Ottawa expands program to support privately sponsored LGBTQ refugees

TORONTO - The federal government is expanding a program offering support to privately sponsored refugees in the LGBTQ community.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership will build on a pilot project launched in 2011.

The program provides start-up costs and three months of support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and two-spirited refugees who are privately sponsored by Canadians.

The initial pilot project offered support to 15 refugees per year, but the government says that number will be raised to 50 starting next year.

The initiative is a partnership between the federal government and the Vancouver-based Rainbow Refugee Society, which applauded what it called Ottawa's "commitment to protecting LGBTQ2 refugees.''

A statement from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says the department is pledging $800,000 over five years to expand the pilot.

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Meantime, Minister Hussen also announcing a separate initiative.  As of June 4th, people who identify as "non-binary" will be able to mark "X" on their passports and citizenship documents.

"I'm very happy to be here, in this special place, to announce that we, the Government of Canada, are making another important step in building a truly inclusive and progressive society. As of June 4th, Canadians applying for passports, immigration and travel documents, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards, will have the choice of selecting X if they do not identify as female or male." 

"It's been a long time coming and it was high time for this to happen. Non-binary people have always been part of our communities. Presenting an identification document that does not accurately reflect one's sex or gender orientation or expression, can trigger stigma, discrimination and sometimes violence."

"As Canadians, we promote and believe strongly that diversity can and is a source of strength and that is why we're taking steps to recognize the diversity of our identities."

And Hussen brought more good news for the LGBTQ community on behalf of the Feds.

"If you want to have your passport changed to X in the place of gender - with the proper paper work - you'll be able to do so for the next 12 months without any additional application fees."

With files from Newstalk1010