Struggles of Edmonton LGBTQ refugees explored in new documentary

A new documentary chronicles the struggles and triumphs of LGBTQ refugees in Edmonton.

'The story doesn't end when they leave their home countries'

Adebayo Katiiti came up with the idea to make a documentary about the struggles that LGBTQ refugees face in Canada. (A Long Road to Peace)

A new documentary chronicles the struggles and triumphs of LGBTQ refugees in Edmonton.

A Long Road to Peace, directed and produced by local filmmaker Katie Cutting, chronicles the stories of nine refugees who have made their home in Alberta's capital.

The film was spearheaded by Adebayo Katiiti, a transgender swimmer and advocate who claimed asylum in Edmonton in 2016, fearing further persecution in his home country of Uganda.

Katiiti is among a growing number of LGBTQ people seeking asylum in Canada, especially vulnerable refugees who aren't always getting the help they need.

"I realized that the support received is not the type of support that LGBTQ refugees usually receive," Katiiti said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"I realized we should have a call to actually help them by sharing their stories."

'I couldn't go back home'

Deportation is a dangerous prospect for LGBTQ refugees, Katiiti said.

Sexual and gender minorities often face imprisonment and violence in their home countries. But not all of them know how to navigate the system, and they're falling through the cracks, said Katiiti. 

"I realized a number of them were coming in [to Canada] and some of them, their refugee claims were denied," he said.

"And some of them, they're actually on the line for being deported because they actually didn't receive the support they needed."
Adebayo Katiiti came to Canada to compete in an international LGBTQ swimming competition. (Rick Bremness/CBC )

Katiiti arrived in Canada in August 2016 for the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championship, which was held in Edmonton.

Only days before his trip, Katiiti had been jailed in for "promoting homosexuality" after police raided a gay pride event, arresting more than 20 people.

In Uganda, homosexuality is illegal under a colonial-era law that prohibits sex acts "against the order of nature."

"After the police raided a gay pride event back home, people were treated very badly. I was personally targeted, being a transgender man. I was undressed to check if I was a man or a woman by the Ugandan police.

"I couldn't go back home. I decided to stay here."

'There have been struggles'

Katiiti claimed asylum in Canada, hoping to make Edmonton his permanent home. He was granted refugee status and is now considered protected person in Canada.

It hasn't been easy, but Katiiti considers himself lucky. He's found work, housing and a strong support system.

"It's been great but not perfect," he said. "There have been struggles … but the friends I made everything easier for me."

Katiiti and Cutting met through mutual friends in the summer of 2017 and have been working on the film ever since, meeting with asylum-seekers and immigration experts across the province.

Cutting hopes the documentary helps raise awareness about the unique set of challenges LGBTQ refugees face, and service gaps in the immigration process. 

"The story doesn't end when they leave their home countries," she said. "The story continues."

A Long Road to Peace premieres at Metro Cinema at 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission by donation.