A walk-a-thon on the weekend was full of colour, laughter, and fun and frivolity. But speeches from the organizers became very emotional, revealing the gravity of the life-or-death situations that LGBT refugees, for whom the fundraising efforts were organized, face around the world.
The Foundation of Hope, which supports charities that work with LGBT refugees, held their Strut fundraising walk on June 6 at noon at Sunset Beach.
Participants showed up in a range of outfits, from the every day to the outrageous, and all were encouraged to wear heels, both male and female. As their slogan stated, "A mile in heels is easier than a lifetime in the closet".
Board member Carl Meadows, who helped organize the event, reminded attendees about who the day was really about.
"I am not the hero," Meadows said to the assembled participants, before his voice broke with emotion. "The heroes are the people who actually have to leave their countries, and the people who have come here and actually given their entire lives, their families, in coming here."
When Gambian media picked up local Vancouver coverage about Strut participant Moe Lamine Sonko, originally from Gambia, Sonko was inundated with 192 hate-filled Facebook messages.
Although Sonko was initially affected by the response, he resolved not to remain silent.
"I decided to put my face up and speak about homosexuality especially when Gambian media picked it up and talked about because at least they are talking about it," he said. "If I can change one kid's life…who felt the things I was feeling, if I can make them feel comfortable in their own skin, then I will not shut up. Because to me, being comfortable in your own skin and being proud of a [being] gay man is where it all starts."
Another speaker, Zdravko Cimbaljevic, a local LGBT refugee who has become a prominent activist, had to leave his native Montenegro after becoming the first publicly out gay man because he was receiving death threats.
"We are not here to abuse the system," Cimbaljevic said to the crowd, his voice becoming shaky. "We are here to escape for our life and find our future. We are not here to make you feel bad, or less important, or 'Oh my God, we're bringing these people with problems'. No, we are coming here to offer you something."
After the speeches, the procession marched one mile along the seawall from Sunset Beach to circle the Inukshuk near English Bay, then turning back to the starting point.
In addition to raise awareness about LGBT refugees in Canada, the event raised $43,331. (For more images from the event, click on the photo at the top to view a photo gallery.)