I Belong still going strong

Image courtesy of MOSAIC

Image courtesy of MOSAIC

I Belong, a program that assists Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBTQ) immigrants and refugees with integrating into Canadian society, celebrates its one year anniversary this month.

Launched in 2014 as a Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) pilot, the program was inspired by a transgender client and a settlement worker who were both struggling with multiple settlement challenges and a lack of resources and services. MOSAIC, one of B.C.’s largest immigrant serving organizations, is the group behind the program and aims to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ newcomers through the support of I Belong.

Essential resources for LGBTQ newcomers

When asked what resources can help LGBTQ immigrants to settle faster and more easily, Darae Lee, manager of the Settlement and Integration Program (SIP), points to the following: increased public awareness of immigrants and refugees, as well as LGBTQ communities; free or affordable mental health services; language courses; support and access to meaningful employment opportunities; and social connections.

“We need to combat against homophobia, transphobia, racism and any other forms of oppression,” says Lee.

SIP supports immigrants, helps refugees and newcomers identify their strengths, needs and goals, and assists them in making their goals a reality. Lee explains that the program aids recent immigrants in a variety of ways.

“I supervise a number of settlement workers who are the experts to help newcomers learn about Canadian systems and society – from getting a SIN card, finding housing, education, parenting, to becoming a Canadian citizen,” she says.

MOSAIC also offers various activities, including life skills development, in order to connect newcomers to the community. Currently, Lee is involved with I Belong as one of the participants.

“It is a privilege to learn from incredible individuals with such inspirational life journeys and stories,” she says.

Originally, I Belong was guided and directed by many LGBTQ newcomers, and conducted a needs analysis, initiated community dialogue, and created an advisory committee and a support group.

The support group, which focuses on breaking social isolation and creating a welcoming space for LGBTQ immigrants, also seeks to create awareness throughout the society and highlight the challenges faced by LGBTQ people moving to the country.

A critical understanding of discrimination and oppression

I Belong looks to address the intersectionality between sexuality, gender, race, cultural diversity, class, criminalization and colonialism. Lee describes intersectionality as the constant interaction and interconnection of different forms of discrimination and oppression.

“Understanding intersectionality is about having a critical lens to understand structural barriers,” says Lee. “We cannot understand an individual by looking at one social location or identity, but need to understand how it comes into play as a heterosexual woman, as a visible minority, as a non-Aboriginal, as a non-Christian, as a single parent, etc. Then, we can reflect on our own privilege and discrimination and see how it produces and reproduces social inequality and social injustice.”

I Belong offers a Peer Support Group and Culture Connections Social Mentoring. The Peer Support Group is an informal group session where there is a freeform exchange of ideas, thoughts and information among attendees. The support group meets on Wednesday evenings from 5:30pm–7:30pm.

The Culture Connections Social Mentoring program offers members of the LGBTQ community the chance to meet new friends, improve their language skills, help with adjusting to Vancouver and learn about Canadian culture with volunteer mentors.

For more information on the peer support group, please contact Darae at 604-254-9626 or ibelong@mosaicbc.com. To learn more about the Culture Connections Social Mentoring program, please contact Karen at 604-438-8214 or kgeorge@mosaicbc.com.