Chapter 6: Grief in LGBTQ+ immigrant and refugee communities

Impact of trauma

I realized that I couldn’t deal with a big city. I felt too stressed, and I was worried that I would become ill.

I don’t want to think about the past, about a time when my family were all killed. I want to focus on the future, but that’s not always easy to do.

The process of leaving your country and moving to another, even if it’s your choice, can be traumatic. If you are a refugee, you may have experienced layers of trauma before and during the time when you left your home.

When you’re living with daily stress, it can be hard to recognize the many losses that you’re grieving. Your life has likely been turned upside down, inside out, and you may no longer recognize it or yourself. You may be living among strangers who don’t know you or what you need, or you may feel stuck living with family or others that reject sexual and gender diversity.

If you’re a refugee, you may have experienced imprisonment, torture, loss of property, malnutrition, physical assault, extreme fear, rape, or loss of livelihood or family members. You may have endured long periods of hardship, including multiple resettlements, separation from family members, or violence. You may feel deeply betrayed by those you once trusted or by others.

You might have had different expectations around community or be facing some of the same challenges you faced in your home country.

Whether you are a LGBTQ+ immigrant or refugee, any of these experiences can be traumatic and leave you with wounds that are hard to heal. If you are a young person who immigrated with your family, you may also be dealing with stress related to whether or not to tell them about your LGBTQ+ identity. Finding support when you’re living in an unfamiliar place can be difficult.

What may help

  • You may find it too painful to think about some of your losses. Some people choose to ignore or hide them, while others need to talk about them. The way you feel about this can change over time. Only you can know what is best for you, but notice how your decision is affecting your mental health and relationships with other people.
  • Give yourself time to begin to rebuild trust in people. There may come a time when you want to ask for help from a trusted friend or an organization that offers services and support to immigrants and refugees.  
  • Learn about the effects of trauma. If you are feeling “stuck” in your grief, reach out to a counsellor that specializes in grief or trauma for additional support.