“Canada saved my life, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Vaughn GrayI heard murmurings that they were going to beat a batty man – a Jamaican slur for a gay man – after school one day. I didn’t know that I was the target.After the incident, I ran to my principal. He looked at me, grimaced and said, “Get out of my office with your nastiness.” I was 16. I decided then and there that Jamaica would not feature in my happily-ever-after.
Per capita, the Immigration and Refugee Board reports that the highest number of LGBTQ refugees in 2015 came from Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Namibia and Albania.
Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica, and the island nation’s churches extol a puritanical concept of virtue that fuels its ignorant buggery laws. Every Jamaican can easily quote Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”I remember sitting in church and hearing the preacher say, “Everyone can be forgiven, even a child molester. But not a homosexual.” I still detest that man.
There are two types of refugees: a Convention refugee and a Protected Person. Convention refugees have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on their race, religion, political opinions, nationality or membership in a particular social group. Protected people risk torture, unusual punishment or death if they return to their country of birth.
To this day, my family doesn’t know about the process I went through to gain permanent resident status in Canada.I was told I was crazy for not hiring an immigration lawyer. I couldn’t afford one, so I hoped that if I followed the application process to a T, I’d be successful. I remember getting my ex to print upwards of 250 pages of newspaper articles about being gay in Jamaica to be used as supplemental documents in my hearing. I got letters from friends back in Jamaica and Reverend Brent Hawkes of Metropolitan Community Church, where I was a member.
The day of my hearing, I went to the Immigration and Refugee Board wearing my crispest white shirt, armed with copies of all the submitted documents including the jumbo-sized binder containing all those articles. While waiting for my hearing, I overheard a man from Nigeria, Ghana or Kenya (my built-in accent detector sometimes works) pleading his case. I could tell it was not going well. I began to sweat. Profusely. If I was denied, I knew my future in Jamaica might include living deeply closeted or being forced to marry a woman and live a lie.
“My friend Biko Beauttah has also benefited from Canada’s refugee process. She came to Canada from Kenya and requested asylum as a trans woman. We both feel so fortunate to be living in Canada.