Tag Archives: current-events

Voices of the Rainbow

Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This is an important blog.  It’s written from the heart, by a generous-spirited young man surviving in Beirut, Lebanon, whom we have come to know through a New Canadian now living with us.  He is part of an LGBT community that is forced to remain largely ‘underground’ because their gender orientations lead regularly to arrest, detention, harsh treatment, beatings.  Iyan is a natural leader, wanting to make public his knowledge of what he and his friends contend with, and working continually to assist them in getting to safety.  He lives among those he works to help.  Several Canadian friends have connected with him and applied to sponsor his coming to Canada.  It’s a long process.   We’re hopeful.  RGS

Voices of the Rainbow, from Beirut, Lebanon

By Iyan

A friend of mine—a trans woman—got stopped recently by police and was treated very badly.  They pulled her by her hair into a car, and detained her for three days. Someone tried to rape her, and someone else took a video of her. She wasn’t allowed to eat or drink and had to beg to go to the bathroom. LGBT advocates tried to see her but no one was allowed in. Luckily her refugee application was already with the Canadian embassy—it was the reason they released her. The Canadian embassy then worked on speeding up the resettlement process, and my friend left within a few days.

Her story is the story of a community of LGBT refugees from all over the world living in Lebanon. I’m a member of this community and decided to write about it.

We gather wherever we feel safe. Most of us don’t have families anymore, because they kicked us out or because we ran away from them or from other threats. Now we’re left to depend on ourselves in a country and a community that does not accept us.

Not a month goes by where everyone is safe. Being LGBT is criminalized here, and even though the United Nations recognizes most of us as refugees, we are considered illegal. This makes everything dangerous. There are no laws to protect us—we can’t go to a police station and complain if someone beats us up, kicks us out of our home, refuses to hire us, rapes us, or threatens us. We get sent to jail for being who we are.

There are no shelters for LGBT people in Lebanon, and most of us can’t afford rent because no one will hire people like us. Even if we can afford it, landlords refuse to rent to trans people or anyone whose sexual orientation shows in the way they move, talk, or dress.

Being hungry and homeless leads many of us to sex work, where there is more abuse. We get used, beaten up, and often go unpaid, but still there’s no choice but to go back down the same road just to have a place to sleep, even if it’s only for one day—just to be given food, even if it’s only a slice of something. Friends often reach out to me in the middle of the night after being used and thrown in the street. They use WhatsApp because they can’t afford to call, and I try to reach out to any advocates I can through assistance hotlines. It becomes harder on me when I also can’t afford to make a phone call.

Some organizations arrange activities for LGBT people. They give money for transportation, so I’ve often walked to their offices and saved that money for food. Sometimes they bring us simple things like cake and juice which feel like heaven for someone who hasn’t eaten anything in a full day or more. A friend of mine used to shower at one organization, and another sleeps there because he is homeless. Away from these organizations, we are not very loved. People stare or laugh at us—or worse, attack us. We’re not respected.

Most of us are still young, and it’s such a waste to lose these precious years living like this, not getting our education. Education is something that was taken away from us. After I finished high school my family didn’t allow me to complete studying because they were afraid their reputation would be ruined if they let me out. I was locked at home for one year. I try to make up for lost time by joining any free courses the aid organizations offer, but not all of them are for LGBT people. One of my friends couldn’t attend a course because she was told that the other students wouldn’t be accepting—she would be called by a male name during the class, the very name she’s trying so hard to forget. This means we have a generation of LGBTs who are not educated enough to know how to raise their voices. They were never taught the basic things every loving family teaches their kids. Instead, they’ve been thrown into dark places, where they learn bad behaviors and attitudes. The Lebanese community in turn sees these individuals negatively, not realizing that they helped create these circumstances in the first place. It becomes one more reason on the list of reasons to reject and hurt LGBT people.

We’re all seeking a place where we can enjoy our most basic human rights: safety, health, education, and work. How can we do anything else? We have no choice but to look for a new home—where we’re not wanted dead by the family that’s supposed to love us, the community that’s supposed to support us, or the government that should provide protection over jail, abuse, or death.



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Who’s On Board??

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Last week I lamented the absence of enough care offered by the community (the arm of which can  sometimes be government) for those who are desperate for it: those with various forms of mental disability or difference, as I prefer to think of autism.

A note about autism.

I include autism as a disability because I want to join the voices calling for our awareness and support in trying to meet the needs of families and individuals struggling with the condition.  By and large, people whose brains function differently, for whatever reasons, are often invisible within the community because they can mask the reality or they mostly stay indoors: their behaviour is too unpredictable and communication with others is too difficult.  Interaction between an autistic person and the community at large is generally avoided – by both.  Once a person acts out, then she is shunned and removed : too dangerous.  .

Some identified as autistic are like Miles (described in the Globe and Mail article Sept. 23 and discussed here last week) who becomes physically violent and dangerous to himself and his parents.  Having become too old for the government care provided, he and his parents need a long-term solution – a safe place to live where he can find treatment and care.  Multiply this person by hundreds  – and this doesn’t touch on those with brain injury and mental illness.  One estimate of those waiting for long-term residential care is 6,000 in Ontario.

Some named as autistic display considerable brilliance in areas of knowledge or creativity they have concentrated on, but they are hindered by a poor capacity to communicate with unfamiliar people or to function in the usual learning formats .  One day we’ll help unlock some of that brilliance, when both sides of the communication block have the will and the skill.

A link to homelessness

A study done by St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto found that of 904 interviewees in homeless shelters, 53% had sustained a traumatic brain injury.  The rate among the general population is 8.5% (Tabitha Southy , Globe & Mail, Oct 6, 2012, study conducted by the Centre of Research on Inner City Health).

This is a stunning fact to me – though on second thought I’m not surprised by it.  The part that brain trauma plays — in helping a person slide into homelessness, and in the added traumatic impact of becoming homeless – has often shown itself as one gets to know individuals using shelters.

What’s needed so people with mental struggles can live decently

  1. A place to live
  2. Skillful treatment
  3. Continuum  of Support

The above largely speak for themselves.   About No.3;  someone – a social worker, family member, doctor, clergy person, friend – has to be available over time as a stable source of friendliness, interest, caring.  Having only a series of offices and ‘teams’ to report to becomes alienating over time for someone caught in the loneliness of a confused mind.

There also has to be a broad base of public understanding.  I could spit when I hear someone say, of a mentally ill person, “He should just pull himself together”.  We all have to understand more about the mentally ill because we walk among them and each of us may be touched at any time.  Walking down Yonge Street near St. Clair, a woman approaching me suddenly threw a cup of hot coffee at me, swearing, glowering, but keeping on walking.  The unexpectedness of it and the anger in her eyes were disturbing.   To be able to just let it go, I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t personal (of course not! ).   I had to remember she was one of many off-balance people walking our streets and at least she let me see her.  She likely had neither a good place to live, nor skillful treatment, nor a continuum of support.

In the New Housing Climate

The cost of good care is a factor discouraging the development of Housing.  In her Comment last week, Kay Houghton described the efforts of a group that managed to get some housing built for their adult disabled children needing supportive housing.  The initiative of parents was enough, in the 70’s, plus long hard persistent work, to get important housing built.  Programs allowing for such development have largely been withdrawn by the federal and provincial governments but Kay’s experience points to a positive factor:  could parents provide some of the care needed in a home for mentally-different adults?  It could be win-win if participating families could provide a-day-a-week of care, and be part of the Board and Management.   But first there has to be a location.  Please read Joy Connolly’s  Opening The Window blog to learn about social housing at this time.

Why, If We Care, We Have to Find a Way to Lend Support

After the article about Miles appeared, there were many Comments printed and it was helpful to see the degree of hostility and support the story  generated.  The following few, of over 100, caught my eye:

Scientific research could find the cause and the cure. Let’s work on long term solutions for brain diseases. We care for those with no-fault chronic brains diseases, but why not also fund scientific brain research to find the cures?


Why doesn’t the kid live with one of the parents? Would it not be cheaper to pay for an in home care giver during the day, and have the child’s parent(s) take care of the kid at night and on weekends? Probably would be cheaper than $400 a day. Why are they ‘no longer able to care for him’? So you had a kid, then got tired of dealing with him, so now your dumping him on society?


Some commenting here feel that it should be a matter of personal responsibility for people who decide to have children, to deal with the consequences of that decision. Like some parents save for their kids education, maybe they should have put aside money for this kind of eventuality.


The vision of our country is to be compassionate and care for the vulnerable. Having a son with autism I know well this is barely a realty we have in Canada. So – should we just shoot him in the head and have it done then? Or perhaps you support great work camps to get value from the vulnerable.


Have him wait in line like the rest of the disabled and get his share fair like the rest of them.

And so the discussion continued, for pages.

So first – awareness and compassion, and from there, maybe some creative thinking…

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