The emails come from Jordan, Dubai, and war-torn Syria. They come from places like Jamaica where members of the LGBT community are living in fear and in silence and in violence, sometimes at the hands of their own families. The emails say “thank-you,” they say, “I need your help” and they say, “please, I’ve got to get out of here to save my life.”
For over a year, requests have flooded the inboxes of board members and volunteers of the Foundation of Hope, the registered non-profit charity behind last year’s immensely successful STRUT campaign that raised $45,000 to help LGBT refugees and newcomers.
The STRUT walk-a-thon returns to Sunset Beach for its second year June 11, backed by a bigger, stronger and more diverse foundation, having responded to feedback from within the LGBT community at large.
The iconic stiletto maintains the idea that walking “a mile in heels is easier than a lifetime in the closet.”
“FOH’s sole mission is to raise funds and to disperse funds,” explains Catarina Moreno, one of FOH’s newest board members. “From the money raised, we want to connect with as many organizations across Canada that are assisting LGBT refugees and newcomers.”
That includes non-LGBT charities that help recent immigrants make the transition to Canadian life. Moreno says there can sometimes be a chasm between mainstream organizations and queer ones despite fundamental similarities in what each tries to achieve for new Canadians.
Among them is Vancouver’s MOSAIC, an organization serving immigrant communities in BC, who received funding from FOH for LGBT programming that provides multilingual, culturally-sensitive individual and group clinical counselling.
Housing is the number one issue faced by all refugees, says Moreno, and without it a multitude of problems can arise, making it more difficult to learn English, make friends, or get a job.
“Housing is so essential,” she stresses. “Without a safe and secure place to go home at night, everything else can quickly fall apart.”
Inland Refugee Society is another benefactor of FOH funds, whose work in Richmond has secured such housing for refugees. While they are not a queer-specific organization, their goal is to use the money to improve training and translation services, to stock up on resources, and to connect with other organizations to better serve their LGBT population.
And just one year in, the foundation is operating on a national level. Rainbow Railroad in Toronto was able to secure FOH funds to help relocate a young gay man in Jamaica who was physically attacked for his work with LGBT. And a young woman in Uganda was able to escape the sexual violence of “corrective therapy” when Rainbow Railroad helped her escape to western Europe.
With the world now watching, FOH co-founder Carl Meadows says Canada should be a world leader in welcoming LGBT refugees given the comparative safety and freedom the LGBT community experiences here.
“Let’s not forget,” he says. “The freedom to be different comes with the privilege to be free.”
STRUT kicks off at 11:30am at Sunset Beach, June 11. Visit StrutVancouver.ca for details on how to donate, or to register for the walk-a-thon.