Coming Out Under the Gun: Exploring the Psychological Dimensions of Seeking Refugee Status for LGBT Claimants in Canada

Author(s): Sarilee KAHN, Edward J. ALESSI


Over the past decade, human rights activists have documented the increase in refugee claims related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Refugee claims processes have been found to result in negative psychological consequences for claimants in general; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals have the added burden of ‘proving’ that they are members of a sexual or gender minority group. Despite this unique requirement, research on the psychological impact of the refugee claim for LGBT individuals is scarce. To investigate the issue, this grounded theory study explored the perspectives of 22 providers of services to LGBT forced migrants (attorneys, mental health providers and advocates), supplemented by interviews with seven LGBT forced migrants. The findings suggest that early disclosure of sexual violence, compressed timelines for filing a refugee claim and coming out before they are ready contribute to mental health crises and identity confusion for LGBT claimants. The discussion concludes with recommendations for policy and practice.

Tags: Canada, Refugees, Asylum seekers, LGBT, Sexual violence, Gender, Asylum process

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