Abstract: Exploring LGBT Refugees' Experiences with Organizations and Institutions in Austria and the Netherlands (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Exploring LGBT Refugees' Experiences with Organizations and Institutions in Austria and the Netherlands

Friday, January 18, 2019: 9:30 AM
Golden Gate 7, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Edward Alessi, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sara Kahn, Assistant Professor, McGill University, QC
In the last few years, the European Union has accepted more than one million refugees
from the Middle East and other Islamic societies. Whereas all refugees require at least
some assistance from organizations to facilitate their integration into host societies,
LGBT refugees, often banished from their families and communities, must rely
completely on organizations for support. Because little is known about the role
organizations play in facilitating integration for LGBT refugees, this study explored their
interactions with organization in Austria and the Netherlands, two countries that have
accepted among the largest numbers of refugees in the European Union.

Purposive sampling was used to recruit 38 participants from one organization in Vienna
(n = 19) and another in Amsterdam (n = 19). Participants were between 18 and 53 years
old (M = 30.26; SD = 6.96), identified as Syrian (n = 10), Iranian (n = 7), Iraqi (n = 5),
Lebanese (n = 4), Egyptian (n = 3), Pakistani (n = 3), Jordanian (n = 2), Chechen (n =1),
Palestinian (n =1), Somali (n = 1), and Tajik (n = 1). They identified as gay (n = 24),
lesbian (n = 3), bisexual (n = 3), transgender male (n = 1), transgender female (n = 5),
and queer or gender nonconforming (n = 2). The majority (89.5%) were raised Muslim,
with 10.5% raised Christian or Druze. We also interviewed service providers and
volunteers (n=5) affiliated with the two community organizations for data triangulation.
Interviews elicited participants’ experiences interacting with representatives of
government and grassroots organizations. Interviews, transcribed verbatim from audio
recordings, were analyzed according to the principles of thematic analysis (Braun &
Clarke, 2006). Strategies for rigour included negative case analysis, peer debriefing,
member checking, and keeping an audit trail (Padgett 2008).

Participants recounted complex experiences of engagement with organizations in
resettlement. Participants reported that LGBT refugee organizations and their
representatives could foster a sense of belonging and serve as family proxies. However,
others described that interactions with such organizations led to feelings of loneliness and
suspicion. Mainstream refugee organizations also connected participants with vital
resources (e.g., language classes); however, participants recounted experiences of
discrimination by other refugees while accessing these services. Furthermore, while
organizations advocated for safe housing, LGBT refugees were still at risk of being
exploited by mainstream community members who offered housing in exchange for
sexual favours.

Conclusions and Implications:
Local grassroots organizations filled an essential role for LGBT refugees in the European
Union; however, such organizations and their representatives are limited by the scope of
their services. Ultimately, such organizations cannot protect LGBT refugees from
discrimination and exploitation when accessing mainstream refugee resettlement
services. Thus, funds should be made available to expand the services of LGBT refugee
organizations to include, for example, language classes and temporary shelter.
Additionally, these organizations may provide rights-based training for LGBT refugees to
promote empowerment and self-advocacy. Finally, personnel providing mainstream
resettlement services should receive specialized training to prepare them to respond to the
unique needs of LGBT individuals.