Group seeks to rescue persecuted homosexuals

Sponsors needed to help refugees escape death


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David Pepper and other gay folks his age spent the last 25 years winning the right to be treated equally, to marry and to live in peace in Canada.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2011 (4137 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

David Pepper and other gay folks his age spent the last 25 years winning the right to be treated equally, to marry and to live in peace in Canada.

Now they’re trying to rescue people persecuted for their sexual orientation around the world.

This week in Winnipeg, Pepper launched the North Star Triangle Project to encourage groups of five to sponsor refugees who’ve had to flee their country because of their homosexuality.

JOHN.WOODS@FREEPRESS.MB.CA David Pepper has taken a year off from work to get the word out about gays and lesbians without a safe country to call home.

“Winnipeg’s an immigrant city,” said the Ottawa man, who grew up in Brandon. He chose Winnipeg to start spreading his message across Canada. “It has a proud record of settlement,” he said. “It’s going to be home to the museum for human rights. Where better to start than here, symbolically?”

Pepper’s taken a year off from his civilian position with the Ottawa police to get the word out about the plight of gays and lesbians without a safe country to call home.

“I don’t want to raise money, I want to raise awareness.” He’s taken to heart a challenge Immigration Minister Jason Kenney issued to the GLBT community to sponsor refugees. Pepper’s group of five is sponsoring a gay woman from Colombia, and he’s trying to get more groups across Canada reaching out.

“Their plight is not well known,” said Winnipegger Mark Rabnett, whose group of five has already started the process to sponsor a young gay man from Iran who took refuge in Turkey.

“There are many, many countries with severe legal restrictions on homosexuality,” said Rabnett. “There are seven countries where it is a capital crime, Iran being one of them.”

Despite what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says, there are gays and lesbians in Iran — as many as anywhere else. But they’re in a lot more danger. “Unlike ordinary refugees, they’re often threatened by their own families. They can’t get any support,” said Rabnett. If they have family in Canada, they may not be welcomed here. “Their families may seek to harm them,” he said.

Rabnett’s group of five is prepared to put up the estimated $12,000 to $14,000 it will cost to support their recipient for a year.

“The hard part is choosing somebody,” he said. “How can you possibly choose someone over someone else when they’re all facing the threat of death?” asked Rabnett. They chose a young, educated man who is willing to learn English, has a lot of determination and could live a long and productive life in Canada. He’s staying in a small city in Turkey, and not allowed to work or leave the area.

“We don’t know precisely how he’s surviving,” said Rabnett. His fate rests in the hands of one of the staff at the Canadian Embassy in Istanbul, said Rabnett. Lives are at stake in many places, he said.

“People are under the threat of death in many countries like Uganda, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.” Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, with punishments of 14 years in prison.

In Uganda, gay rights activist David Kato was killed in January after he sued a local newspaper that outed him and others as homosexuals under the headline “Hang them.”

But anyone who flees Uganda — or 17 other neighbouring African countries — to seek refuge in Canada has to go to Canada’s embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The embassy has a four-year backlog of 9,000 cases, said Pepper.

He challenged Kenney to get the sponsorships for all refugees moving more quickly so they can get to Canada before it’s too late.

The president of the Ugandan community in Manitoba said the homophobia in his former home is the result of extreme fundamentalist Muslims and Christians.

“In parliament, they wanted to pass a law killing anyone proven to be homosexual,” said Hamza Mbabaali. American evangelicals have stoked the homophobic flames in Uganda. “They have a lot of influence.”

Here in Winnipeg, it’s different, he said. If a group sponsored a gay person from Uganda, local Ugandans wouldn’t shun them for their sexual orientation.

For more information see Pepper’s blog at

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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