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Building Positive Spaces for Newcomer LGBTQ+ Women

This research investigates systemic discrimination and barriers that LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers in Toronto face at the societal level and within current programs/services. The study evidence suggests how sexual orientation, gender, race and immigration status are relevant predictors of well-being and those who are marginalized by these factors are at higher risk of health inequities. Through this research, the findings revealed that LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers experience marginalization that manifest into disparities in material status (i.e. poverty, food insecurity, homelessness/housing precarity); mental health; and physical health. The recommendations based on the findings advocate for tangible policy-changes and to actualize best practices for creating safe spaces and services for LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers.

Our Research Goals and Methods
Literature on LGBTQ+ immigrants and refugees in Canada remains very thin (Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, 2015; Toronto Public Health and Access Alliance, 2011). Only a handful of studies have examined how sexual orientation and gender intersect with newcomer/migration status and race to produce unique and differential outcomes for immigrant/refugee LGBTQ+ groups in Canada (Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, 2015; Ylioja and Craig, 2014).

This study investigated the following questions::

  1. What are the experiences and root causes of systemic discrimination, barriers and social exclusions that newcomer LGBTQ+ newcomer women face?
  2. What are the social and health impacts from these discriminations, barriers and social exclusions?
  3. What are LGBTQ+ newcomer women’s assessments about effectiveness and gaps in programs and services that they utilize? What are LGBTQ+ newcomer women’s recommendations on how to build newcomer and LGBTQ+ friendly spaces and services?

These questions were examined within three domains: (i) immigration and settlement; (ii) labor market and income supports; and (iii) social programs and community/neighborhood environment.

The study utilized qualitative methodology that combined focus groups and interviews with LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers, and key informant interviews with service providers. We first conducted 16 key informant interviews with decision makers and service providers working in health, settlement, shelter and community services in Toronto. We conducted four focus groups with LGBTQ+ newcomer women. One focus group was dedicated exclusively to trans and gender non-conforming participants.

We also conducted one-on-one interviews with four LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers.

In recognizing the fluidity of sexuality/ gender, this study was open to queer and trans newcomer women, inclusive of people who are trans-masculine, agender, gender queer, gender non-binary, and questioning. Since we wanted to examine the impacts of immigration policy/status, the study was inclusive of LGBTQ+ newcomer women with precarious immigration status (e.g refugee claimants, non-status).

Our Project Team

This project was conducted by an interdisciplinary team with representatives from academia, service provider agencies, as well as two LGBTQ+ newcomer women peer researchers. Khadijah Khanji was the Project Coordinator/Primary Researcher for the study (former Young Insight Scholar, Access Alliance). Serena Nudel (Former Manager of Mental Health & Wellness, Access Alliance) and Dr. Yogendra Shakya (Former Senior Research Scientist, Access Alliance) were lead investigators. The researcher Advisory Committee included Dr. Izumi Sakamoto (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto), Dr. Shelly Craig (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto), Ranjith Kulatilake (former Community Health Worker, LGBTQ+ Newcomer Initiatives, Access Alliance) and Karlene Williams Clarke (Supervisor of Operations and Community Relations, 519). Bridget Babirye and Jade Osei were our two peer researchers. MSW students from University of Toronto (Sara Simson and Viveka Ichikawa) provided research assistant support for the project.

What we found

Our analysis indicated that most service providers and current models of services fail to understand the multiple intersections/determinants that shape post-migration experiences of LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers. This includes agencies focused on LGBTQ+ groups and/or those who have adopted a “positive spaces” framework. Study participants particularly highlighted that mainstream service providers had limited understandings about how systemic barriers related to migration/immigration and race/culture (e.g. refugee claimant status, being newly arrived, language barriers, racism and racialized exclusions) often intersected with discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation to produce compounding layers of stressors and barriers. Most LGBTQ+ newcomer women and other trans and gender non-conforming newcomers mentioned that finding decent work and achieving income security was the most pressing and difficult challenge they face due to a combination of economic as well as social barriers. Almost all of the refugee claimant study participants had experience living in shelters or temporary housing; most of these participants indicated that they experienced or witnessed elevated levels of systemic racism and negative treatments in the shelter and temporary housing sector.

Our Knowledge Translation Activities

In addition to a research report, we have planned several knowledge mobilization events, to share findings and recommendations, prioritize areas of advocacy, and begin to plan actions in collaboration with the community, and service providers and policy makers. In June 2021, we led a community-focused ‘reporting back’ event (during Pride), where housing emerged as a clear priority. In October 2021, we are planning a panel discussion with providers and policy makers to dig deeper into the issue of housing discrimination against LGBTQ+ newcomers and to explore next steps.

Additional knowledge mobilization products include two animated case stories (Nafula’s and Alex’s), which are based off real experiences of project participants (compressed and dramatized). Here, the ultimate goal is to capture some of the complexity of the issues/experiences of those participants in order to act as effective tools to create positive social change for newcomer LGBTQ+ newcomer women, trans and gender non-conforming newcomers.

During Community Health & Wellbeing Week 2021 (October 4-11), we brought together a panel of experts to talk about the unique and layered discrimination facing LGBTQ+ newcomers in accessing private housing and shelters in Toronto. We heard from panelists working with this population across various sectors, including settlement, shelters, and housing to take a critical look at the system- and service-level barriers facing LGBTQ+ newcomers. The goal was to bring awareness to this issue, and explore a way forward in terms of improving access to housing for LGBTQ+ newcomers, through highlighting current initiatives and discussing strategies:

Confronting Housing Discrimination against LGBTQ+ Newcomers: A Panel DiscussionVideo (on YouTube), Slide deck.

Our Funder
This study was supported by funding from Women’s Xchange Grant ($15K Challenge) administered by Women’s College Hospital.

For more info contact research@accessalliance.ca.