Starting 44 years ago in 1973, Gays for Equality offered a telephone information line, peer counselling service, and a resource library on the University of Manitoba campus. The group went on to become a leader and an important resource for the gay and lesbian community, providing community service, education, outreach, political awareness, and activism.
Today, known as the Rainbow Resource Centre, our mission is to provide support, education, and resources to foster a proud, resilient, and diverse LGBT2SQ+ community in Manitoba. This diversity includes refugees, asylum seekers, and other newcomers. We offer a newcomer-led social support group called New Pride of Winnipeg. The group meets twice a month, and it is a chance for gender and sexual minority newcomers to support one another and find community. Currently the group includes six claimants, two convention refugees, 23 permanent residents, one citizen, and 13 visa holders.
We provide support to newcomers in our counselling program. Currently we have five refugee claimants, one person considering a refugee claim, two under appeal, one facing a deportation order, three awaiting IRB decisions, nine with a permanent resident application pending, and two newcomers with unknown status.
Newcomer counselling clients may be newly arrived, have had a student visa and are making a refugee claim, have been sponsored through organizations like Reaching Out Winnipeg, or increasingly have crossed the border irregularly. Our counsellors provide support to prepare for the IRB hearing; follow up on the invasive questions faced by claimants appearing before the IRB; and begin to address the trauma experienced during the clients' journey in their home country or in the country of temporary asylum, which is almost never safe for sexual and gender minority people.
Often, our counsellors are the first people to ask the question, what's the best part of your LGBT2SQ+ identity? The answer to this question is the beginning of an assessment process to provide a letter confirming someone's gender or sexual minority identity or experience. Like many Canadians, many of the gender and sexual minority newcomer clients we see may not identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, but use language appropriate to their own culture and personal history.
I'd like to thank and congratulate the department for releasing the Chairperson's Guideline 9: Proceedings before the IRB involving Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. The guidelines address many of the concerns we experience during IRB hearings, and acknowledge the complexities of sexual and gender minority experience and identities. In preparing for an IRB hearing, our staff and clients' lawyers spend significant time addressing inconsistencies on the basis of claim.
Often, asylum seekers might be out to some service providers, yet not to others. Sometimes clients would be advised by settlement service workers or other service providers not to come out at all. This advice is well intentioned, given the Canadian LGBT2SQ+ people often come in contact with heterosexist or cissexist service providers. However, it does create perceived inconsistencies in the basis of claim for newcomer clients.
It is common for Canadian LGBT2SQ+ people to not be out to all of the service providers. One of our staff members has been married to a same-sex partner for five years and just came out to his doctor a couple of months ago.
IRB members have also asked our clients how they can have a child if they are a lesbian. The answer: for any of same reasons a Canadian lesbian can have a child. The guidelines provide IRB members, service providers, lawyers, and claimants with a framework of accountability in assessing claims of sexual orientation and if adhered to, will address some of these concerns.
These examples highlight our unique expertise as a community in assisting sexual and gender minority newcomers and refugees. This committee will hear from many organizations across the country that support sexual and gender minority refugees through sponsorship and settlement services. For decades, LGBT2SQ+ people in communities have been supporting one another in creating spaces to understand our identities and navigate the heterosexism or cissexism that we encounter daily.
We will continue to learn about the realities faced by sexual and gender minority newcomers, and we are well positioned to help you settle these clients in Canada.
Many newcomer clients, as I mentioned, will choose to be out in some parts of their lives but not in others. Many may be out in LGBT2SQ+ spaces, but not out within their ethnocultural community. Clients may be out to some family members, but not others. We also live with this reality. LGBT2SQ+ organizations are well positioned to make appropriate referrals, educate existing settlement services on gender and sexual minority realities, connect clients to their local LGBT2SQ+ communities and support, and create safer spaces within our own communities for newcomers to settle in. We're also well positioned to assist newcomers to navigate their new reality in a country that celebrates the achievement of same-sex marriage, but where it is not always safe to be out, where sexual and gender minorities continue to face discrimination in areas of health care, education, housing, and employment.
Continuing the rainbow refugee assistance program acknowledges and supports the communities who are best positioned to settle and sponsor gender and sexual minority refugees. Sponsorship by Canadian LGBT2SQ+ communities, like a contact with our centre, helps to ensure that gender and sexual minority refugees are met with community support upon their arrival in Canada. While we encourage non-LGBT2SQ+ people to sponsor gender and sexual minority refugees, given the humanity urgency of a situation, we also acknowledge that many sponsorship agreement holders are busy with the important work of family reunification. The rainbow refugee assistance program encourages our communities to sponsor persecuted people—