Gender-based violence among migrant LGBTQ+ populations in Canada: A systematic review

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About the project

Relative to the general population, members of LGBTQ+ communities experience disproportionately higher rates of violence, stigma and discrimination. When sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) are considered in the context of racialization and migration, even greater rates of violence can be seen. It is therefore crucial to explore how violence at the intersections between sexuality, gender identity, race, ethnicity and age manifests among migrants who identify as LGBTQ+. Although a large body of literature exists, there is limited synthesis about the experiences of SGBV among LGBTQ+ individuals with a migration background in Canada, particularly among young people.

In response to this gap, this systematic literature review (n=18) explored young LGBTQ+ migrants’ experiences with SGBV in Canada. In particular, this review intended to gain a deeper understanding of how such experiences may be influenced by power imbalances at the interpersonal and structural levels, and the extent to which existing resources, supports and services are meeting the rights and needs of LGBTQ+ migrant youth. With an overarching focus on narratives of resilience and agency in young LGBTQ+ migrants’ ways of coping, surviving and resisting SGBV, this research provides strengths and evidence-based insights for policymakers, researchers and frontline social service workers to guide practice and policy affecting LGBTQ+ migrants in Canada.

Key findings

  • Reasons for Migration: LGBTQ+ migrants reported a variety of complex reasons for being forced out of their countries of origin and for selecting Canada as their destination. While migration was predominantly used as a safety-seeking strategy, LGBTQ+ migrants experienced discrimination based on heterosexism, racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia at the individual (e.g., in personal relationships) and/or structural level (e.g., within migration/asylum-seeking processes) upon settling in Canada. Experiences of discrimination were also evident within LGBTQ+ and/or diasporic communities in Canada.
  • Discrimination Post-migration: Post-migration, LGBTQ+ migrants’ experiences of discrimination undermined their individual physical and mental wellbeing, as well as their right to receive quality and equitable care when accessing health and social services. Discrimination resulting from LGBTQ+ migrants’ intersecting (in)visible identity markers also contributed to challenges in obtaining secure housing and employment, as well as feelings of isolation resulting in reduced social capital and agency.
  • Social Networks of Support: As a response to LGBTQ+ migrants’ experiences of discrimination, they actively sought to build informal social networks of support with ‘allies’ who shared elements of their intersecting identities in terms of sexuality, ethnicity or migration background. These networks represented ‘safe spaces’ and opportunities for LGTBQ+ migrants to exercise agency and enhance their reduced sense of social capital in Canadian communities. Further, depending on the context, LGBTQ migrants strategically disclosed (or abstained from disclosing) their personal stories to strengthen their sense of belonging and prevent further stigma and alienation.
  • Youth Perspectives: The perspectives of youth LGBTQ+ migrants with SGBV in a Canadian context are predominantly absent from literature. Seven studies incorporated the perspectives of individuals below 24 years of age in addition to exploring the experiences of adults (up to age 59). Only one study focused exclusively on LGBTQ+ youth (aged 14-29) with a migration background. Further, among studies focused on interpersonal forms violence, none addressed the experiences of LGBTQ+ migrant youth within the family or home environment.

Policy implications

  • Policy and intervention developments must incorporate an intersectional approach to account for the unique forms of oppression LGBTQ+ newcomers may experience within LGBTQ+, diasporic and/or broader Canadian communities.
  • More research involving LGBTQ+ youth migrants can shed light on their unique experiences and needs. It would be beneficial to have greater engagement of youth in decision-making and development of pertinent policies, in addition to them being represented in them.
  • Social- and health-based services should prioritize the implementation of culturally safe and trauma- and violence-informed approaches to better serve LGBTQ+ migrants. These approaches should be grounded in LGBTQ+ migrant experiences to destigmatize interactions with service providers and promote better client experiences, satisfaction and trust.
  • The process of assessing the legitimacy of refugee or asylum-seeking status claims on the grounds of SGBV should recognize the complexity and diversity of sexual and gender expression among LGBTQ+ migrants. LGBTQ+ claimants should not be coerced to conform to locally bound norms of LGBTQ+ identity expression or expected to recount past traumatic experiences in the absence of emotional safety. In Canadian immigration, refugee and citizenship procedures, special arrangements should be made to protect refugees from lengthy and trauma-inducing experiences.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Dr. Doris Kakuru, Principal Investigator, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, BC:

Dr. Laura Wright, Co-Investigator, Lecturer Childhood Studies, Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh, UK:

Dr. Julia Sinclair-Palm, Co-Investigator, The Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON:

Dr. Amarens Matthiesen, Graduate Research Assistant, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, BC:

Andrés E. Montiel, Graduate Research Assistant, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, BC:

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