Just off the Highway 401 in Burlington, Ont., Lex Miller and his partner Ralanda Mitchell live on the third floor of a Holiday Inn in an industrial part of the city, each day waking up with a sense of anxiety. It’s their fourth home in less than five months since coming to Canada from the Bahamas, where they escaped a life marked by persecution and intimidation from landlords, co-workers and even family members.
They are among the thousands of refugees bouncing around between temporary living situations which have become a hallmark of Canada’s response to the influx of refugees. And it’s creating a life filled with uncertainty.
Miller and Ralanda, a transgender woman, met in 2016 in Freeport and he quickly proposed to her, but they were not allowed to marry as same-sex marriage is illegal in the Bahamas. The country may have a reputation as a tropical destination, but it’s also known for homophobic violence and discrimination, Miller says. The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association has called for hate crime laws following increased attacks on LGBTQ members.
“You have situations where you can be walking in the street in your own community and people can taunt you, throw rocks at you, beat you up,” Miller said. “As a gay person that’s a Bahamian … it’s not as sweet and nice as it appears.”
The couple decided to leave the country for Canada after their home was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew and following a series of violent murders of gay men and LGBTQ activists in the country, many of which were never solved.
They managed to leave the Bahamas, but they are now among the wave of asylum seekers caught in a battle between municipal, provincial and federal governments over housing, medical and social costs.
In Toronto, Miller along with some 600 refugee claimants, including families and children, have been moved around from the city’s shelter systems to dorms at Humber and Centennial College and now to federally-funded hotels in Mississauga, Markham, Etobicoke and other cities in the GTA.
Miller and Ralanda arrived in Canada last May at Pearson International Airport before heading to Toronto’s Church-Wellesley village — the heart of the city’s LGBTQ community. But while they found acceptance, the couple was again faced with homophobia. At a shelter in Scarborough, they were accosted by several men yelling the word “faggot” and in one case, they were propositioned for sex, Miller said. They eventually moved to the George Street respite facility.