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If I Only Knew: Queer Refugee Youth in Toronto

The traveling exhibit, "If I Only Knew," is the result of several workshops on writing and photography and is a collaborative effort between EXPRESS, run by Suhail Abual Sameed, and "Mapping Memories" (Winter, 2008).

The youth artists of this exhibit have been in Canada for anywhere from three months to five years. What they have in common is a shared experience of being forced to leave their homes (Turkey, Pakistan and Mexico) as a result of persecution based on their sexual preference. Most of them are still waiting for a final decision from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to know if they will be staying, and if they will be permitted to make a "new beginning" in Canada. Each of these artists have grappled with a Personal Information Form or the difficult questions of an immigration officer: “but how can you prove to me that you are gay?” This process is especially precarious for claimants given that Canadian immigration officers have no guidelines or training on sexual orientation. This project is a way to give these youth a voice outside of the immigration office or the Personal Information Form.

The participating youth in this exhibit found each other in Toronto through a unique program at SOY (Supporting our Youth) serving queer newcomers, immigrants and refugee youth. This program, EXPRESS, is one of a kind in Canada and is often the first support queer refugees find in Toronto. Having benefited from being a part of EXPRESS the youth involved were interested in reaching out to other queer refugees, newcomers, immigrants in Canada who have not found the same kind of support.

Exhibitions include: City Hall in Toronto, a month long exhibit at Sherbrooke Community Health Centre in Toronto, UQAM gallery in Montreal in coordination with a public presentation at Ethnoculture, and the ARTWHERK art exhibition in Toronto.

The project won the prestigious Youth Line Award, Toronto, 2008.

A ten-minute reflective video on the process accompanies the exhibit.