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Advocates want support for LGBTQ refugees

Members of Vancouver's LGBT community, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson raise the rainbow flag at Vancouver City Hall July 28, 2014 to mark the start of Vancouver's Pride Week.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver's Pride week celebration kicked off on a subdued note Monday, with a discussion at City Hall on the challenges LGBTQ refugees face in Canada, particularly when it comes to housing and accessing services.

The panel discussion, moderated by Councillor Tim Stevenson, looked at discrimination and state-sponsored violence against LGBTQ people in other countries and considered what more the City of Vancouver could do to advocate on refugees' behalves.

Chris Morrissey, one of the speakers and an LGBTQ immigration and refugee advocate, said balancing the needs of all the groups who need housing in Vancouver is always a challenge. However, she said the city would do well to set aside a number of its social housing units under development for asylum-seekers.

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"One of the challenges for Vancouver is: How can Vancouver be more supportive of queer refugees when they don't live in Vancouver? Because most of them cannot afford to live in Vancouver," said Ms. Morrissey, who co-founded both LEGIT: Canadian Immigration for Same-Sex Partners and Rainbow Refugee.

Ms. Morrissey said housing support is available for government-assisted refugees, but not for LGBTQ asylum seekers who arrive in Canada and then enter the refugee process.

Ms. Morrissey also encouraged Vancouver to continue looking at the possibility of becoming a sanctuary city, which would allow people who may be here illegally to access services without fear of deportation.

Lawyer barbara findlay told the panel Vancouver should consider having a statement on each piece of civic publication that identifies it as a city that welcomes queer people.

Ms. findlay's advice, however, was largely for the city to keep doing what it's been doing. She described it as a leader on LGBTQ issues and pointed to recent announcements about trans-inclusive policies at Vancouver community centres and schools as positive steps.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who helped raise the Pride flag after the discussion, said much more needs to be done to rid the world of violence against LGBTQ people. He noted that in five countries, being gay is punishable by death.

The mayor said Vancouver was one of the first jurisdictions to speak out about Russia's anti-gay law ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. He added that Vancouver secured $7-million for a new facility run by advocacy group Qmunity, and created Canada's first permanent rainbow crosswalk on Davie Street.

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"All of that combined really reflects who we are as a city for everyone. We are proud to be a city for everyone, where inclusion is written into our laws and in some places where the streets are even paved with rainbows," he said.

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