Services needed for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning newcomers in Surrey: Study

August 1, 2017

By Matt Robinson, Vancouver Sun |

Resources do not exist for LGBTQ+ newcomers in Surrey, where 25 per cent of all government-assisted refugees welcomed to B.C. since 2011 have settled, according to a Simon Fraser University study.

The study found Vancouver had some resources to support LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning) newcomers to Canada, including at least one active organization (Rainbow Refugee) specifically in place to support people who have fled persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or HIV status.

In contrast, the study found Surrey has none.

In fairness, no other cities in the Lower Mainland have such a service either, said Jen Marchbank, an SFU professor who oversaw the graduate student-led study.

“The service need is quite large. This is not just to have a support group sitting around to say how do you go to Pride in Canada,” Marchbank said. Rather, it’s about helping people find answers to very difficult questions, and she offered some examples of what those may be.

“I have the trauma of knowing that my ex-partner is still in prison in the place I came from and I haven’t heard from them in two years and I don’t know what their fate is. How do I go on?

“Or, how do I move forward with my life? I wish to live as a gay man but I have a wife and three kids. How do we sort that out?

Or, “where can I find a mosque that’s safe to practise as a gay man or as a lesbian?”

Non-profit community resources society DIVERSEcity commissioned the SFU study, which focused specifically on Surrey because of that city’s large and growing population of newcomers.

What it found was a “colossal gap” in the awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and settlement challenges among those who are helping newcomers adjust to their lives in the city.

It is tough to find safe and affordable housing for LGBTQ+ migrants in Surrey and there is not enough mental health supports for them either, the report found. And there is a lack of community for LGBTQ+ newcomers, which means some “suffer from loneliness, feeling unable to belong to either their ethnic groups or mainstream LGBTQ+ groups.”

There are also language barriers that make it more difficult for service providers to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ people who may not see their identities reflected in “Western thoughts and language,” according to the study.

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