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2017: the year Canada really got Proud

“Privilege is invisible to those that have it”

~ Terri Currie, TD Bank

In August of this year, as Foundation of Hope Board Directors, Chad Wilkinson and I were privileged to attend an LGBT+ human rights conference in Montréal. It was an integral part of the inaugural 2017 Fierté Canada Pride, a landmark celebration for the entire nation. We are deeply grateful to TD Bank for the Aeroplan miles donated that offered us travel to attend as we work to grow FOH nationally.

The conference on LGBTTIQA2S Lives: Our Struggles, Our Victories, Our Challenges brought LGBT+ organizations together from across the country with the goal of building a stronger network and deeper connections. It was a chance to showcase Canadian pride in our LGBT+ community. The conference promoted visibility of LGBT+ folks and advocated for continued advancements of LGBT+ rights in Canada.

What I learned at the conference will undoubtedly benefit FOH moving forward. The range of emotions felt and several learning moments throughout the conference were tremendous for me. Not only did it demonstrate the fantastic work being done in different communities across Canada and the world, but it also highlighted the work still needed, differences co-existing within the community, gaps needing to be filled, the importance of coming together, and all members of the community (along with allies) so exceptionally dedicated to the cause.

At the conference, I learned about the impact of immigration laws on transgender individuals. Specifically, Québec stipulates an individual must be a citizen of Canada before applying to change their gender identity on government identification. This is one of many areas requiring focused engagement through continual advocacy of LGBT+ Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Newcomers to Canada. I also learned about Bill C-16, which received royal assent in Parliament on June 19, 2017 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to include gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Diverse representation of participants from various community groups, organizations, individuals, and academics allowed me to communicate with persons involved in the work, both at different levels and in different capacities. This provided a better understanding as a whole and in turn, greater appreciation for the work needed as FOH moves forward.

The Foundation of Hope connected and engaged with LGBT+ Refugee support and resettlement initiatives across Canada including AGIR MontréalDignity InitiativeAfrican Rainbow FamilyFranco Queer, and Centre de Solidarité Lesbienne (CSL is a recent grant award recipient thanks to the connection made at the conference). We were delighted to see representation from our important partners including Rainbow RefugeeRainbow Railroad and Egale. It afforded the opportunity to make these organizations aware of funding available through FOH to assist in their important humanitarian work with LGBT+ migrants.

To me, having such an opportunity propelled FOH in enhancing the Purpose and Mission to realize our Vision, as a national organization operating under a common umbrella from coast to coast to coast.

As I sit and write, I want to remind folks that FOH is entirely volunteer-based. We hold full-time jobs in our everyday lives, so it’s not always easy to manage our schedules, make the time, or afford trips across the country. It is so very worthwhile when we can make direct use of the generosity of TD Bank’s Aeroplan miles through its cause marketing program.

The power of community has the potential to rejuvenate and inspire. The field of work in which FOH remains so dedicated connects us to better understand the issues we face. After attending the conference, I returned to Vancouver with a greater sense of direction, inspiration, and strength. As a dedicated ally, I was thrilled to attend and am excited to see what comes next for the Foundation of Hope.

“Pride is the Opposite of Shame.”

~ Randy Boissonnault, Member of Parliament

The experience of Fierté Canada Pride was a highlight of 2017 for FOH in an historic year of achievement and recognition for Canada’s LGBT+ community.

As a Nation, Canada has never been in a better position to open our hearts to the global LBGT+ community.

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Reflections of Vancouver Pride 2017

As the President of the Foundation of Hope, walking this year in the Vancouver Pride Parade evoked strong feelings of pride, appreciation, and hope for the future. 2012 seems like a lifetime ago when I first met with Chris Morrissey, founder of Rainbow Refugee, at the Trout Lake Community Centre to discuss a possible sponsorship over coffee. This was the beginning of the incredible journey we have come to know as the ultimate conception of the Foundation of Hope.

In 2014, Foundation of Hope became a registered charity; the same year we created STRUT, our main fundraising event that brought in over $50,000. Today the Foundation has granted and gifted over $100,000 to Canadian charities.

As I began walking in the parade, I couldn’t help but feel deeply emotional. This image of having flags of nations that persecute LGBT communities in the forefront of our parade contingent was an ominous, but powerful reminder that we still have much work to do. Additionally, the diversity our group represented was so important as many were Newcomers who saw the Foundation to be an ally to walk alongside. One powerful moment for me was having a newcomer bring her partner, who had never felt safe to be visible and now was marching in a public parade.

FOH_Pride_parade_banner_Aug2017

This year has been an epic year, having so many people ask to join in the walk with us. It is also a time of my own personal reflection as I approach to the sunset of my role, the conclusion where I will have served my term as President. I feel so proud to see the Foundation raised to new heights as we reach for an increased national profile with the diversity is takes to ensure we are a Foundation of the people, for all the people and all the voices that have yet to be heard.

LGBT+ Refugees we stand with you.

The 2017 Vancouver Pride Parade was a great display of solidarity and support for LGBT Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Newcomers.
Carl Meadows, President

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Reflections: our first Board retreat

On November 26th, 2016, the Foundation of Hope (FOH) Board of Directors had our first full day retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to connect on a personal level and bring together the values and commitments of the board members. The retreat also included new FOH recruits that are not yet formal board members.

This was my first experience doing this kind of work with a non-profit charity. On the business side, my life is in health care leadership, but the non-profit side is quite different. For one, it is all volunteer-based – people giving their heart and soul that are driven by a deep sense of purpose and giving back. Despite absences from a few board members, we successfully built on the group process to share our creativity with each other to the benefit of all board members.

This is vital work that will help to build a strong, relevant, and lasting organization.  

The day’s focus was different from the two previous strategic planning sessions held by FOH since its inception. The group retreat focused on what’s inside (the human) and worked to bring it all out through lived experiences and values. Strategic planning is really about who we are as an organization, what we do, how we do it, and when to act. The retreat was all about why we as individuals are doing this – that comes from deep within, as a core set of values.

Our focus of the day targeted 5 key areas of exploration:

  • Creating simple rules of engagement
  • Defining levels of commitment
  • Setting team agreements
  • Establishing group alignment
  • Applying social skills and working styles

All five areas focus on Team strengths. It was truly wonderful to connect with a group of people so committed to a Vision.

Our facilitator was amazing and able to adapt to different issues and events throughout the day. One technique I thought was really powerful was to ask a thought-provoking question, then get participants to go for a 30-minute walk in groups of 3. It amazed me how much deeper the conversations went!

It is just incredible that FOH started as an idea in a living room among a group of 30 caring people! We created a possibility for LGBT+ refugees and today we have granted over $70,000 to charitable organizations across Canada! These are the charities actively doing the individual case work.

This retreat reminds me that everything is possible when you care so deeply about something. This retreat will be one of my most memorable, as an historic moment in the evolution and growth of the Foundation of Hope.

Carl Meadows, President

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International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia #IDAHAT

QMUNITY hosted its 11th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHAT) breakfast on May 15, 2015.

When I arrived, I was surprised by the number of fine womyn and men among others on the gender spectrum, all of whom made the effort to wake up early on a Friday morning to gather and raise much needed funds in solidarity for such a worthy cause.

On the table to my left was a policeman, with whom I swapped stories. He shared his experiences at the Hate Crime Unit of the Vancouver Police Department, fighting hate crimes of all kinds, including those rooted in homophobia and transphobia. I explained to him the anal tests enforced in police stations on men arrested in countries like Lebanon and Egypt, as an assessment of suspected homosexuality. The very same civic uniform leading the way in Vancouver’s Pride Parade is what the LGBT+ community dreads in many countries around the world.

“Forty percent of LGBTs worldwide are criminalized,” noted Chris Morrissey, founder of Rainbow Refugee, as she spoke about how the Canadian refugee process works. Morrissey is an LGBT+ rights advocate and leader of the society that represents international queer refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers to Canada. Morrissey took the stage and made it very clear why and how each one of the attendees can and should make a difference.

Abdessamad IDAHAT Vancouver

Moments before Morrissey took the floor to speak, Deputy Mayor Andrea Reimer of the City of Vancouver announced that May 17 would henceforth become observed in Vancouver as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, or IDAHAT — a proud moment for Vancouver. For me, it brought back memories of when we first celebrated IDAHOT in Lebanon about a decade ago. This year Lebanese celebrities spoke up on IDAHOT. The situation for LGBT+ individuals in the Middle East is not an easy one to comprehend. We hear of beheadings in one country and of a ‘gay haven’ in another. We hear of immediate deportation of HIV+ individuals in one place and full low-barrier, state-sponsorship of transgender surgeries in another.

I am often faced by a dilemma of what image to portray when I am asked about the current LGBT+ situation back home. The issue is that each situation is unique and “home” is not one big, uniform space. Each situation differs from one alley to another and from one day to the next; it is complex to say the least. The best way to help is to invest one’s time and interest to learn about the complexities, just as much as investing tax-deductible dollars to charitable and noteworthy causes in Canada.

Danny-and-Aamer-Circle-of-Hope_insetDanny Ramadan, a “former refugee” as he self-identified on stage, brought that message home. Danny and his partner Aamer were sponsored by a group of Vancouverites, of which I was part. We created the Danny and Aamer Circle of Hope in 2013, which has since evolved into the Foundation of Hope. Danny narrated his personal story about home and family in Syria. He spoke of his dear friends “whose shadows are with me today on stage”, friends he left behind, leaving him with “survivor’s guilt.” But Danny also shared the joy and laughter they had, the ties and love that bonded them together, and the story of how they came together, then fell apart just as their country did. Danny put faces and names to those we only know of and talk about as “LGBT+ refugees”. He painted an authentic image of the very people we are stepping up to help. I saw him standing high and with much deserved dignity, enjoying our hospitality in Canada, but not our “charity”. He brought identifiable stories to those in the audience, made us laugh with their laughter and shed tears with their pain. By the end of it, Danny received a well-deserved and prolonged standing ovation.

Danny, it is true that “home is where you feel comfortable sharing your stories with others”. My heart sank as you shared your regret for losing your Syrian home keys on your journey. Danny, what a beautiful gesture it was to finish your storytelling by tossing your set of “Canadian home” keys up high in front of us all.

Ahla w sahla – Canada baytak: Welcome to Canada – it is your home.

And kudos to Qmunity for pulling together such an inspiring event. It was my first attendance, but will definitely not be my last — it is sure to become an annual favorite of mine. I have started a personal monthly donation to Qmunity and I encourage you to do the same.

By: Dr. Hasan Abdessamad, MD FRCSC FACOG

This post was simultaneously published at habdessamad.com

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Launch of STRUT

The STRUT launch was held on March 28th, 2015 at the Junction cabaret in Vancouver’s Davie Village. Over 250 colorful guests attended and there were many highlights. Most notable were the stories shared of two courageous newcomers who both arrived in Canada as refugees.  Speakers Tannaz (Iran) and Moe (Gambia) were incredibly inspiring as the both shared their personal struggles and offered hope for the future. You could hear a pin drop in the room as the eyes of an attentive audience welled with tears.

Symone Says set off an evening of festivities as an amazing hostess. She opened with an fitting number, “These Boots are Made for Walking”. Kara-Kata Afrobeat provided an evening of upbeat and energetic African music while the models, both men and women, strutted their stuff on the runway in stylish stilettos to the cheers of the audience.

The launch party captured the purpose and vision of why the Foundation of Hope was created – to ensure LGBT+ refugees across the world have an opportunity to be successful and feel supported from their first step onward, either towards safety or to a new life in Canada.

STRUT is a one-mile walk-a-thon in heels for LGBT+ refugees, asylum seekers, and newcomers to Canada. The whole concept behind STRUT centers around what a privilege it is to freely express one’s gender identity in Canada, without fear of government or societal persecution. It is hard to imagine having to wait in fear over a lifetime, then manage to escape and get off a plane not knowing where to go with barely enough money to eat, find housing, or gain access to basic healthcare.  This would be a challenge for any newcomer seeking asylum, but less so than also having to navigate a system that has little understanding of LGBT+ issues.

Refugees do not need pity; they require access to services that are non-discriminatory.

STRUT is our community’s chance to show how open and accepting we truly are. Walking a mile in heels demonstrates the power and perseverance of the struggle for equality around the world. This walk-a-thon is going to be hard, but in some countries, it could very well be deadly.

Come STRUT with us on June 6th, 2015 @ www.STRUTvancouver.ca

Warmly,

Carl Meadows

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