EXPLORING GENDER AND SEXUALITY THROUGH THE LENS OF INTERSECTIONALITY: Sexual Minority Refugees in Canada

By Brotman, Shari; Lee, Edward Ou Jin | Canadian Social Work Review, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

EXPLORING GENDER AND SEXUALITY THROUGH THE LENS OF INTERSECTIONALITY: Sexual Minority Refugees in Canada


Brotman, Shari, Lee, Edward Ou Jin, Canadian Social Work Review


DURING THE PAST decade, scholarship on the lived experiences of sexual minorities in Canada has increasingly shifted from the margins into mainstream social work pedagogy and practice. A number of social work scholars have introduced an examination into the ways in which structural forms of oppression (heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism) have shaped the lived experiences and identities of sexual minorities in Canada and the ways in which individuals and communities have resisted oppressive circumstances. These critical frameworks focusing upon the categories of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation have revealed the multiple and complex ways in which dominant cultural and social forces influence the everyday realities of sexual minorities and have, in turn, been translated into tools for anti-oppressive social work education, research and practice.

Our work with queer and trans refugee communities, through a research project entitled Speak Out! (Brotman & Lee, 2011), explored trajectories of migration and experiences of the refugee determination process and settlement for refugees who occupy the intersections of sexual, gender and racialized identities. The goal was to gain better understanding of the experiences of sexual minority refugees currently living in Toronto and Montreal. Undertaken within a community-based, qualitative research approach, this project sought to generate new knowledge that would support current and future refugee initiatives in Canada and contribute to the development of adapted research, policy and practice within mainstream, ethno-racial, refugee and queer organizations. We also hope that it will contribute to critical intersectional studies within the context of Canadian social work.

Over the course of three years (2007-2010), our project gathered experiences from two distinct yet at times inter-related cohorts: refugees themselves and those who work with refugees within advocacy initiatives and settlement programs. Twenty-eight people in total were interviewed: 20 refugees, six refugee support workers or advocates, and two who were members of both groups. Our research process included a strong emphasis on community collaboration and partnership. Approximately 15 individuals, representing legal, social, political advocacy and direct practice spheres, including refugees, participated on an advisory committee to oversee the project, to provide support and recommendations regarding research design and process, to support outreach and recruitment and to engage in knowledge exchange and activism across a variety of contexts.

Our strategic employment of varying sexual and gender identity labels throughout this discussion has been informed both by existing scholarship and by the ways in which the participants of our study denned themselves. By shifting among all of these labels, we call attention to the significant limitations of current Western labels in capturing the complex ways in which the participants in our study understood and expressed their sexual and gender identities (Can tu, 2009).

Intersectionality and sexual minority refugees

The interconnections among historical, social, economic, political, structural, cultural and psychological dimensions of migration and sexuality reveal how the Canadian refugee regime organizes the everyday realities of sexual minority refugees. While these policies and practices structure the lives of all asylum-seekers, our findings have identified unique aspects of how refugee subjectivity is constructed among sexual minorities. Examining the particular burdens placed upon sexual minority refugees provides an opportunity for understanding the role of political and structural forms of intersectionality in over-determining their material realities throughout the refugee process. In addition, intersectionality mediated their experiences of heteronormative and cisnormative refugee policies and practices. …

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