A conversation about sponsoring and welcoming LGBTQ+ refugees in BC.

Maggie Hosgood smiles at camera.
Maggie Hosgood
Credit: Courtesy of Maggie Hosgood
Published On: May 1, 2024

Jane Thirikwa, United Church Program Coordinator, Global Advocacy 2SLGBTQ1A+, interviews Maggie Hosgood, the regional advisor for the United Church refugee program for BC coast, and coordinator of the Westside Churches Refugee Sponsorship Committee, who speaks to her extensive experience working with United Churches, community groups, and communities to sponsor and welcome LGBTQ+ refugees in British Columbia.

Jane Thirikwa: Can you talk about your involvement in refugee sponsorship in BC, and the partnership between Westside Churches Refugee Sponsorship Committee and Rainbow Refugee, Vancouver?

Maggie Hosgood: The story of how this all started was quite interesting. About 10 years ago, I got together for a farewell lunch with my church’s then-interim minister, who was lesbian, and coincidentally met with two other United Church ministers at the restaurant, one of whom was also gay. We all sat together and in conversation, I learned that the then Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenny, would be coming to British Columbia to meet with LGBTQ+ people and organizations to talk about the government’s commitments to receiving refugees for resettlement to Canada. The lunch turned into a strategy meeting, complete with talking points that we later presented to Jason Kenny at the meeting with the LGBTQ+ communities. This was when I met with Rainbow Refugee for the first time, and we developed a partnership, together with the BC Conference, now the Pacific Mountain Region, and set up a refugee sponsorship program.

I am currently, the regional advisor for the United Church refugee program for BC coast. I am also the coordinator of the Westside Refugee Sponsorship Committee, which is a Westside churches coalition of three United Churches and one Mennonite congregation. We work together to review refugee sponsorship cases that come forward, including those of persons who are LGBTQ+. Each congregation takes turns as the signing constituent congregation. At the moment we have 30 people from various assorted sponsorships whose processing is ongoing.

I have worked with the general community of church sponsors and greatly appreciate the work of Rainbow Refugee, with whom we have collaborated through their Circles of Hope, on sponsoring LGBTQ+ refugees for over 10 years. The Circles of Hope are made up of LGBTQ+ community members and allies. Rainbow Refugee is a Vancouver-based organization that promotes safe, equitable migration for people fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or HIV status.

What has been your experience working with United Churches and communities of faith on LGBTQ+ refugee sponsorship?


I have had extensive experience with community groups and with some United Churches in my region. Most of the United Churches that I know have been quite open to sponsoring refugees who are LGBTQ+, including the four United Churches that are members of the West Side Churches Coalition, including my church, Pacific Spirit. St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church and Trinity Grace United in Vancouver also come to mind. These are some of the churches that I have helped through the process of getting the refugees here and meeting them. I appreciate the updates I get from communities about some of the refugees who have since been happily settled, become active in their LGBTQ+ communities, and are doing very well. In the same breadth, some refugees struggle once they are resettled and they want to feel their way gently on their own, but eventually and gradually, settle and become active members of their respective communities.

There are a lot of support groups in Vancouver for the LGBTQ+ community that are part of a large network that assists people with social services and things like employment and housing, or even logistical or community support that they need for meeting people. I have experienced one really interesting thing, in that, the refugees that I have met are happy to commune with anybody who appreciates them and honors them for who they are as a person. They are happy to make relationships with everybody whom they can trust and whom they feel a kinship with. As they get the more pressing needs out of the way like where they are going to live and work, then they will look more to extending their social and community life after that. The churches also form a safety net in themselves, because of goodwill and hands-on support from people.

LGBTQ+ often get excluded and victimized by their faith communities and churches in their home countries, which cite religious righteousness as their motivation. Unfortunately, some LGBTQ+ refugees who settle in Canada face the same discrimination in some more conservative faith spaces, including in non-metropolitan communities. How can we encourage conservative faith-oriented communities to broaden their perspectives and understanding of the impacts of exclusion based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

We have a lot of small communities that have welcomed a lot of diverse people from all over the world. I think that refugees and even new immigrants who have faced this kind of rejection and trauma from their faith-based communities in their home countries are certainly suspicious when they resettle here. They might be suspicious, but they are glad that the church reached out to sponsor them, and oftentimes, they are willing to give the church a chance if for instance they come to a service and a minister is preaching God's love for all creation. In my experience, a lot of the United Churches out here publicly display that they are affirming churches, and when they explain to people and newcomers what this means, it brings some comfort. If you see a rainbow flag on a church or a trans flag, there is an indication that this will be a safe place for you and you will be welcomed. It has been my experience that they would be welcome. Everybody has equal rights, regardless of having a different sexual orientation or gender identity than the general population. Many churches interpret scripture to mean that God created each one of us. So even if we are LGBTQ+, God created us that way, and we are not loved any less than anybody else. God loves everybody equally. We are all children of God regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, some conservative communities in Canada are heavily influenced by rightist ideologies and beliefs. I do remember that there was one gay couple who were sponsored and settled in an interior community, but about four months later, they opted to leave and come to Vancouver. They did not find a fit in that community. The sponsorship system is set so that the congregation that sponsors initially, is obliged to find another sponsor and pay out the year's support, for the refugees they sponsored, if those people opt to move if it's not working where they are.

What are your insights regarding the changing developments affecting LGBTQ+ refugee claimants and the dynamics of the Canadian refugee sponsorship policy?

There are certainly, systemic problems with the refugee and immigration process in Canada. Statistically, certain marginalized groups are disadvantaged by the system, including LGBTQ+ individuals.

We put in a sponsorship application for a young transgender man in 2021, but they were only able to come to Canada in December 2023. Some of the applications are old and the system is not set up to make the lives of LGBTQ+ people any easier in getting here. As for a lot of the refugee claimants who wait for long periods, sometimes years at refugee camps, or in hiding because of the threats on their lives, my perspective is that the Canadian government might make a recommendation to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), to set up some protections for the claimants, and perhaps review the intake and processing of refugee claims for the more vulnerable groups of people who face existential challenges based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.


The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.