGBT+ refugees are located. So many choose to live further away from the city, where they can become isolated.

To combat this issue, Mosaic identified the need for LGBT+ support groups and recommended service providers consider sending clients to Mosaic’s I Belong program — a six-month pilot project funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). I Belong supports LGBT+ immigrant newcomers by learning about “the intersectionality between sexuality, gender, race, cultural diversity, class, criminalization, and colonialism.” The project provides support groups and one-on-one community connection opportunities, conducted research to learn of existing gaps, and put forward recommendations in a report.

“Mosaic is taking baby steps and learning, building capacity, and remaining transparent”, says Roja Bagheri, Mosaic’s Program Coordinator. Funding for I Belong runs out on March 25 and currently does not extend beyond this stage.

My impression from the meeting is that clear deficiencies exist in terms of opportunities available to LGBT+ newcomers. Lack of housing and community support services are chief concerns held by the SPN; however, the willingness to meet and share resources and information is encouraging. It opens the door to a more collaborative approach. Foundation of Hope intends to be more involved with the SPN moving forward.


Valuable lessons learned at FOH community grants needs assessment workshop

The Foundation of Hope has moved one step closer to supporting LGBT+ refugees in Canada with its first community needs grants assessment. Representatives from across the LGBT+ community, refugee service providers, and grassroots organizations all joined up with FOH Board members on February 1, 2015. The goal of the meeting was to advise on how FOH can best target community grants to effectively benefit LGBT+ newcomers.

The group looked at potential grant categories that FOH is considering and provided feedback on each item. “It was really neat how we came to the community with our ideas on how we could help and they came back to us and said the community needs more capacity for sharing and collaborating across sectors,” said FOH Chairperson Carl Meadows.

The FOH grant development committee offered up items including housing, health care, circles of hope, community support services, and emergency funds as its first draft of possible funding categories. “But after it was all said and done,” noted Meadows, “the community told us we should shift our priorities away from ‘band-aid’ solutions and focus on supporting systemic change.”

The group suggested including a funding category focused on community capacity building. “Now it’s the committee’s job to look at the feedback and figure out what that will all look like,” Meadows added. The committee intends to use the valuable feedback to develop appropriate terms of reference for all grant applications going forward.

The Board would like to thank everyone who participated and offered feedback. We gratefully acknowledge the City of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Community Centre for allowing us to host the event. We thank Hamid for providing last minute Farsi translation and are grateful to Hugo at Blenz Coffee on Davie and Richards for supplying complimentary refreshments. The Foundation especially thanks Pamela Schmidt for facilitating the workshop.

We at FOH also want to send a big hug to the LGBT+ refugees who spoke at the meeting. It was truly a community event that brought wisdom and expertise to an evolving discussion about what the LGBT+ refugee community needs.


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