Although this year's International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia breakfast focussed on LGBT refugees, one of the most emotionally affecting speeches was by one local public figure who isn't LGBT but has been deeply affected by LGBT discrimination.
Andrea Reimer spoke about her experiences she has had in both the political and personal realms. While she is a city councillor, she is also the mother of a transgender child.
"On one level, I am a deputy mayor, and in that role, I feel powerful and fierce, and part of a huge team like Tim [Stevenson] and Patti Bacchus on our school board, and Trevor Loke, our former park commissioner, and all of our elected officials who are fighting and winning big battles to fight transphobia and homophobia," she said. "But I'm also a mother....I have a great kid who I love very much who is a trans child."
Reimer talked about the Vancouver School Board hearings for its update to its 2004 sexual orientation and gender identity policy, held in May 2014, and how her child was the very first speaker at the hearings.
The pain of witnessing the hatred expressed by some of the other speakers against transgender and LGBT people was present in Reimer's voice, as she broke into tears while speaking.
"I have never been more afraid for my child," she said. "I was so [sobbing] angry but God, I was scared. The level of anger and angry, fearful, hating people in that room directing their energy at these kids, these kids are normal kids just trying to be like any teenager trying to find a sense of themselves…There is only one weapon we have against fear, and it is love, and using our voices to give that love a light in our community….I want to thank you for having the courage to wake up this morning and every morning…and publicly express your love to each other and for a strong, loving community."
Reimer, who received a standing ovation, read the official proclamation by the City of Vancouver to declare May 17 as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
The event, presented by Qmunity and Vancity, was held on May 15 at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and emceed by CBC Radio host Stephen Quinn. This year's theme was "A Way Out", about what it means to be a LGBT refugee.
Vancity board of director vice-chair Anita Braha provided a global context to the ongoing discrimination against LGBT people by talknig about how homosexuality is still punishable by imprisonment in 70 countries and by death in five countries (as well as part of two others).
She expressed how fortunate LGBT people are to live in a country like Canada and a city like Vancouver, which celebrates diversity. Yet she also reminded attendees of how tenuous things can be.
"This morning is a wonderful demonstration of what a fantastic community we are and what a fantastic community we have. But if we're silent on what is happening elsewhere in the world, all our efforts will be in vain. Our freedoms and our dignity are the core of our wealth, and they can be taken away with the stroke of a pen, simply by passage of legislation….We must not forget that with our position, with our rights, comes responsibilities. It's our job to fight for and stand with others, to stand with them in their struggle for justice, for equality, and dignity."
Chris Morrissey, the founder of LEGIT (a same-sex immigration lobby group) and Rainbow Refugee, also spoke about the numerous struggles that refugees face in trying to come to Canada.
She also pointed out the discrimination that refugees face in Canada and implored people to talk about refugees in a positive way.
"Unfortunately, in Canada, the word refugee is a dirty word," she said. "I had the experience at Pride at Sunset Beach one year when we were talking about refugees and a person came up and asked me a question about refugees or what we were doing and I said we were supporting queer refugees. 'Oh, they should all just go home.' And that was from someone within our own LGBT community."
Keynote speaker Danny Ramadan illuminated what life is like being an LGBT refugee.
"Have you ever worried about your own safety so much to the point where you pack your bags, abandon your home, and escape the country? Officially, I had to do that once."
Ramadan spoke about his experience of establishing a community of LGBT people in Syria, before leaving the country in 2012. He lived in Lebanon as refugee for two years before coming to Canada.
His need to leave home made him consider what exactly home is.
"I wholeheartedly believe home is just a concept. I was searching for it for the past 13 years and honestly at certain times, I wasn't even sure what I was searching for….It's where you feel accepted, you feel you're part of a community, where you feel comfortable sharing your life with others."
In defining what home is, he quoted Maya Angelou: "The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place we can go as we are, and not be questioned."
In the search for home, he advised attendees that they could play a role in helping LGBT refugees.
"I call upon all of you to channel your support through local NGOs who understand the struggles and the challenges faced by LGBT refugees and design their services with love, care, and respect….Those NGOs deserve your support because they help people like me…not just arrive safely in Canada but also to call Canada home."