#GAYISOK

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Welcoming diversity: at the heart of what we do

montreal

 

It is unfortunate that the Foundation of Hope exists. In fact, I actually wish we didn’t. I wish that people did not need refugee-supporting organizations and I look forward to the day – if ever possible –  when we are able to disband and go our separate ways.  However, the sad truth is that we do have to exist, and we must continue working to support other charities and sponsors in their quest to give LGBT+ Refugees a better life.  Our world is seeing an unprecedented number of refugees and our LGBT+ family across the globe are still struggling for a breath of fresh air.

Today, my friends, it is ever important to ensure that we press on to make our Vision a reality: a world where LGBT+ refugees and newcomers can live safely and be themselves.

 

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I am sitting in an airplane right now, rather exhausted and irritable, waiting impatiently for the attendants to wheel their caffeine cart to my row so I can fuel up.  You see, it’s late, but I have to write.  I have to somehow find a way to transform my reflections and experiences into something tangible.  I spent three days last week at the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) Fall Consultation in Montréal on the traditional territory of the Mohawk peoples. I am feeling incredibly impacted and inspired by the consultation.  I feel hopeful, and somehow conversely, I also feel hopeless.

To contextualize this consultation, “the CCR is a non-profit umbrella of more than 180 organizations across Canada committed to the rights and protections of refugees and other vulnerable migrants and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada” (CCR Handout, 2016).  The CCR hosts recurring consultations, to which they invite their member organizations and other interested stakeholders, including Newcomers themselves. These consultations facilitate a coast-to-coast information exchange.  This consultation in particular was titled Welcoming Diversity: At the Heart of What We Do. It comprised 450 registrants who were engaged from across Canada and FOH fit right in; we were graciously welcomed. The consultative agenda consisted of various working groups, caucuses, presentations, and workshops. I only wish I was able to attend all sessions.  What a wealth of dialogue, discussion, and most importantly, action planning!

In order for you to get a sense of my experience, I will list the sessions in which FOH was present:

  • Overseas Protection and Sponsorship Working Group Meeting
  • Opening Plenary with keynote speaker Johannes can der Klaauw, Canada’s  UNHCR representative
  • Promoting Refugee Protection Internationally
  • Sharing Best Partnership Practices in Building Welcoming Communities
  • LGBT Refugees
  • Current Issues in Immigration Detention

As you can imagine, after these sessions I am feeling full of shared knowledge and new information.  It is truly amazing to see so many diverse people dedicated to the improvement of lives around the world, lives of unknown people, often with untold stories. In light of the election south of the border, its current sociopolitical landscape of xenophobia and racism, it felt refreshing to see so much drive for our world’s betterment.  Canada has an incredible opportunity to lead by example and continue to fortify its humanitarian characteristics of vigilance and perseverance, held deeply within our national culture. If one thing was particularly thematic over these past few days, it is that Canada is doing something right.  As was stated yesterday, “We need more Canada in the world.

However, to humbly deflate my nationalist ego for a moment, we certainly have a lot of work to do.  Our immigration system is not perfect and progress is often slow.  I can say in confidence, though, that actions are being undertaken, voices are being heard, and flaws are being addressed.

What excited me at the consultation was the moments in between sessions, the social mingling and networking that occurred among people from the various member and guest organizations. It is particularly exciting that there was so much interest in the Foundation of Hope… I suppose this is not a surprise, since our main goal is to distribute grants! There are many people coming into contact with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), or LGBT+ Refugees and other Newcomers, and it seems to me like this consultation and connection to CCR will deepen our roots within this work.  I predict that some grant applications will be headed our way.

Throughout the sessions I was scribbling notes in my trusty notebook, and I want to share these with you.  I captured what caught my attention and what moved me in order to report back to my team and supporters, to evoke further discussion and quiet contemplation. Here are some points to consider:

  • Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights guarantees the right to asylum – it is not a matter of charity.
  • Newcomers are people first and seeking refuge is one of a diverse set of components of “oneself”.
  • A need for policy coherence: e.g., does it make sense for Canada to resolve the Refugee crisis and continue to sell weapons internationally?
  • Engagement and commitment of civil society is essential; rhetoric without action is fruitless.
  • The Canadian response to an international call to support and welcome Refugees will go down in history.
  • The current “refugee crisis” is not a crisis of numbers, it is a crisis of global solidarity.
  • Global support is not administered equally;  developing countries host the most Refugees (i.e., Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey).
  • Of the 65+ million people displaced, 40 million are displaced within their own country and 20+ million are Refugees.
  • Most of the world’s Refugees come from 3 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
  • Canada’s model for private sponsorship will be disseminated and implemented across the world.
  • The CCR is about people coming together; people helping people.
  • A need to address “Month 13” after a sponsored Refugee transitions out of the first year of legal sponsored support.
  • Refugees today spend an average of 20 years in exile.
  • There are 32 prolonged Refugee situations globally, 11 of which have been occurring for over 30 years.
  • A Trump Administration may threaten funding to UNHCR and Canada must preserve and bolster its asylum system.
  • Resettlement is only one solution. Remedial effort by the whole world is essential to target root causes of asylum. 
  • Canada is well-positioned to shape the asylum narrative going forward.
  • The Refugee and migrant voice is imperative: nothing about us without us!
  • A bridge must be constructed between Newcomers and Canada’s First Nations.
  • The IRBC is creating partnerships with “trauma-informed approaches” to assist SOGI Refugees.
  • A Newcomer detention system is unacceptable, but improvements include a trend toward in-community detentions.

Well, my friends, the coffee cart has come and gone. It is time to tuck my laptop back into its case and ride out the rest of this flight.  Before I go, I must make an important acknowledgment.  The Foundation of Hope would not have been able to attend this consultation if it were not for the TD Aeroplan Pride campaign’s generous donation of 3 million Aeroplan miles.

This is an incredible contribution to our Purpose and I speak for the entire FOH Board of Directors when I say we are very grateful.  Thank you.

Chad Walters, Board Director

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GayisOkay
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ALL OUT launches its #GAYISOK campaign with Lush Cosmetics

As board members of Foundation of Hope, we were thrilled to have been invited to attend the Lush Cosmetics pre-launch event of a fantastic new soap product that has been crafted specifically for a campaign that will run from June 25th to July 4th, 2015. The event highlighted the new Love Soap, a beautiful bar of soap that prominently features #GAYISOK in gold letters.

Honestly, it’s beautiful. The bar is beautiful. The scent is beautiful. The sentiment is beautiful. But what is most beautiful is that the company plans to raise 250,000 pounds, all of which will be directed to LGBT+ groups through grants from ALL OUT . Many of these groups currently lack the resources needed to meet the challenges to a right to live equitably as an LGBT+ individual. And many are in constant danger because they challenge the status quo. This cooperative venture with ALL OUT will mean that millions more individuals will be able to learn about this human rights crisis and will know that money from their soap purchases will be directed to groups via an organization that is fighting for love, equality, and acceptance throughout the world.

So that’s the good news! The tragic news about this campaign is that about 100 Lush shops around the world will be unable to participate due to anti-gay legislation in their country. Clearly, when it is a crime to be gay in 76 countries, there is a huge amount of work left to be done.

There are still 825 Lush shops around the world with kick-off campaigns on June 25th, at which time the soap will also be available for purchase online.

As for the Vancouver pre-launch event, it is truly wonderful to see and experience the pride of Lush employees and their strong willingness to participate in this initiative. Imagine working for a company with such a bold and caring vision. Lush is committed to being one of these companies.

The energy in the store was riveting when the speakers, such as Brandi Halls, Director of Brand Communications for Lush, provided a comprehensive overview of the campaign and Lush’s relationship with ALL OUT. In listening to her, it was clear that the campaign is a hugely passionate endeavour. Foundation of Hope Board Director Dr. Hasan Abdessamad explained the role of FOH in financially assisting organizations with the challenges of transition for refugees that come to Canada upon being persecuted in their countries of origin. Former refugees Zdravko Cimbaljevic and Moe Sonko also told their stories of how they endured the hatred in their home countries simply for being gay, which ultimately forced them to leave in order to survive. As refugees, they believe that getting their message out provides hope and empowers others. Their stories clarify why the work being done by Lush and ALL OUT is so powerful and so necessary.

Click to view Dr. Abdessamad’s speech.

Click to view Mr. Sonko’s speech.

Click to view Mr. Cimbaljevic’s speech.

When a company like Lush Cosmetics commits itself to such a powerful endeavour, it is quite simply heartwarming. And Lush is moving way beyond the production of a beautiful soap. They are part of a movement that is spreading love and acceptance.

The Foundation of Hope is pleased that we are a trusted ally and were invited to participate in this event. We are particularly pleased that LUSH and FOH plan to continue this conversation and collaboration.

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