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Calgary refugee newcomers’ stories told at 10th anniversary of the Coming Out Monologues YYC

In August 2016, Boban Stojanovic was attacked in the middle of the street in broad daylight back in his home country of Serbia.

Despite several witnesses, no one came to his aid.

Stojanovic is a member of the LGBT community and was a Pride organizer in Serbia, and he was routinely attacked physically and verbally and he felt he’d become a target for different extremist groups.

At least twice his ground floor apartment was vandalized; windows were smashed and burned, and a swastika was painted on his wall.  Stojanovic said his claims were dismissed by Serbian authorities and no one was ever brought to justice.

“I felt completely unprotected. Because of everything that I experienced previously, a lot of physical, verbal attacks, threats on email and social media,” he said.

“Zero of those cases were solved and that’s why I decided to move somewhere else.”

Stojanovic now lives in Calgary and works at the Centre for Newcomers helping others in the LGBTQ community settle in Canada.  He’ll be telling his story at the 10th anniversary of Calgary’s Coming Out Monologues.

It’s a partnership that’s been struck between The Calgary Queer Arts Society and The Centre for Newcomers to provide a conduit for recent immigrants to share their coming out stories and begin making inroads in their new surroundings.

Of the 17 monologues being shared in this year’s event, five will be from LGBTQ+ refugee newcomers, according to James Demers, Calgary Queer Arts Society executive director.

“Coming out is a very North American LGBT-community-centric idea. In places like Kenya, Uganda or Iran, coming out is not an option. Here, they have that sense of arrival,” Demers said.

“People who have left their countries (due to LGBTQ persecution) have terrifying stories. They experienced a resistance to their authenticity in a way that I think most LGBT people in North American can’t even fathom.”

Some of the newcomers’ stories are being told by video, where their identities are kept concealed. This protects them from potential “social consequence” in their ethnic community here in Canada, where being LGBTQ is still frowned upon.

“It’s complicated, but really important that they’re protected. But equally important they are heard,” said Demers.

Stojanovic said for that reason, LGBTQ refugee immigrants face an uphill battle integrating into their new home and it’s important for Calgarians to hear their struggles.

“Especially for local context – very important for people here to know, the integration is hard for us. Most are alone. What we learn from clients is that most of them don’t want to be connected with their ethnic or religious communities. It makes things even harder,” he said.  

“You’re a newcomer, comfortable with your own languages, culture. In this case it’s a little bit tricky because some ethnic groups that live here still have homophobic attitudes with newcomers, especially refugees and refugee claimants.”

The refugee stories are one of the new aspects Demers said he’s seen since first telling his story 10 years ago.

“What has changed about the stories is there is different and more diverse representation now,” he said.

“The interesting thing about the stories is they’re extremely relatable – even if it’s not necessarily your identity or your specific experience there’s a lot of the feeling nervous and finding community and the what ifs – those are important.”

Along with the diverse stories, the past decade has brought about a change in attitudes in Calgary towards members of the LGBTQ community. Demers said that even their venue change – from being “hidden away in a back room at the U of C” to producing the event at the new Central Library – is a sign of more accepting times.

“I think what really changed in Calgary is we started finding opportunities to be visible and the general public became interested,” Demers said.

“It means that instead of gay people or queer people being ‘those people’ who we’re fighting  – now they’re their grandkids, now they’re their friends and partners and family members and co-workers.

“It’s more sharing our stories as a gesture of community rather than a fight. It’s not the same.”

 The 10th anniversary edition of the Coming Out Monologue, YYC takes place at the new Central Library from March 20 to 23.