Thursday, May 26, 2016

LGBTQ+ Newcomer Youth Needs are Important

CultureLink is a member of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI)’s Positive Spaces Initiative (PSI). This means that we provide a welcoming and safe space of folks who identify as LGBTQ+. In addition, CultureLink is also a member of the LGBTQ+ Settlement Network, a collection of agencies across Toronto that provides services, such as health care, mental health, workshops, legal support and programs for LGBTQ+ newcomers.

At Pink Dot Toronto, May 24, 2016
Support and services for LGBTQ+ newcomers are very important. This is all the more so for newcomer youth. Amongst the many challenges of being adolescent, the fear of not fitting in is one that is highlighted double-fold for a newcomer LGBTQ+ youth. The need for a positive peer support group and social circle is crucial for the emotional, mental and physical well-being of a young person. Providing a positive space for newcomer LGBTQ+ youth to get that positive peer support and social circle is why CultureLink’s Sankofa Youth Program was created.

CultureLink’s Sankofa Drop-In is a weekly program that is welcoming and safe, for newcomer youth aged 14-29 regardless of immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity. Sankofa hosts a wide variety of activities and programs suggested by youth, for youth. Here are some examples:

  • Art and Craft, including made posters to celebrate International Anti-Homophobia and Anti-Transphobia Day (May 17) and International Women’s Day (Mar 8)
  • Watch sports games, such as Raptors 905, Blue Jays and Toronto Maple Leafs
  • Workshops, including cooking, healthy relationships etc.
  • Watch movies, including ones with LGBTQ theme

Come July 3, 2016, CultureLink will be marching at Toronto’s annual Pride Parade with the LGBTQ+ Settlement Network. If you wish to join us for the march, please contact Lynda Young at lyoung(at)

We asked some folks to share their thoughts on LGBTQ+ newcomer youth in Toronto. Here’s what they have to say.

What do you think are the challenges that face LGBTQ+ folks who are newcomer youth? 

Yuki, 24 years old, gay asian male: As someone who is born and raised in Toronto, I don't experience some of the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ newcomer youth, but I have been able to talk to and relate to some of the things they do go through, and that's something I feel everyone should be consciously making an effort to do. From the people I've spoken to, they've identified challenges around: culture shock (language, society, "LGBTQ+ scene"), pressures of family to live a "normal" life (finish school, get a good job, get married, have kids), pressures of society to "come out", pressures to assimilate to the culture here, fear of rejection from communities/families, being hurt (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually), being alone. These can also be challenges faced by youth raised here as well, but as a newcomer youth, they're in a new setting and can be confused about where to go, concerned about their safety in trying to seek out these resources, or just feeling lost in a new country and shutting out outside stress they feel they have no control over (their sexuality for instance). It can be terrifying being new.

Euan Hwang, 26 years old (E.H.): Because I work with specific population group, I think challenges would look different depending on where the newcomer youth came from. However, I believe it is a fact that homophobia/biphobia/transphobia, the oppression towards LGBTQ people, is still a strong force in the world. Therefore, I think the fear of rejection from newcomer LGBTQ youth's own family and cultural community is the biggest challenge for this group, and all other challenges are derived from this. Because newcomer LGBTQ youth are rejected by their own family and community, they either get kicked out from the house and face homelessness, or endure physical and/or psychological violence from their own family and community that could lead to lots of physical and mental health issues (Good article: Two-thirds of parents would be upset if their child was gay, global report finds ).
There have been many recent studies that found out that parental support is the biggest source of strength for LGBTQ youth. Therefore, I think it is critical for youth to have a positive adult figures (whether that be blood-related parents, chosen parents, godparents, or even mentors) to be their source of support and strength while living through this oppressive society. There is also the issue of internalized oppression where youth will feel like they cannot accept both their sexual/gender identity and their cultural background. It is a struggle even for me to navigate my own identity when my own people rejects me because I am part of the LGBTQ community, yet the Canadian society views my own people as being barbaric and outdated because they are homophobic.
Anonymous: Sifting through the influx of resources available to them is one of the challenges. Some official listing as well as some referred through friends/ acquaintances may or may not be accurate. Another challenge is isolation or social awkwardness. Some may also have difficulty fitting in or finding their own cliques.

28, Queer: Getting involved with the clubbing scene, promiscuity, drinking interpreted as the primary culture of LGBTQ people.
Coming out, depression, self harm, bullying - all things that affect LGBTQ youth in general. With the added pressure of being a newcomer, I think that the risk is higher especially in a new place, not knowing many people, perhaps language barriers or not knowing how to be who you are freely. Cultural differences, within the home, could possibly also add to the probability of these risks.

What services are particularly important for LGBTQ newcomer youth? 

Yuki: Each LGBTQ+ youth experiences different challenges, and helping to validate their struggles and their issues is so important. Understanding that their challenges are valid and real are the first steps to help LGBTQ+ newcomer youths. One of the biggest challenges (I feel) that LGBTQ+ newcomer youth have is finding a place to speak their mind: without fear of rejection, being hurt, and feeling pressured to conform to certain norms. To combat this challenge, I feel that these LGBTQ+ newcomer youth would need resources around LGBTQ+ spaces, that also offer languages that they speak and programs that are presented by facilitators/people who are of their race/ethnic background. Resources should be visible in schools, communities, and venues which these newcomer youths would be going to/attending. Services/programs that understand their culture, and work together with the youth to find solutions is important, instead of shoving cliched "strategies" down their throat; ex. you should come out, it's the right thing to do! [when really, it might not be].

E.H.: I think there is a widespread underlying misconception within cultural communities that being LGBTQ is a thing of a Western culture yet this is not true. LGBTQ people have existed throughout the entire human history. They were just known with different names throughout different cultures. I think services that bridge the gap between parents and LGBTQ newcomer youth is most critical. The support for both parents and youth need to be delivered in different languages as well.
- Sex education, with focus on safe sex,
- Hard / soft drugs awareness education 
- Mental health or relationships support
- Mentorship programs (I think 519 may have that)
- Safe space after-school programs 
- Summer Employment support
- Further Education 
- Assertiveness training - especially if they feel that they are being picked on due to their sexual orientation or gender identity
- If it's not already covered in high school, financial literacy 

28, Queer: Mentor services for LGBTQ youth and adults. SOY has this and from what I hear, it's quite successful.

Do you think Toronto is a great/good/bad place to live for LGBTQ newcomer youth?

Yuki: Yes to all of that. Yes, great, because Toronto has so many resources around LGBTQ+ rights and support. Bad, because most of these resources speak to the stories/narratives of a white-dominated society. Toronto has rich communities filled with so many cultures, but because some of these cultures perpetuate mistreatment of LGBTQ+ folks, they may not be the safest place for LGBTQ+ newcomer youth. And when the youth seek out resources and programs meant for LGBTQ+ youth, they find they are not represented that well, and again the problem of assimilating to this country's society happens, where youth feel like they have to conform to the narratives and stories that are being told in white-dominated spaces, and disregard their cultural-struggles as "not as important". It is so helpful to have culturally-appropriate LGBTQ+ spaces, but they are far and few in Toronto (travelling isn't the easiest for some youth, as their parents may question where they're going, or they don't understand the public transport system, or have no way of getting to the programs).

E.H.: Yes, Toronto is indeed a better place for some people who came from countries that will find the killing of LGBTQ people totally acceptable. However, that doesn't mean Toronto is doing the greatest job. I think Toronto lacks space for newcomer LGBTQ people, despite being known as a safe haven for LGBTQ people. Majority of the programs are accessed by white LGBTQ people so the narratives from white people dominate the society. Often times in these existing programs, the voices of LGBTQ people of color are not listened to. We need to hear more diverse faces and stories. We also need to work more on addressing the homophobia/biphobia/transphobia in different cultural communities.

Anonymous: Toronto is a great place - much more accepting and/or tolerant of the LGBTQ population especially if it's in downtown Toronto, not to mention the services, programs/activities and the nightlife that they could eventually explore after dark. 

28, Queer: Toronto is a fabulous place to live. It's really queer place and, for the most part, it is absolutely okay and absolutely accepted to be gay. Like any city there are unsafe places, but there are pockets of LGBTQ people in various areas of Toronto and being LGBTQ is not necessarily hidden by the people who are.
There are lots of well structures programs for LGBTQ youth to take part in and I think that's handy for youth who might be lacking a supportive and safe social circle.

By: Lynda Young

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