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The North Star Triangle Project buses into Halifax.

LGBTQ refugees are sponsored into Canada by the queer community.

by Melissa Albiani

David Pepper is crossing Canada to educate and mobilize Canadian LGBTQ communities about LGBTQ refugees in the world
David Pepper is crossing Canada to educate and mobilize Canadian LGBTQ communities about LGBTQ refugees in the world
"Group of 5" sponsorship of LGBTQ refugees is in the planning stages in Halifax, NS.
"Group of 5" sponsorship of LGBTQ refugees is in the planning stages in Halifax, NS.

On June 17th, Canada voted in favour of The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) resolution that recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as essential human rights. The first ever resolution of its kind, came just a few days short of World Refugee Day with the slogan “One Refugee Without Hope is too Many”. On June 21st David Pepper brought the two together as he bused into Halifax on the North Star Triangle Project cross-Canada tour. His mission is to raise awareness and promote a concise plan of action to help queer refugees settle in Canada by means of “The “Group of 5” private sponsorship.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, “a private sponsorship is a commitment by individuals in Canada to work alongside refugees to ensure that they have the necessary support to integrate into life in Canada”. The “group of 5” allows five individuals over the age of 18 to collectively contribute 14,000$ for the refugee’s first year in Canada. Private sponsorship is but one avenue into Canada, refugees can also be community sponsored by churches, for example; government sponsored; or apply as inland refugees once already in the country. While promoting the benefits of “group of 5” sponsorships, Pepper underlines that they are limited in scope, and the queer community should continue to pressure government to continue expanding other paths for refugees to come to Canada.

The talk was hosted at Immigration, Settlement and Integration Services (ISIS) in Halifax, N.S. and attended by a small group consisting of ISIS staff, queer community and allies. After joking about the perfect sized crowd of 14 people, Pepper explained that the goal for his tour is to plant seeds of interest and the knowledge of private sponsorship. Interest, it seems, was sparked as one participant pointed out the project’s potential once the word spreads within Canada's strong LGBTQ network.

Pepper opened his speech with a recognition of being on native land with a special mention to his two spirited brothers and sisters. Two spirited people, according to Wikipedia, are “those who fulfill one of many mixed gender roles, found traditionally among many Native Americans and Canadian First Nations indigenous groups. The mixed gender roles encompassed by the term historically included wearing the clothing and performing the work associated with both men and women.”

The project was inspired by a 2010 speech by Jason Kenney, Minister of Immigration, who challenged the LGBTQ community to commit to private sponsorships for refugees. As a longtime activist, Pepper was at first incensed by this, but after some rumination with a friend, they decided to accept the challenge and sponsor a LGBTQ refugee. So last October (2010), he and four others began the Group of 5 application process for a South American woman.

That makes three “Group of 5” sponsorships groups in Canada: Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal. The three groups are made up of people from the LGBTQ community, and are sponsoring LGBTQ refugees.

Although crucial, money isn’t the only thing that you are bound to in the Group of 5 sponsorship. You must be emotionally open and willing to support a human being who is often escapingpersecution and death threats, over the course of a year. To provide time for that person to integrate into Canadian society, Pepper explains. He believes that by inviting refugees here, the LGBTQ community is accepting a perfect opportunity to learn what it means to be LGBTQ in a broader perspective, beyond Canada’s borders. Hopefully it will instigate conversations and work to change any established racism that may exist within some LGBTQ circles, says Pepper. Another positive outcome of the sponsorship for Pepper is that it redirects activism towards the international community to fight homophobia, persecution, and hate crimes.

It’s true that Pepper is on a solo tour, but he is connected to a larger network of organisations that are and have been working with LGBTQ refugees for over a decade. These organisations are the Canadian Council for Refugees (Montreal), Agir (Montreal), Rainbow Refugee (Vancouver), Metropolitan Community Church (Toronto), Iranian Queer Railroad (Toronto), and the Rainbow Railroad (Ottawa). Once arriving in his hometown and the 21st city of the North Star Rainbow Project tour at the end of July, Pepper plans to continue his work. He will document his own “Group of 5” application process, as well as collect a body of work for future sponsors.

David Pepper likes to close every talk with a friendly challenge, “Next time you hear a discussion about refugees, listen to what people are saying and chances are you might have to step up and defend a refugee because that is something that is needed and certainly worth doing.”

For more information on the North Star Triangle Project, visit http:// northstartriangle.blogspot.com/


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