Calgary-based activist says LGBT refugees struggle to heal, prove persecution

One of the organizers of Serbia's much-protested LGBT pride parade has moved to Calgary, and is now speaking out about the difficulties refugees face proving their cases.

Serbian refugee says he was 'ironically lucky' to have more than 1,000 pages of evidence

Riot police gather as a gay pride parade moves along a street in Belgrade, Serbia. (Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press)

One of the organizers of Serbia's much-protested LGBT pride parade has moved to Calgary, and is now speaking out about the difficulties refugees face proving their cases.

Boban Stojanovic escaped to Canada from Belgrade, Serbia, last year with his partner, after he was attacked in the middle of the city mid-day. Despite recognizing his attackers, he says Serbian police failed to investigate and bring them to justice.

"That was like last straw and I decided, OK, I will leave," Stojanovic told The Calgary Eyeopener on Monday morning.

Listen to Stojanovic's full interview about anti-gay persecution in Serbia:

His multiple complaints to police — none of which were solved — helped prove his refugee claim, that he was being persecuted in Serbia due to his sexual orientation.

"I was lucky, ironically lucky, because my claim was accepted based on 23 pages of unsolved cases and almost 1,000 pages of evidence," Stojanovic said.

Boban Stojanovic worked for years in Belgrade, Serbia, to further rights for persecuted LGBT people in his country. Now he is helping fellow refugees in Calgary. (Rachel Ward/CBC)

"I was activist, I was visible, I was present in media, and everything that's happened to me, it was like public," he said.

"But so many people don't have this experience, so for them, it's still to be quite hard."

'Can't imagine'

Stojanovic helped organize the city's pride parade, which from 2009 to 2014 was banned by the government.

"I think that people in Canada can't imagine the situation that Canadian government ban pride," he said.

Since re-allowing it, the parade drew heavy police presence as protection against violent anti-LGBT protests. Stojanovic and fellow activists faced violence and threats as a result of their work — and for simply trying to survive.

Proving you're gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual, and that you're being persecuted as a result, can be incredibly challenging, especially because showing you are can get you killed in many countries, he said.

'Need some time for healing'

Many LGBT refugees couldn't do public activism or even have a relationship in their home countries. So paperwork or even testimonies about that discrimination can be next to impossible to collect.

"I think that when we came here ... we need some time for healing," Stojanovic said. "It's also huge challenge how to survive and how to have this time for healing."

Serbian riot police guard Serbia's gay pride march in Belgrade in June. Serbia's first openly gay and female prime minister Ana Brnabic marched in it. (Darko Vojinovic/The Associated Press)

Earlier this year, new guidelines were put in place by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada to ban "graphic questions" about sexual acts, among other topics considered inappropriate and trivializing.

Stojanovic is speaking at the Prairie and Northwest Territories LGBTQ+ Newcomers Settlement Conference, taking place on Monday and Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Calgary.

He'll be sharing his experience and speaking more about the challenges LGBT refugees face when landing in Canada and applying for protection.

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener