Rainbow Refuge Program

We’re here to help LGBTQ+ newcomers and refugees

newcomer centre - rainbow refuge journey

In Canada, we have many rights and legal protection to help us thrive in the LGBTQ+ community, and work continues to improve those freedoms. Around the world however, living your life fully can mean the death penalty.

For those who have the courage to emigrate, they are faced with navigating complicated settlement systems, isolation due to language barriers, lack of culturally-relevant activities and supports within LGBTQ+ community and/or newcomer services, and arrive alone or without family support. Many are not connected or hesitant to come out within their ethnocultural communities, especially if they experienced discrimination back home.

LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers face unique settlement challenges, are often dealing with trauma, and need connection and safe support throughout their settlement journey or asylum process. The need is clear, and what started as a LGBTQ+ community group of volunteers in Edmonton supporting newcomers and refugees then grew into the formalized Newcomer Centre Rainbow Refuge program in 2017 with funding.

Newcomer Centre’s Rainbow Refuge program was the first LGBTQ+ program in Edmonton’s settlement sector and offers culturally relevant, affirming supports in four key areas:

  • Immigration
  • Settlement, employment and mental health
  • Community connection
  • Education and advocacy

Before Newcomer Centre’s Rainbow Refuge program, only 50 to 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ refugee claims were accepted.

  • As of 2021, about 97 per cent of LGBTQ+ refugee claims in Edmonton are accepted.


In other provinces refugee claimants can access support for this complicated process, but in Alberta they are not eligible.  That’s why the Newcomer Centre Rainbow Refuge program helps navigate immigration processes and provide critical information and support for preparing LGBTQ+ refugee claims. At Newcomer Centre, we ensure LGBTQ+ clients can:

  • Safely share their story;
  • Prepare and submit documents properly;
  • Apply for legal aid—though in Alberta legal aid is not funded to support claimants with the preliminary Basis of Claim;
  • Access culturally-competent, experienced therapists who are familiar with the refugee claim process and supportive of LGBTQ+ identified people;
  • Receive guidance in preparation for their hearings; and
  • Attend hearings with Newcomer Centre staff so they are supported as they go through the process.

settlement, employment & mental health

We offer individualized, holistic services with an LGBTQ+ perspective to guide LGBTQ+ newcomers in their settlement process and address their specific needs over several years to reduce the number of times a client has to share their story, prevent them from being bounced around, and to help them navigate community safely, and connect to LGBTQ+ friendly services. We also provide support to:

  • Find safe housing;
  • Access health care – including quick access to hormones for trans clients;
  • Find affirming spiritual communities;
  • Look for gender affirming employers;
  • Address homophobic incidents,
  • Connect clients to therapists who are experienced working with LGBTQ+ individuals and are familiar with immigration processes so they can provide private, personalized, therapeutic support;
  • And so much more.

LGBTQ+ refugee support & welcome network

Navigating the Canadian social systems and understanding the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) process can be overwhelming. The LGBTQ+ Refugee Support & Welcome Network, in partnership with the Pride Centre of Edmonton, is here to help new LGBTQ+ claimants to Canada and guide you through the Basis of Claim process, answer questions, and support you in your settlement journey.

We can assist you to:

  • Prepare for your hearing
  • Find a lawyer
  • Find safe housing
  • Apply for a work permit
  • Apply for health care
  • Meet new friends

community connection: lgbtq+ newcomers group

Many LGBTQ+ newcomers and refugees have faced particularly painful experiences that resulted in having to leave their home countries. They then face new challenges once they are in Canada, especially if they are applying for asylum, which can be a very triggering process. Few people understand their unique experiences and they are often very isolated.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer or Ally?  New to Edmonton? Join us for weekly activities to meet new people, hang out, discuss  issues and learn about local events and resources. We run a LGBTQ+ Newcomers Group started by LGBTQ+ refugees and supported by Canadian community members. This social support group addresses mental health, prevents social isolation by connecting others with similar experiences and provides safe opportunities to explore Edmonton together as a group.

Edmonton’s LGBTQ+ Newcomers Group offers:

  • An environment to develop trusting and supportive relationships and community confidence;
  • An environment to quickly identify and address issues and barriers as they arise;
  • Opportunities for regular social connection to create new positive memories;
  • Local and relevant information about accessing and navigating community and settlement resources; and
  • Support to feel comfortable in their LGBTQ+ identities in the greater local community.

Since the group formed in May 2017 it has grown from six members to more than 200 members!

education & Advocacy

LGBTQ+ newcomers and refugee claimants truly face a unique and specific immigration and settlement journey, and there has been limited information and understanding for service providers on how to best support this population and provide relevant services.

Through the Rainbow Refuge program, Newcomer Centre has played a key role in making concrete changes that better support not only LGBTQ+ newcomers but all newcomers!

We provide training, resources, and consultation to change policies and support external partners and service providers, other settlement organizations, ethno-cultural communities, researchers, and government representatives at all three levels to better support LGBTQ+ newcomers in our community.

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