A relatively new grassroots project is aiming to increase the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people within Vancouver’s various ethnic communities. The campaign, titled Our City of Colours, was founded in March 2011 and is run by a group of volunteers.
A key part of the campaign involves creating and distributing media that reaches out to some of the largest ethnic minorities in the Lower Mainland, including the Korean, Chinese, Iranian and Punjabi communities.
Since its inception, Our City of Colours has created six different posters that depict both male and female LGBTQ youth with phrases such as “studies biology” and “enjoys dancing,” in addition to a statement about their interest in the same sex.
According to Darren Ho, the project founder, feedback on the posters has generally been positive.
“We commonly hear that a campaign like Our City of Colours is much needed and long overdue,” he says.
Chris Morrissey is the co-founder of the non-profit organizations LEGIT and the Rainbow Refugee Committee that provide information about immigration for same-sex couples and applying to Canada as a LGBTQ refugee. Morrissey says that she has witnessed a demographic shift within the community.
“When we first started LEGIT [in 1991], most of the sponsors or Canadian partners were white, and immigration was between Canada and the U.S.,” she says.
“But that has changed significantly over the past 10 years. There has been an evolution in terms of who is looking to bring partners in. Many of the sponsors are Canadians who are people of colour; some of them may be residents, some of them may be citizens. Sometimes they’ve been in a relationship in their home country and they don’t realize that they could’ve put their partner on their application. For me, it’s both important and heartening to see that the services we’re able to provide are accessible to newcomers and people of colour. The diversity creates a really great atmosphere as people get to know each other.”
Morrissey adds that the image of Canada as a free and accepting nation has a lot to do with the number of inquiries that both organizations receive.
“Many of the emails I get, talk about the situation they’re in, and that they want to come to Canada so that they can live a free life. They obviously know something about Canada with respect to sexual orientation and gender,” she says.
“We get so many inquiries from around the world that we can barely keep up with them. I’ve had inquiries from … [Iraq,] Nigeria, someone from South Africa that had already left their home country, and people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh … the list goes on. There are so many people reaching out and looking for a solution to their lives,” she adds.
Nevertheless, Morrissey also highlights some of the challenges that many LGBTQ refugees and immigrants have to face after moving.
“It can be challenging when folks come to Canada; they’re often hesitant about having contact with their own ethnic … or religious communities because they’ve come from a society where they’ve been persecuted,” she explains. “For me, it’s really important that people are able to go and be integrated into whatever community they choose to be part of, and that they’re also free to practice their own religion and mix with people of their culture so that they’re not segregated.”