They fled Ukraine, fearing gay persecution. Now they’re finding community in N.L.

They fled Ukraine, fearing gay persecution. Now they’re finding community in N.L.
LGBTQ+ newcomers in N.L. face distinctive challenges. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Pictures)

Alex Bezer says the previous 12 months has been robust.

Bezer and his companion have been pressured to flee their house after Russia’s struggle in Ukraine started. He mentioned they hung out in a refugee camp earlier than shifting to Newfoundland and Labrador about six months in the past.

In an interview with CBC Information, Bezer mentioned the specter of homophobic violence compounded that already-difficult journey — and once they received to this province, they knew they wanted assist.

“I wasn’t feeling emotionally steady,” he mentioned in an interview with CBC Information. “We didn’t really feel secure and we wanted some helps.”

At some point, Bezer mentioned he noticed a poster exterior the Affiliation for New Canadians workplace, promoting a peer help program for homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and gender-diverse newcomers. He received in contact with program co-ordinator Kimberly Offspring.

Offspring answered their questions on life for members of the LGBTQ group in St. John’s, and inside weeks, Bezer and his companion attended their first assembly.

“We really feel like, a bit, we’ve received our chosen household,” he mentioned.

Bezer mentioned members speak about popping out, household conditions and extra. He mentioned he’s develop into extra snug since becoming a member of the group — and now volunteers serving to others from Ukraine and Russia navigate life on this province.

This system is a part of a five-year joint analysis challenge from the YWCA St. John’s and Memorial College service gaps for LGBTQ newcomers. Offspring leads the challenge in collaboration with Memorial College social work professor Sulaimon Giwa.

“LGBTQ+ newcomers usually face a mixture of homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia,” Offspring mentioned. “We actually needed to get a greater understanding of the experiences that people are having.”

A secure area

The challenge has been within the works since 2020, however direct help for newcomers — a month-to-month peer help group and a person mentorship program — started final 12 months.

“[The peer support group is] confidential, it’s a non-judgmental area the place individuals can get collectively and talk about shared experiences and help one another,” she mentioned.

Offspring mentioned the group consists of Afghan refugees, Ukrainians and others. Members share experiences of popping out, navigating id and settlement points, mentioned Offspring.

“We regularly hear from people that, earlier than attending our group, they’ve by no means been in an area the place they felt actually secure and cozy to be themselves,” she mentioned.

A headshot of a person with long dark hair.
Kimberly Offspring co-ordinates the YWCA St. John’s LGBTQ+ help applications. (Submitted by Kimberly Offspring)

Giwa, who additionally serves because the dean of MUN’s social work school, mentioned analysis about LGBTQ newcomers continues to be in its infancy, and the analysis challenge is supposed to provide a baseline understanding of the challenges people face.

He mentioned there are problems with security which trigger LGBTQ newcomers to flee their nation of origin — however newcomers nonetheless face issues in Canada.

“In mainstream Canadian society there’s nonetheless homophobia,” he mentioned.

Giwa mentioned he’s heard about issues accessing well being care, obstacles brought on by institutional racism and a scarcity of group connection — and for LGBTQ+ newcomers, these points are interconnected.

“That’s why it’s actually essential that we’re doing this analysis, that we’re making an attempt to know among the challenges that individuals are going through and the way can we greatest intervene to help people,” he mentioned.

‘I’m there for them’

Melissandra Groza just lately volunteered to be a mentor for LGBTQ newcomers. She mentioned the function consists of all the pieces from offering emotional help to serving to newcomers navigate the bus system or get groceries.

Groza mentioned she remembers feeling lonely when she arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador from Bangladesh in 2018. 

A person with long, dark hair wearing glasses and a black dress.
Melissandra Groza volunteers as a mentor with this system. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

“I used to be disconnected in some ways,” she mentioned. “I didn’t have a group. I didn’t know the group, the queer group right here. It took me about two years to totally get in contact.”

Groza, a transgender girl, mentioned she fled part of the world the place she wasn’t accepted — and making an attempt to construct a brand new life by herself was painful.

“I all the time wished — provided that I had somebody who taught me, you already know, the right way to do stuff,” she mentioned.

Now, as a mentor, Groza mentioned she hopes to supply the help she needs she obtained when she moved to the province — and she or he’s benefiting from the function too.

“I’m there for them — I discover my very own therapeutic serving to others.”

Learn extra from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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