Creating a space for LGBTQ+ newcomers

Group provides much-needed support and information

Newcomers and members of the LGBTQ+ community have a safe place to connect.

Basel Abou Hamrah, one of the organizers, helped other community members to create the group after he immigrated from Syria and found himself in a unique position.

“I came as a Syrian refugee and was navigating how to come out,” Abou Hamrah explains. “I didn’t feel comfortable going to the Pride Centre because I was afraid other community members would see me.”

While coming out can be challenging no matter where you live, being anything other than heterosexual can actually be dangerous in some countries.

The group meets every Friday and there’s plenty of fun and informative activities. | Talea Medynski

“We help them to become comfortable in their LGBTQ+ identity,” he says. “They may know, but cannot fully express themselves because of persecution. Imagine you live 20 to 30 years, hiding. We help them navigate, become comfortable.”

He explains there wasn’t an appropriate place for LGBTQ+ members who were also newcomers to Canada.

“The Pride Centre wasn’t designed for newcomers,” he says. What was needed was a neutral space, away from LGBTQ+ serving communities and newcomer agencies. “LGBTQ+ newcomers often experience isolation, language barriers, and lack of services within the LGBTQ+ community and newcomer services.”

In May 2017, Abou Hamrah helped to fill that much-needed space by creating a group. It’s a community-based initiative providing social and settlement information and support to LGBTQ+ members, and it’s partnered with EMCN and the Pride Centre of Edmonton.

“We’re supported by lots of community members and small funds from REACH,” he says.

In just two years since its creation, the group has grown to over 75 members, with 15-25 members meeting regularly.

“We are celebrating our second birthday,” he says happily. “It has been successful. We meet every Friday, including holidays.”

The group is important because it provides people with the opportunity to socialize regularly and build social connections and community confidence. It’s also a space where people can raise and address issues that may be troubling them.

While the group provides newcomers with a supportive community, they also provide practical advice for living in Edmonton. And there’s plenty of different activities members can participate in, like group discussions, cooking classes, art nights, improv, movie nights, holiday events, information sessions, trips to festivals, sharing self-care tips, and more.

Abou Hamrah has this to say to newcomers and LGBTQ+ members: “You are not alone. We formed this community, so come and join us and together we’ll be stronger.”

Email bhamrah@emcn.ab.ca for information on where and when to meet.


Featured Image: EMCN’s LGBTQ+ group is celebrating its second birthday. | Talea Medynski

Talea Medynski

Talea is the Rat Creek Press editor. She loves sharing the stories of our diverse neighbourhoods.

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