The world is facing the worst refugee crisis in history. MCC Toronto’s LGBTQ+ Refugee Ministry provides hope for LGBTQ+ refugees in Canada who fear, or who’ve experienced, persecution, violence or risk to their lives in their home countries.
To date, we’ve sponsored 27 refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries where it is dangerous to be LGBTQ+, including some countries that still have the death penalty. As well, over 1,980 refugee claimants have participated in our peer support activities. We work with others to speak out about and change the complex refugee system.
Our work saves lives. MCC Toronto provides the overhead costs of the program. Private individual, corporate or foundation donors from the congregation and from the community donate to support the direct refugee sponsorship and program costs. Please join our work!
The Refugee Program was started by MCC volunteers in 2007, with a peer support group for LGBTIQ+ refugee claimants. After performing the first two same-sex marriages in the world and leading the way with others for legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Canada, in 2009 MCC Toronto made LGBTIQ+ refugees our signature social justice issue. In 2013, we became the only charitable organization in Canada to have a Sponsorship Agreement with the Government of Canada that is specifically focused on LGBTIQ+ refugees.
What we do
- financial support for the first year in Canada plus start-up costs such as clothing and furniture. Sometimes the federal government provides financial support, sometimes we split the cost with government, and sometimes we pay all the costs privately.
- we provide “wrap-around” supports needed to help a refugee build a new life in Canada. We help refugees find housing; access language training, healthcare, counselling, education, employment and other services; and get required documentation. We provide orientation to banking, transportation and Toronto, and provide emotional, social, and spiritual (if desired) support.
A volunteer settlement team, with staff support, works with a refugee for at least a year.
We have sponsored 27 refugees from around the world. There is an urgent need – we are working towards a goal of sponsoring four or more LGBTQ+ refugees per year.
What we do
We run a monthly peer support group meeting attended by 120 to 140 refugees and refugee claimants waiting for their Refugee Board hearings. Meetings have speakers and discussion to help people learn about the community and available services, deal with stress while waiting for their hearing or settling as a refugee, or get oriented to Toronto. It also gives them an opportunity to meet other LGBTQ+ refugees or claimants.
To date, over 1,980 refugees and claimants have participated in our peer support activities, which are provided by volunteers with staff support. We are working to provide more peer support opportunities. If a refugee or claimant gets involved in a minimum of four activities at MCC Toronto, one of our volunteers will write them a letter of support for their Immigration & Refugee Board hearing, about their efforts to connect with the community.
We do not provide counselling or in-depth one-on-one support, as other LGBTQ+ community organizations offer these services and we don’t want to duplicate.
and Speaking Out
To stay up-to-date on issues and contribute to a collective voice on changes needed, MCC Toronto is a member of the Canadian Council for Refugees. From our experience with refugees trying to navigate the complex refugee system, we speak out about issues and changes needed to the system.
We work with other LGBTIQ+ refugee service-providers in Toronto to avoid duplication and promote good relationships. We have a formal partnership with the Rainbow Railroad to support their efforts to help LGBTIQ+ refugees in danger globally to move to countries of safety, and we provide oversight to their sponsorship of several LGBTIQ+ refugees to Canada through MCC Toronto. We connect our refugees and claimants with The 519 Church Street Community Centre, Access Alliance, Black CAP, Sherbourne Health Centre and other community groups which provide services to LGBTIQ+ refugees. They don’t sponsor refugees, and we don’t duplicate the counselling, education and other services they offer.
We work to educate our congregation and the public about the particular challenges faced by LGBTIQ+ refugees around the world and here in Canada.
faced by LGBTIQ+ refugees
LGBTIQ+ refugees face additional dangers due to their sexual orientation. In many countries they face public danger, persecution and arrest, including 10 countries that still have the death penalty for being LGBTIQ+. Some also experience violence and death threats from their own families.
If their sexual orientation becomes known, they often face harassment and danger of violence in refugee camps or in countries to which they have fled. Once in Canada, they may be afraid to seek help from their ethnic or traditional spiritual communities, usually a significant source of support for immigrants and refugees – they don’t feel safe being out in those communities.
Because of these challenges, Canada is one of a number of countries that includes LGBTIQ+ sexual orientation as protected grounds to obtain refugee status. We sponsor LGBTIQ+ refugees that have been cleared by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) and by the Canadian government.
MCC Toronto offers hope and a place to belong where all are welcome just as they are. For many, this is a life-changing experience – they have never before experienced a spiritual community that offers a safe place, inclusion and acceptance as openly out LGBTIQ+ people.
How are we funded?
The federal government sometimes provides, or shares the cost, of financial support that goes directly to the refugees we sponsor. However, unlike other charities, we don’t receive government support for our Refugee Program costs, mainly because we don’t want to duplicate the many services offered by other community organizations. Our funding comes from private donations from individuals in our congregation and from the community, and by businesses and foundations committed to diversity, equality and safety for LGBTIQ+ refugees.
Foundational support for the first three years of developing our Refugee Program was provided by a generous donation from Wallace and the Honourable Margaret McCain.
MCC Toronto covers the overhead costs of the Refugee Program through general support from the congregation. Volunteers fundraise for the financial support that goes to refugees we privately sponsor or co-sponsor with government, and for our direct program costs.
You can become a monthly Refugee Fund donor for $10 or more a month, or give a one-time donation. Go to mcctoronto.com and select Donate, then Refugee Fund as your donor designation.
Who does what?
The Refugee Strategy and Fundraising Advisory Committee is a group of experienced volunteers who develop program strategy to recommend to the MCC Toronto Board of Directors, oversee implementation of approved strategy, and raise funds for the Refugee Program.
Sponsorship Settlement Team(s) volunteers work directly with sponsored refugees for at least their first year in Canada. They help a refugee find housing; get services such as language training, education, employment and healthcare; and get documentation. They provide orientation to banking, transportation and Toronto; and provide emotional, social and spiritual (if desired) support.
Peer Support volunteers help with the monthly Peer Support group meeting and other peer support activities. Some are volunteer letter writers, meeting with refugee claimants who have been involved in four or more activities at MCC Toronto, to write them a letter of support for their Refugee Board hearing, about how they are connecting with the MCC community.
The staff Team Leader, Refugee Program is responsible for recruiting, training and supporting settlement and peer support volunteers; providing back-up to volunteers to meet immediate needs of our sponsored refugees; and doing the work involved to meet our legal obligations as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder.
Help or Volunteer
If you would like to share the freedom we have in Canada with LGBTIQ+ people who are in danger in other countries, and help them become settled refugees in Canada, please consider providing financial support for our work.
You can be a monthly donor for $10 or more a month, or make a one-time donation to the Refugee Fund. Monthly donations are set up as automatic withdrawals from your credit card or bank account. This reduces our administrative costs and helps us plan ahead.
For credit card donations, go to mcctoronto.com/donate, select “monthly” or “one-time”, and “Refugee Fund” as your donor designation. Cheques can be mailed to MCC Toronto, 115 Simpson Avenue, Toronto ON M4K 1A1, attention Kevin Coutu. Please note on your cheque that it is for the Refugee Fund. Or to become a monthly donor through withdrawal from a bank account, or for other questions, please contact Kevin Coutu at [email protected] or 416/ 406-6228 extension 139.
You can also talk to your employer, small business or corporation, or a foundation you know, about becoming a donor to the Refugee Fund or about matching your personal donation. Or consider asking your friends to make a donation to the Refugee Fund in lieu of birthday or other occasion gifts. Thank you!
We always need volunteers for a variety of tasks. If you would like to volunteer to work directly with LGBTIQ+ refugees through helping them get settled or through peer support activities, it’s important for you to be able to make a one-year commitment to provide consistency. Other volunteer tasks have more flexibility about a time commitment.
Sponsorship Settlement Team volunteers help to integrate LGBTIQ+ refugees to build new lives in Canada. They help them learn how to navigate the city and get established once they arrive. Each sponsored refugee is matched with a team of 7 to 10 volunteers who support them for at least a year until they become settled in Toronto.
Peer Support Team volunteers help with monthly peer support meetings with refugees and refugee claimants. They help out at the monthly meetings; help plan speakers and content on community services, how to prepare for your Refugee Board hearing, refugee/immigration issues, orientation to Toronto, inclusive spirituality or dealing with stress. They help out at other social events and peer support activities. Some volunteers help by meeting with a refugee claimant and writing a letter of support, if the person has been involved in four or more activities at MCC Toronto. These letters are for their Refugee Board hearing and speak to the claimant’s efforts to connect with the community in Toronto.
Other Volunteer Opportunities include helping with special events to raise funds for the Refugee Program, helping with other fundraising activities, or help with administrative work in the office.
If you would like to volunteer with the MCC Toronto Refugee Program, please email [email protected]
Aleks Dughman-Manzur, (they/them/their) Team Leader, MCC Toronto Refugee Program can be reached at [email protected] or at 416-406-6228 extension 125.
For inquiries about making a financial donation to the Refugee Fund, contact Kevin Coutu, (he/him/his) Team Leader, Individual Giving at [email protected] or 416-406-6228 extension 139.
For inquiries about volunteering in the Refugee Program, email [email protected]
Stories from Refugees
- “It has been one year since I arrived in Canada. Every day I am feeling a little better and less shocked. I never imagined myself starting a new life in another country, but Toronto has been a great place to start over.Things we were dreaming to someday happen in my country are real here. Now I don’t see myself as a gay person in the middle of a battleground. Instead I see myself as a resident of a country that I can emotionally connect with and call home.” – Sponsored refugee
They gave me 3 choices…
“When I was 18 and my boyfriend was 20, I was discovered to be gay by Iranian officials. They gave me 3 choices – they could kill me and I would be ‘fixed’ when I went to Paradise; I could undergo therapy to change my sexual orientation to heterosexual; or because I had completed my mandatory military service, they would give me a passport and I could leave the country. I knew others who had undergone the ‘therapy’ – they later killed themselves. I chose to leave. My boyfriend hadn’t completed military service, so he didn’t have a passport, so he had to pay someone to lead him over the border at night.
That was a hard night for me. They sweep border areas with searchlights and if they find you in the light, they shoot you. But he made it. We spent 2 years in Turkey waiting to be sponsored. The UN High Commission for Refugees asked us what country we wanted to go to. We said Canada, because we knew here we would be free and our relationship respected. MCC Toronto sponsored us both. They met us at the airport and gave us housing for the first few weeks while they helped us find permanent housing. They got us enrolled in ESL classes, get our health cards and other documents, introduced us to Toronto, and gave us emotional and practical support. Two years later, we’re doing well – we’re both working, we love Toronto and appreciate the help MCC Toronto gave us to start new lives together. I want others to have the freedom and the life I’m able to build here.” – Sponsored refugee
- “Thank God you’re doing this work and saving lives. Thank you for asking me to help support it.” – MCC Toronto Refugee Fund monthly donor
- Volunteers working on the Refugee Oversight, Strategy and Fundraising Committee identified that they do this work with LGBTIQ+ refugees because: “we want to share our freedom to love who you want without fear; we’re saving lives; we’re privileged and we need to share that; and we have a responsibility to leave a legacy, as we did with same-sex marriage where we had a global impact.”