Advocate wants LGBTQ+ specific housing for refugees

Rainbow Refugee says requests for resettlement are rising

Chris Morrissey says she dreams of an apartment building dedicated to housing LGBTQ+ refugees.

Since 2011, the volunteer-run organization Rainbow Refugee has helped more than 100 LGBTQ+ folks fleeing persecution to resettle in Canada. Morrissey, a volunteer for the charity, says what’s needed isn’t huge and would help solve one of the biggest obstacles facing recently arrived refugees.

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"Of course, the big issue is housing, right?” she says. “There's some temporary housing for people ... who need temporary accommodation, but there's nothing that's specifically for LGBT folks.”

Morrissey says she envisions a 12-unit apartment building with bachelor suites and a dedicated staff person who can connect residents to community resources.

Rainbow Refugee supports people who fear persecution where they’re from because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender expression or HIV status. It also helps those who have already arrived in Canada, such as students, to apply for refugee status and operates a sponsorship program through which small groups of volunteers support a refugee coming to Canada.

Made up of about eight people, each group is required to raise close to $20,000 for a single person, and $30,000 for a couple. In the past year, these dedicated volunteers have brought seven LGBTQ+ refugees to Vancouver, while 16 other claimants are still waiting to be approved for immigration to Canada.

Morrissey’s vision comes at a time when the need for LGBTQ+ specific services for refugees is increasing. Every week she receives three to four emails from LGBTQ+ people around the world seeking help because of persecution based on their gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression or HIV status. 

“It’s sort of like a domino effect,” she says, explaining that Rainbow Refugee has been receiving requests from friends of people they’ve already helped resettle in the past couple of years. Plus, she’s been specifically hearing from trans people more and more.

Morrissey’s idea for a dedicated apartment building would require funding from both the provincial and federal governments, and no formal plan has been set in motion. In the meantime, Morrissey says Rainbow Refugee has been providing LGBTQ+ sensitivity trainings to support workers at other resettlement organizations.

The volunteer-run organization continues to fundraise tens of thousands of dollars per year. Soroush Matoor is among Rainbow Refugee’s volunteers. As part of a personal and community development course, Matoor is organizing a fundraiser called Free to Be Fabulous on Sunday, Aug. 27 at Club XY. Part of Matoor’s motivation to get involved with Rainbow Refugee is influenced by his background and sexual identity.

“I am from an immigrant family,” says Edmonton-born Matoor, whose parents fled war-torn Iran. “I am a gay man myself ... [and] I’m just really present to how different my life could have been.”

His fundraiser will be hosted by local drag queens Joan-E and Peach Cobblah, and will feature local musicians, performers and speakers.


• Free to Be Fabulous takes place Sunday Aug. 27 from 4 p.m.–8 p.m. at XY (1216 Bute St.). Tickets $7 advance, $10 at the door. Can't attend but want to contribute? Make a donation here.

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