For a gay Syrian refugee living in Hamilton, Ont., disconnect and loneliness bring new challenges

August 26, 2016

By Alex Migdal, The Globe and Mail |

As he sits cross-legged on his apartment floor, Julian plays a video on his phone of a group of gay men at an underground party in Damascus.The men are clad in colourful outfits and dance to blaring Arabic music. Julian lost most of his belongings in the Syrian civil war and uses this old clip from a friend as a memory of home.

“You can see how it’s a very big [LGBTQ] community. Many, many people,” he says, smiling. “It’s beautiful. Here, we don’t have [that].”

Canada offers Julian a reprieve from a life of beatings, taunts and arrests. But as a gay Syrian in Hamilton, he faces a new host of problems, namely cultural disconnect and loneliness. Canada’s refugee efforts have largely focused on families with children; single people and, in Julian’s case, families of two, make up less than 15 per cent of the 1,000 Syrian refugees resettled to Hamilton this year. Single LGBTQ refugees such as Julian are an anomaly, and smaller cities in Canada lack the resources to support them.

“Hamilton is not Toronto,” admits Justin Taylor, the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that works with four settlement teams who privately sponsor LGBTQ refugees. The needs of LGBTQ refugees differ, particularly with housing and health care, he says. Socializing is equally important. Taylor’s initiatives include regular potlucks with refugees and hosting LGBTQ sports teams.

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