Professor Jennifer Marchbank and members of Youth for A Change featured the report at this year’s LGBTQ history display in Surrey.

A team of graduate students at Simon Fraser University uncovered a major gap in support services for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) immigrants and refugees.  

Despite being one of the largest receivers of refugees and immigrants in the province, the city of Surrey lacks LGBTQ+-centred support groups and services for newcomers, according to the report from the students in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies.

Professor Jennifer Marchbank oversaw the graduate students’ research and explained that the community organization DIVERSEcity, which provides settlement support to newcomers, commissioned the report.

The findings allowed DIVERSEcity to secure funding for the very first LGBTQ+ newcomer service in Surrey this fall, according to Marchbank.

“This report has created social change,” she said.

There are multiple barriers faced by LGBTQ+ newcomers that are not addressed by existing services for local or immigrant populations, the report noted.

According to Masashi Yoshida, a master’s student in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies and co-author of the report, there is an enormous gap in the awareness of LGBTQ+ issues within immigrant and refugee agencies.

“Most people don’t really think about it and it is something that is [probably] not talked about in settlement agencies,” said Yoshida.

He noted that “gay, bisexual, transgender, [and] queer refugees and immigrants face a myriad of hardships starting from homophobia, transphobia, and regular settlement challenges such as finding housing, employment, [and] health care.”

“This particular population is experiencing hardships that are even greater than quote, unquote ‘straight’ refugees and immigrants and quote, unquote ‘Canadian’ LGBTQ populations,” Yoshida said.

The report found that LGBTQ+ newcomers may feel isolated from their ethnic groups or mainstream LGBTQ+ groups in their settlement city. There are also language barriers and discrimination in housing and employment that present additional issues. Moreover, newcomers may hold their own interpretations of sexual orientation and gender identity that do not align to those held by the majority in Canada.

In the Lower Mainland, there are only three programs that cater to the needs of LGBTQ+ refugees and immigrants — Rainbow Refugee, LEGIT, and I-Belong — and none are available in Surrey. Many immigrants, migrants, and refugees experience transportation and accessibility barriers to seek services outside of their settlement area.

However, the researchers are hopeful that the report will contribute to an increase in the number of services for this particular population.

“In a larger perspective, I think this population is attracting a lot of scholarly and social work-related attention because of the difficulties that they experience,” said Yoshida.

For instance, the city of Surrey declared June 3, 2017 a day to celebrate and recognize its LGBTQ+ newcomers.

Marchbank expressed that the project “allowed the students to have real world experience doing applied research about an important issue and then for that to create social change in the formation of Surrey’s first ever LGBTQ newcomer services.”

She hopes that the recommendations from the report can be implemented across all municipalities in the Lower Mainland, as Surrey is not the only city lacking in LGBTQ+ newcomer services.