Joel’s Story

My involvement with Reaching Out Winnipeg is a little bit different from the typical sponsor-refugee relationship that many of those involved have. I am a Client Services Manager at ChangeMakers Marketing Communications, a socially conscious marketing firm and my team and I now provide marketing and communications support for Reaching Out Winnipeg.

One day I met with my colleague Horst for lunch and he started to tell me a story about how he, his partner and three of their friends were sponsoring a gay refugee from Iran.

Immediately, I realized that the thought that gay people in other countries could be sponsored to come and live in Canada had not even occurred to me. But why not? Canada accepts refugees who are fleeing persecution on so many different grounds, why would someone experiencing harassment or persecution because they are LGBT not be able to seek refuge in Canada?

Horst explained to me that the process is long and uncertain, but exceptionally rewarding when you get to talk to the person whose life you are potentially saving. Horst told me about Malek, who at the time was living in Turkey, some of what Malek had gone through and what was left in the process for him to resettle in Winnipeg.

I was instantly interested in the cause, but unsure of how I would be able to take part. Horst told me about the commitments of being in a Group of Five. I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to commit the time or finances needed. After thinking about how to get involved, it came to me that I could use my professional skills to help raise awareness of the cause and potentially find others that would be able to support, either as part of a Group of Five, financial or in other ways I hadn’t even thought about.

I took the cause to the team at ChangeMakers and we were inspired to help. Since then we have worked with the Reaching Out Winnipeg team to name the program, developed a brand and a communications plan.

I was able to meet with Malek for coffee when he arrive in Winnipeg which was something that reinvigorated my passion for the issue. There are so many things that we take for granted in Canada, and so many barriers that we don’t realize as permanent residents. Having the right to love the person of our choosing regardless of gender and laws in place that protect us from harassment based on orientation and gender identity are things we don’t think about every day. These are the things that Malek and many like him all over the world think about day in and day out.

I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to help potentially improve the life of someone facing this type abuse, even if it is indirect, means so very much to me. If there is someone who is interested in getting involved, I would be happy to share my story with them and think of ways to use their skills to further LGBT refugee resettlement in Winnipeg.