Chapter 6: Grief in LGBTQ+ immigrant and refugee communities

Community and family challenges

Because I am a gay Muslim man, my life now is one where I move back and forth between two very different worlds. There is always fear that I will be discovered and lose my connection with one or both.

My partner and I were “friends” as long as their dad was around. Their dad would have been very much against our relationship if he knew the truth. So we rented an apartment even though we wanted to buy a house together. They were just so worried their dad would ask questions about it, or worse. It was really hard on both of us.

As a LGBTQ+ immigrant or refugee, you may belong to more than one community. You may face new challenges, tensions, or conflicts if you belong to a 2SLGBTQ+ community and to another community of people who share your ethnicity, religion, or heritage.

The ways that you self-identify and are identified by others within different communities may differ, and this can add to your feelings of loss and grief.

Perhaps you self-identify as a lesbian, but in your refugee community, you feel you must present as a heterosexual. Maybe you self-identify as a trans woman of colour, but among other people of your ethnicity, you are identified as a man. Perhaps in your 2SLGBTQ+ community, you self-identify as a gay man, but you feel you must hide your religious background.

It can be challenging to navigate identities that differ from community to community and that differ from your own identity.

Sometimes you might also have to deal with difficulties due to family members who don’t know about or accept your LGBTQ+ identity. You may have little or no control over some situations. Here are some examples:

  • Members of your family come to visit and want to meet your friends.
  • Your family or community doesn’t know that you’re in a LGBTQ+ relationship.
  • Your partner’s parents come from overseas to visit and don’t know who you are.
  • You want to take part in a Pride event but fear being identified and reported to authorities in your home country, who may harm your family members or bar you from visiting.

What may help

  • Having to choose “who you are” as you move between or among communities can be very stressful and confusing. Try to find someone you can share your experiences with, who will help you find ways to cope with difficulties.
  • You may decide to choose one community over the other, but this may bring additional loss and grief. Look for support from friends or an organization that offers services that will meet your needs.
  • If there are conflicts within your family about your LGBTQ+ identity, remember that everyone may be dealing with loss and grief in different ways. Some family members may not be able to handle what may feel like a loss of someone for whom they have had certain hopes, dreams, and expectations. Unfortunately, it may take time for your family to accept this part of you, or they may not accept you as you are. If this is the case and it feels right for you, you may wish to look outside for support.