Rainbow Railroad

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Volunteer with our Review Subcommittee in 2021

Ever felt like volunteering, but not sure where to begin?

Rainbow Foundation of Hope (RFOH) relies on community support to help us review grant applications from our National Partners.

They are Canadian registered charities leading projects and programs for LGBT+ refugees and newcomers (i.e., SOGIE migrants) through three RFOH funding streams:

Whenever RFOH receives a new application, we draw upon a growing database of community volunteers on our Review Subcommittee to review and evaluate each application.

The process provides transparency and accountability of our grant administration process to volunteers and donors.

Commit whatever time you can. Each application is based purely on your interest and availability. We look for a minimum of two (2) community representatives outside of the RFOH Board of Directors to help with a goal of 50% community representation.

Over 30 volunteers have helped us with the review process to date. Message us at volunteer@foundationofhope.net and we’ll happily add you to our growing list.

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Explaining Private Sponsorship of LGBT+ Refugees in Canada

Did you know that citizens and permanent residents of Canada can sponsor LGBT+ asylum seekers or refugees that qualify for resettlement as newly settled migrants (i.e., newcomers)?

You can apply through the federal Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program (PSRP). Support for each newcomer is expected over the length of the resettlement (at least one year).

It includes help to find housing, clothing and food, as well as to provide social and emotional support. Private sponsors will also be expected to have the necessary funds to support any sponsored individual(s).

 

This is where RFOH fits in.

 

In fact, the very process is what brought the folks in Vancouver together, first as private sponsors to two gay Syrian refugees. It later led us to create Rainbow Foundation of Hope.

There are a few things you need to know, so this blog post discusses the many ways to privately sponsor LGBT+ refugees in Canada through the PSRP.

Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH)

Sponsorship agreement holders are groups in Canada, often registered charities and faith-based organizations, holding agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees with the support of Canadian citizens as private sponsors.

Rainbow Foundation of Hope awards grants for sponsorship support, which tend to involve SAHs and include private sponsors known as Constituent Groups (CG) working with co-sponsoring organizations like Rainbow Refugee (Vancouver), Capital Rainbow Refuge (Ottawa), and Rainbow Railroad (Toronto) as relevant examples.

As registered Canadian charities, each co-sponsoring organization is directly eligible for grants from RFOH of up to $7,500 per application on behalf of the CG. Eligible applicants for private sponsorship support must demonstrate collaboration through affiliation with Rainbow Refugee and the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership (RRAP). 

Blended Visa Office-Referred Program (BVOR)

The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) program involves Canadians working as private sponsors with the Government of Canada to support refugees that have been referred by the UNHCR. These individuals tend to be particularly vulnerable and in urgent need of asylum and resettlement.

BVOR applicants hold Refugee status under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). These individuals are otherwise known as “Convention Refugees“.

The definition of grounds for refugee status comes from the 1951 UN Convention signed in Geneva, Switzerland:

 

Persecution is a threat to life or freedom because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

 

The UNHCR identifies the refugees for private sponsorship under the BVOR program. Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia (RRANS) and St. Andrews-Wesley United Church are examples of Canadian organizations actively working to resettle refugees through the BVOR program. 

Community Sponsor (CS)

Community Sponsor is an organization, association, or corporation sponsoring one or more Convention Refugees to come to Canada. The CS similarly must also represent or be aligned with a registered charity to receive and administer FOH grants.

Joint Assistance Sponsorship Program (JAS)

The Joint Assistance Sponsorship Program involves organizations that work as partners with the Government of Canada to resettle refugees with special needs. Refugees coming to Canada through JAS are considered highly vulnerable and tend to require the greatest level of care and support during resettlement.

Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership (RRAP)

Only SAHs working with a CG across Canada through Rainbow Refugee in Vancouver are eligible for resettlement assistance under the RRAP. This government program was the initiative of and remains administered by Rainbow Refugee Society in Vancouver.

Rainbow Refugee identifies its Constituent Groups as Circles of Hope.

The RRAP provides government assistance to LGBT+ refugees across Canada for the first three months of resettlement. It also permits LGBT+ refugee sponsorship applications to be reviewed in Canadian visa offices around the world. This includes “safe countries” where SOGIE persecution exists, but would otherwise not accept refugee claims. Finally, it ensures that SAHs have capacity to take on LGBT+ private sponsorships without having to factor them into their annual resettlement quotas.

The RRAP is a valuable mechanism for enabling LGBT+ refugees to escape persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (i.e., as SOGIE migrants). Rainbow Foundation of Hope supports the efforts of Canadian civil society groups working to ensure the RRAP can remain a regular element of the PSRP in Canada.

Rainbow Coalition for Refugee (RC4R)

In 2019, thanks to extensive efforts by the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge (RC4R) to actively consult the federal government, the RRAP was expanded for another 5 five years with an $800,000 funding commitment. Support from our corporate partnership with TD Bank has also helped to financially backed RC4R consultation efforts with the Government of Canada.

All six of the RC4R founding members have received grants from RFOH.

This is all thanks to donations that have come from Canadians through our grassroots fundraising efforts led by our flagship event known as STRUT. Across Canada, RC4R member organizations include:

Rainbow Refugee in Vancouver
End of the Rainbow in Calgary
Rainbow Railroad and Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto
Capital Rainbow Refuge in Ottawa
Rainbow Refugee Association of Nova Scotia in Halifax

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Year 4 of STRUT: truly among friends

On June 9th, 2018 you all made what has come to be an annual pilgrimage – the collective gathering of friends old and new to attend the fourth annual STRUT. Foundation of Hope invited the community to help bring in funds to enable the cause. Caring and generous folks, more than willing to do your part as donors, we walked in solidarity for the cause.

We were joined by our corporate sponsors and partners, led foremost by TD Bank as a key partner and perennial contributor. TD’s donation of Aeroplan miles allowed us to bring our community partners out to participate this year, including representatives from Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad, a key partner to FOH, and The 519, which received its first grant from FOH last year. Montréal’s Centre de Solidarité Lesbienne also joined the event and is the first charity to receive FOH funding in Québec.

©2018_BenOwensPhotography_Strut_2018(183of189)©BenOwensPhotography

Our invited community partners joined up with the local like-minded organizations FOH supports including Qmunity, MOSAIC, and VAST. All these organizations are doing important work to support local LGBT+ Newcomers.

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Equinox joined as a new arrival this year, presenting the iconic Stonewall Stiletto, which they had Shayne Oliver custom design from the original pleather banquettes in New York’s legendary Stonewall Inn – a nod to the commitment and pain of activists fighting for LGBT+ rights.

These evocative heels are such a fitting complement to STRUT, but they definitely won’t be seen prancing the seawall among an all outrageous manner of footwear donned by this year’s strutters.

©2018_BenOwensPhotography_Strut_2018(32aof189) ©BenOwensPhotography

Foundation of Hope also welcomed the ongoing support of Vancouver’s own legendary John Fluevog, another perennial fave and supreme fit to our brand for STRUT, as well as new support this year from Body Energy Club. We also thank Telus for supplying a crew of volunteers to help us execute a flawless event, yet again.

Foundation of Hope thanks you all. We exist because of you. Without STRUT as an annual means of replenishing our fund, we simply could not continue to accomplish the goals of our Purpose:

Enhance the lives of LGBT+ Newcomers and their families through financial support to Canadian charitable organizations working directly with Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Newcomers to Canada, both nationally and internationally.

This year we managed to once again exceed $50,000. It took a lot of work, as it does every year, but these funds have never been more critical. That’s because early in 2018, FOH received a record number of applications. Requests came from civil society groups from Halifax to Nanaimo, seeking assistance with projects addressing sponsorship cases for LGBT+ Asylum Seekers and Refugees, as well as Newcomer community service projects.

The amount requested far exceeded the capacity of our fund. Because STRUT occurs in June, it meant FOH could only award a portion of the amount requested in the approved grants. It also meant having to reject grants through our Review Teams, which evaluate these applications.

Community members, many of whom are faithful donors, voluntarily sit on Review Teams with the FOH Grants Committee to collectively review and score every grant application we receive.

Foundation of Hope would prefer to award grants to all eligible applicants, but we anticipated the milestone where the need would outstrip our capacity to give. So it was important to have an objective means of approving some grants over others while being transparent and accountable to our donors.

STRUT is crucial to the success of the Rainbow Foundation of Hope. Financial stability is a primary objective to the long-term sustainability of this fund. It is intended to be a reliable means of support for the charitable work being done to assist LGBT+ migrants fleeing persecution across the world.

It takes time and effort for FOH to administer these grants as a 100% volunteer organization, but the ongoing contributions from reliable donors are just as vital. Help us to be there for Canadian charities when they need assistance to do this important work.

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DONATE and become a standing monthly donor today. It means the world to us all.

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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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Circling back on the RRAP: safe LGBT+ migration through a Call to Action

In the spring of this year, FOH was invited to testify alongside multiple civil society groups across Canada at the hearings of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in Ottawa. These groups included Rainbow Refugee and Capital Rainbow Refuge, organizations FOH actively supports, which spoke on the importance of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP) in fulfilling their goals for safe migration.

The RRAP was established in 2011 to support private sponsorship of LGBT+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). The program has been renewed annually up to and including 2017. It is administered nationally by Rainbow Refugee Society, but its fate has remained uncertain.

Following the hearings, the Standing Committee voted unanimously in favour to maintain the program. Such acceptance led to an important next step by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to host a consultation event in Toronto with the civil society groups doing this important work on the ground. These groups hold the wealth of knowledge about the state of SOGIE persecution across the world and the Government of Canada now recognizes this.

Willingness by the parliamentary standing committee to undertake deeper consultation through a “Call to Action” to enhance the RRAP has resulted along with 15 recommendations for the Government of Canada.

In anticipation of the Committee consultation proceedings, Foundation of Hope has worked with Rainbow Railroad as the Toronto-based organization taking a leading role. Four broad priorities have been tabled for the Government of Canada to consider as a form of enhancement:

  1. Establish the RRAP as a regular program with multi-year funding commitments;
  2. Create a multi-year program to increase resettlement by LGBT+ Refugees, through government assisted refugees (GARs) and joint assistance (JAS) streams specifically;
  3. IRCC and Global Affairs Canada (GAC) collaborate directly with civil society groups to recognize and act on situations of critical need for rapid action (e.g., through the Urgent Protection Program, temporary visas, or other measures); and
  4. Enhance SOGIE Refugee settlement support to be inclusive of all types including GARs, JASs, and inland Refugee claimants.

In partnership with TD Bank and Aeroplan, FOH teamed up with Rainbow Railroad to facilitate travel and accommodations for the groups across Canada to gather in Toronto and prepare, then meet with the Government of Canada on October 26th and 27th, respectively. Kimahli Powell, Rainbow Railroad’s Executive Director sees it as a national movement to support the arrival and settlement of LGBTQI+ people in Canada and FOH is in total agreement.

“The Foundation of Hope is a crucial partner to the community groups across the country, and we’re thankful in their support in convening a national coalition of organizations working together towards this common goal.”

~ Kimahli Powell, Executive Director of Rainbow Railroad

Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) Coordinator Lisa Hébert attended on behalf of numerous members and CRR mentor groups for Refugee sponsorships happening out of Ottawa.

“We are very grateful to TD Aeroplan for their generous donation of travel miles. The donation allowed us to facilitate a rare opportunity to bring together civil society groups from across the country. We were pleased to coordinate our efforts and to be able to share best practices. Our group presented a workshop on our Foundational Principles of Empowerment and Confidentiality.”

Vancouver’s Rainbow Refugee also headed to Toronto to help steer the engagement. Sharalyn Jordan offered a huge thank you to Foundation of Hope support for travel and accommodations during the affair.

“Support from the Foundation of Hope and generous hosting by Rainbow Railroad and the 519 Centre in Toronto made it possible to bring groups from across Canada who work directly with LGBTQI+ refugees together for two full days. We share a vision and commitment to greater safety and belonging for LGBTQI+ refugee newcomers in Canada. At the meetings we developed strategies and strengthened our collective voice.”

All three major parties support Canada taking a more substantial role in the global LGBT+ Refugee protection system. The 519 hosted multiple government agencies including IRCC, GAC and Honourable Randy Boissonault, LGBT2QI+ PM Secretariat. All gathered together to consult as a group working directly with LGBTQI+ Refugees.

“Civil Society organizations know what is needed and we were able to bring our agenda forward with a stronger voice because of conversations with IRCC and GAC.”

~ Sharalyn Jordan, Board Chair of Rainbow Refugee

Key recommendations also include increased government sponsorship to expand emergency pathways as well as bolstering support for agencies that deal with LGBT+ Newcomers and inland Refugee claimants.

Soon these groups will again meet with IRCC and everyone is hopeful that the government will commit to a renewed RRAP.

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