The first of four media workshops with LGBTQ+ asylum seekers in Toronto, this workshop was held at the MCC Church. Our co-researchers were three women who had fled anti-gay laws in their home countries in Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda, and were in various stages of the immigration process.
Housing and placemaking for LGBT refugees in Toronto is complicated by geographical location, transit availability/expense, discrimination within the shelter system, and distance from inner-city LGBT community hubs.
But here I am free, far away from home.
To complement these findings with affective data, our Toronto team used ‘walking method’, a research technique used in social sciences (Anderson 2004; Carpiano 2009; Kusenbach 2003; Reed 2002) to generate data prompted by landmarks, barriers, and familiar routes.
The Photography Workshop & the Café
We began with a session in which we diagrammed our different routes to MCC Church. As part of our second session, we did a short photography workshop and then walked to a nearby café, Elvy and Flo, for lunch. Here, outside of the institutional setting, the women felt free to take photos inside the cafe, of plants, of each other, of a mother’s day sign.
We had been following the lead of walking method projects before us, which seem to use rather indirect, elliptical questions to get at social issues. But it was only when we asked more directly socio-political questions like, “I i.d. as queer or lesbian, how do you identify [sexually]?” “Have you had your [IRB] hearing?” “We know you, love Canada, but what would you change?” that affective and more complex responses emerged.
Uganda is one of the most insecure countries to be LGBT in … they treat LGBT like animals.JULIAN
The women went on at great length about how much better it is to be in Canada, but they also had a lot of policy recommendations. They feel frustrated at not working – the racist trope of “Canadian experience” is a huge barrier. They said repeatedly, “We are ready to work.”
Crossing the border[by foot] was like a drowning man grasping at a straw … We had to do what had to be done.
They were distressed about the the Ford cutbacks to legal services for refugees. Flora talked about how you can’t really do a successful IRB hearing without a lawyer.
They discussed the difficulties in finding affordable housing in Toronto, and how landlords repeatedly demand banking and tax documents, which most of them would not have at this point.
You need the house, they can ask any damn question and you won’t get the house … especially for the Blacks.OMATOLA
Walking to the streetcar with Julian, I asked her how street compared to any street in Kampala, Uganda. She spoke at length about how much cleaner, more orderly and less violent it is here. I asked her if there’s anything she misses, and she talked about food – how the meat in Uganda tastes better: the animals are given more time she said, and are raised in pastures. She can get mangoes here, but in Uganda the mangoes are everywhere in the trees, and you can pick them yourself. You can get Ugandan food here, but it’s not the same”, she said.
The show about LGBT refugees became an important form of elicitation.
The Photo Exhibit
Julian and I looked at a photo of a Ugandan refugee for several minutes. It was a rather opaque photo, and I said I couldn’t quite make out the image. Repeatedly touching the photo, she interpreted it for me and said, “There is his face, there’s his hand and his fingernail. He looks very anxious. You can be put in jail for many here is if you are LGBT in Uganda.”
[How do you feel about the show?]
I feel I’m comfortable here, I feel it reflects what my story is like, and I think every African here, what their story is like. I feel for them that they can exhibit this, is a form of acceptance, but that there is an actual problem and people need to know about this and that the government need to be aware of it…OMOTOLA
I asked Julian if she’d had her hearing yet. She said, proudly, that she had it 2 weeks ago, and it was successful. Now she can go to school. She has applied to study social work at George Brown. Flora joined us, and we talked about how the hearings work, and how sometimes very invasive sexual questions are asked.
We also looked at another photo, in which the photographer had manipulated the photo to repeat the same profile of a particular refugee. Tola said something about repetition: having to say the same things over and over again, the same conditions repeating themselves over and over.
We noticed that there were no photos of Tanzanian refugees. I asked Flora who is from Tanzania, about that she said that there is such extreme repression there right now that’s it would make it very difficult for an LGBT refugee from Tanzania to speak publicly. But then she spread out her arms and said, “ I’m free here. I don’t care. I can say whatever I want.” “That’s courageous, “I said. She stretched out her arms again and said, “I’m free here.”
We asked the women to take photos on their route home, and around their neighbourhood.
At the final session, they made PowerPoint stories, using a creative prompt that asked them to write about their sensory experiences of home.
Undergraduate research assistant, Ayat created a zine about the workshop, which the participants were able to take home.