YWCA Toronto’s Blog

We are looking for volunteer writers to contribute feminist content to our blog.
Write about issues close to you and your experiences in our city. Learn more.

At The End of The Rainbow: The challenges of refugee LGBTQ+ women

YWCA Toronto
YWCA Toronto
October 15, 2019
Categories: Advocacy Feminism YWCA Toronto  

By Ruth Mathiang with Wren Pragg

With the 2019 federal election just over a week away, it’s an important time to go beyond the headlines on platform issues. Ruth Mathiang, YWCA Toronto’s December 6th Fund Support Worker, offered some insight into the realities of LGBTQ+ women who come to Canada as refugees. Many of these women come to Toronto, and other major Canadian cities in order to be close to their communities and social services. According to a 2017 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law “there were 2,234 refugee claims based on sexual orientation between 2013 and 2015 – over 12 per cent of all claims during that period…”[1] Housing is a challenge for many Torontonians, and these women have even more barriers to face.

What are some of the unique challenges faced by refugee LGBTQ+ women and girls?


Most of the LGBTQ+ women and girls that seek asylum in Canada are very vulnerable, and leaving their home country comes with great risks. Seeking refugee protection in Canada can cause significant financial costs, physical risks and mental health issues. They may also face great barriers in finding housing, finding decent work, moving out of poverty and many more co-related issues.


Are there barriers to securing housing or shelter space due to a lack of citizenship?


Homeless shelters are available to most that are in need as refugees; however, not all shelters are equally welcoming. Many people who access shelters have felt the fear and experiences discrimination. Because of the uncertainty of their status, some may not be eligible for housing subsidies and are often longer-term residents in emergency shelters without a way to build a meaningful home and life for themselves.


How would the allocation of at least 50% of the Canada Housing Benefit towards women and women-led households help this population?


Housing choices for immigrants are usually based on their economical means and many find themselves living in poverty. The allocation of at least 50% would make it easier for women and girls to access more housing opportunities by providing direct cash transfers to those who qualify.


Have any of the social programs these women and girls rely on recently been cut by any level of government?


With frequent changes to the immigration process and the increasing cost of applications, some refugee claimants feel stuck. The provincial government cuts to the legal aid services for refugees has made it harder to continue accessing legal supports that help them through these processes.


In your professional capacity having worked with women with precarious status, what are some of the issues facing refugees in the upcoming federal election?


There are many immigrant organization groups advocating for the rights of refugees and working to provide information to the governments on the struggles that these women and girls go through. Many of them are wishing for the best and hoping there won’t be any more cuts to their services as they seek asylum and safety.


Are there ways to involve them even if they can’t vote?


Refugee women can join rallies that demand change from our politicians and government. They can also inform Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on how their lives are affected by cuts as they seek asylum. But many refugees remain fearful of returning to their home countries so they refrain from being politically involved, which is definitely an issue.  




Send a message to federal candidates in Toronto, as well as federal party leaders, by signing our petition to fight for an end to gender-based violence and more resources for women’s housing.


See you at the ballot box!

[1] “Pride to survive: Queer refugees look to Toronto for a lifeline”, NOW Magazine, June 19, 2019, https://nowtoronto.com/news/queer-refugees-legal-aid-ontario/