At any given point around one per cent of the world’s population is displaced from their homes – on the U.N.’s count, about 80 million people.
Millions of those people are from the LGBT+ community, and many of them come from countries where being queer is punishable by law.
The co-founder and president of the Rainbow Foundation of Hope (RFOH) – Elk Valley born-and-raised Chad Wilkinson – explained that this meant people who were in danger at home were in even more danger when displaced.
“There is persecution for lots of reasons, but then you have a vulnerable population within a community of refugees,” he said.
“If you’re a queer refugee, especially considering what culture you’re a part of, you’re even more vulnerable.”
RFOH was founded as a means to help address this issue, with the foundation finding its roots in the successful efforts to settle two gay Syrian refugees in Canada in 2014. It’s mission today is to facilitate the safe migration of LGBT+ people to Canada, so they can live freely and in safety. Since its launch, the volunteer foundation has succesfully helped settle more than 30 LGBT+ refugees in Canada, and that’s not counting the others helped through collaborations with other Canadian charities.
Wilkinson, who grew up in and around the Elk Valley said that growing up, he didn’t have the best experience as an LGBT+ youth, but things were very different in 2020.
“The general view of queer people in the Elk Valley was not one of acceptance or inclusion when I was growing up there,” he said, adding that he didn’t know a single person that was openly gay when he was in high-school.
“I devoted my career to the environment, I became a biologist and focused on ecology and environmental causes, and wasn’t much of an advocate for our community until I got to the point where I had this opportunity to be able to consciously, with full awareness say this was something I am a part of, and I know what its like to have to live in fear and hide.”
Though he hasn’t lived in the Elk Valley for years, Wilkinson said that things were a lot more progressive now.
“I think the fact that Fernie has a pride society as well is very progressive – without question it has improved.”
Wilkinson said while the LGBT+ community was safe and accepted in Canada, “it’s definitely still a serious issue for the rest of the planet,” and there was a need to help LGBT+ refugees around the world. “And if you want to do something but didn’t know where to begin, or how you could potentially participate, there are many ways to volunteer,” he said.
Given the pandemic and the cancellation of many public fundraisers, donations are more than welcome.
“Because we couldn’t hold (events) now we’re in a crisis, along with all our national partners who are facing the same thing. So if it was ever more important to be able to contribute to the cause, now is the time.”
Elk Valley residents will have the chance to learn about the work carried out by the Rainbow Foundation of Hope during the Fernie and Elk Valley Pride Festival later this month at a free event on Friday, Sep. 25 at the Seniors Centre.
For more information, visit the Fernie Pride Society website.