The History of The Positive Spaces Initiative
One of the most common misconceptions we heard throughout our provincial consultations was that LGBTQ newcomers do not exist, and there is therefore no need for LGBTQ-inclusive settlement services. From others, we were told there is little understanding about how settlement issues are experienced differently by LGBTQ newcomers. Finally, we heard that queer colleagues working in the settlement sector do not feel safe or fully supported in their workplaces. The invisibility and silencing of LGBTQ peoples daily lived experience was further bolstered by very little formal documentation of LGBTQ newcomers and settlement service providers in Ontario. It was in this context that the need for this research emerged.
It was important for us to document LGBTQ stories that were inclusive of but not limited to genders, cultures, religions, migrations, immigration status and age. There were respondents from all across Ontario including the north, urban, rural and suburban cities, towns and boarder towns. They ranged in age from 16-60 and were from Africa, the Caribbean, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America and the Middle East and South Asia. Ensuring and maintaining confidentially was a priority.
LGBTQ newcomers, service providers and allies consistently stated the importance of access to cultural and linguistically translated information on advocacy and support on:
• Navigating the settlement process
• Sponsoring a partner
• Locating LGBTQ organizations and grassroots groups in the community
• Reporting hate crimes, harassment and abuse of power
• Dealing with police and the legal system
• Accessing the medical system
• Changing documents to reflect gender identity
• Advocacy in the education system
• Getting academic credentials certified in Canada
The general themes gathered from the interviews, clearly asserted that programming must address the needs of LGBTQ newcomers on multiple levels. Specific recommendations gathered from Untold Stories Project include:
Programming and Policy Practices
• Develop programming and services specifically for LGBTQ newcomers and their families such as a drop-in support groups, peer-led community development projects and arts-based activities, ESL curriculum dealing with family life include LGBTQ families or provide information sessions on same-sex partner sponsorship.
• Train staff to accompany, support and advocate for LGBTQ newcomers when dealing with the Immigration and Refugee Board and navigating the immigration system.
• Provide mental health services with staff trained to address trauma due to the intersections of homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia with immigration.
• Hire LGBTQ newcomers and allies that understand and can support the complex needs of the population.
• Create and implement formal policy that all agencies who work with the organization must be LGBTQ newcomer positive and aware of how to create a safe space for them. If agencies are not currently LGBTQ positive, provide support and training for organizations and individuals to help create positive spaces within organizations.
• Commit to recognizing and addressing homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism in service development, strategic planning, program creation and funding allocation.
• Place signage that shows that the organization is a LGBTQ positive space. More specifically, develop signage beyond the rainbow flag symbol and post posters with images of LGBTQ newcomers as well as on human rights and discrimination.
• Hold mandatory anti-oppression trainings that include strong components on homophobia, heterosexism and transphobia each year for all staff, management, board and volunteers.
• Review adherence to professional codes of conduct with all staff and management. Hold informal conversations and formal trainings on the separation between personal beliefs and professional values.
• Develop policy that explicitly supports LGBTQ newcomers and commits to creating safer spaces. Include accountability procedures and zero tolerance for harassment.
• Support, leadership and advocacy for laws that directly addresses the needs of LGBTQ newcomers, including for trans people, in the Canadian Human Rights Code.