By Stacey Escott
Sebastien feared for his life in his native Cameroon and decided to flee. It wasn't over a religious or political issue.
As an openly homosexual man, he faced physical and psychological danger for living the way he wanted to. In Cameroon, he felt threatened and isolated. He received aggressive phone calls.
His very first experience with homophobia was violent.
“There was a group of homophobic people, one of them acted as a gay in distress. During this time I was beaten. It was in front of the community and no one acted in my defence,” Sebastien said.The men beating him said that was what he had to go through for being gay.
Another time, he was in a cab with a group of friends who were talking about being gay. Instead of driving to their destination, the cab driver dropped them off at the police station.
Sebastien, now an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) refugee, arrived in Montreal in June 2010 on a tourist visa. He's waiting for his immigration hearing and would not give his last name for fear of interfering with his case.
“I've done some research that there about 3,000 inland refugee claims of people who come to Canada who make a refugee claim based on sexual orientation,” said Sean Rehagg, an assistant professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and one of the panellists at the Canadian Council for Refugees' Spring Consultation held in Hamilton 26-28 May.
One of the ongoing challenges with this type of refugee claim is how to prove it. How does one prove they are, in fact, a sexual minority?
Brian Brenie represents the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto. He was also a speaker at the seminar.
He was part of a group of volunteers who decided they had to do something for homosexual and transgendered refugees who are looking for a home and some way to connect with their spirituality and sexuality.
They started a refugee peer support group in Toronto. It started out with maybe 10 people, and now about 30 to 35 are supporting each other.
“They come and make connections so they can meet at other places and talk about their situations. They meet people from their home countries that they didn't know before,” Brenie said.The church offers people the opportunity to come out and volunteer in an organization that is friendly toward this group.
“They have shared with us their fears about persecution in their home country and we have no doubt the fear is true and we have no doubt about their sexual orientation,” said Brenie.Sylvain Thibault is the co-ordinator for the shelter that helps vulnerable male refugees where Sebastien lives.
He says he doesn't see as many LGBT claims because some refugees think it will help their case if it is viewed as a political issue. He has been helping Sebastien throughout his journey
“When he (Sebastien) first arrived, he was different. He was more introverted. Now, he's happy. Everybody likes him, he's not hiding anymore,” said Thibault.