Building Positive Spaces for Newcomer LGBTQ+ Women

This research investigates systemic discrimination and barriers that LGBTQ+ newcomer women in Toronto face at societal level and within current programs/services. Study evidence will help identify best practices for creating safe spaces and services for newcomer LGBTQ+ women.

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 will investigate 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 are being examined within three domains: (i) immigration and settlement; (ii) labor market and income supports; and (iii) social programs and community/neighborhood environment.

The study utilizes qualitative methodology that combines focus groups and interviews with LGBTQ+ newcomer women, 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 newcomer LGBTQ+ 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.

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 is being conducted by an interdisciplinary team with representatives from academic, service provider agency, as well as two LGBTQ+ newcomer women peer researchers. The study is led by Dr Yogendra Shakya (Senior Research Scientist, Access Alliance), Axelle Janczur (Executive Director, Access Alliance), Serena Nudel (Manager, Settlement and Social Services), Dr Izumi Sakamoto (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto), and Dr Shelly Craig (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto). Advisory Committee members including Ranjith Kulatilake (Community Health Worker, LGBTQ+ Newcomer Initiatives, Access Alliance) and Karlene Williams Clarke (Supervisor of Operations and Community Relations, 519) Khadijah Khanji is the Young Insight Scholar responsible for coordinating the study. Bridget Babirye and Jade Osei are 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
We are currently analyzing study data. Preliminary analysis indicate that most service providers and current models of services fail to understand the multiple intersection/determinants that shape post migration experiences of newcomer LGBTQ+ women. 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 newcomer LGBTQ+ women 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 will be producing an educational film geared at policy makers and service providers with best practice recommendations from the study on building safe spaces and services that meet the unique needs of newcomer LGBTQ+ women.

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

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