It has been almost three years since a small group of Vancouverites came together and put forth an application as community sponsors to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now known as the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). Our group helped two gay Syrians living as refugees in Beirut make it to Canada, where they now reside as permanent residents.
This was neither an easy nor inexpensive process and it presented both challenges and opportunities that came as important lessons. The main lesson was learning that myriad organizations, many of which are registered as charities in Canada, already exist to provide unique support services to the LGBT+ refugee and newcomer community. These organizations are doing important work on the individual level, but they still require the financial means to do so.
It has now been more than a year and a half since the same group came together in August 2014 on different level to establish itself as RAINBOW FOUNDATION OF HOPE (Foundation of Hope or FOH). The foundation is a registered society in Canada with a mandate to extend financial support towards charitable organizations actively assisting LGBT+ individuals in need, whether as asylum seekers, refugees, or newly settled migrants (i.e., newcomers to Canada).
Those that have suffered through what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) deems as “well-founded threats of persecution” are a defining characteristic of what it means to be a refugee. Entire cultures throughout the world are currently under various forms of persecution, with millions either living in refugee camps or seeking asylum (i.e., have fled their countries, but are not yet accepted yet as refugees). Despite this injustice, some of those very cultures also hold strong religious perspectives that continue to view alternative expressions of gender or sexuality as deplorable, even punishable by death. This leads to a subset of refugees and asylum seekers, those that identify as LGBT+, trapped by inescapable persecution. They must hide in fear, yet many are actually living in refugee communities and are hiding among refugees. This seems hard to imagine, but it is very much a reality.
A year ago FOH created STRUT to raise this issue through a symbolic event that demonstrates what freedom of expression can look like when combined with the privilege of living in an open, accepting society like Canada’s. Fortunately for all, the timing of the inaugural STRUT launch coincided with Canada Revenue Agency bestowing charitable status to FOH. Now a registered charity, this allowed FOH to more readily reach out to donors that would in turn be provided with a tax credit as an incentive.
Amazingly, STRUT brought in well over $40,000 last year. Entirely through voluntary efforts, FOH re-organized its Board of Directors in August 2015 after drafting bylaws and forming a legitimate internal governance structure. We established committees dedicated to community volunteerism, fundraising efforts, the development of collaborative partnerships, and grant administration. We built the infrastructure needed for accepting grant applications and disseminating financial awards to other registered charities across Canada.
And we started to give.
Foundation of Hope has since administered over $25,000 in grants to charitable organizations like MOSAIC, which has used FOH funds to supply counselling service to LGBT+ newcomers suffering post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) from former acts of persecution and violence. RAINBOW RAILROAD is another organization supported by funding from FOH. It works to privately sponsor LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers to be resettled as newcomers to Canada, as well as to supply emergency travel assistance for individuals escaping acute persecution and get them to immediate safety.
Each of these organizations represents one of two streams of dedicated funding from FOH:
1) COMMUNITY SERVICE GRANTS in the case of MOSAIC
2) SPONSORSHIP GRANTS in the case of Rainbow Railroad
Several new applications have come in from other organizations and are currently under review. Our goal is to continue to reach out across these organizations, meaningfully engage the volunteer community at the grassroots level, and build up a strong donor community on a long-term financial level.
This is the ultimate support network that will fulfill the vision and accomplish the mission of Foundation of Hope.
STRUT 2016 kicks off at the Launch Party tonight, April 23rd at 6:00 PM at Celebrities Night Club. Registration of participants and the pledging of donations by sponsors will continue through spring and up to the walkathon on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at Sunset Beach.
We sincerely HOPE those that CARE about this issue will show up, STEP up to the task, and lend SUPPORT to this symbolic event so we can all WALK collectively to the BENEFIT of LGBT+ refugees and newcomers to Canada.