Aug. 29, 2023

UCalgary researcher aims to improve intersectional experiences of LGBTQ2S+ newcomers to Canada

Werklund scholar Tonya Callaghan explores challenges and gaps in settlement services
UCalgary parade walkers carrying the LGBTQ+ flag
Jae Kyun Im

Like a fish out of water, LGBTQ2S+ activist Sarah Hegazi struggled to continue her life as she once knew it.  

After escaping Cairo and seeking refuge in Toronto in 2018, Hegazi still couldn’t escape the trauma that silently followed her imprisonment in Egypt for proudly raising a Pride flag at a music festival. For Hegazi, life in Canada did not feel like a haven, but a space haunted by nightmares and insurmountable pain. She died by suicide in 2020.  

Now, the question remains: Did her new community in Canada do enough to help her?  

This question is exactly what Dr. Tonya Callaghan, PhD, intends to explore in their research partnership with Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers (CFN). The story of Hegazi, a woman who made no mistakes and yet was failed by the services implemented to help, struck Callaghan as a call for a re-evaluation of the initiatives employed by settlement services and supports. 

“I don’t think it's an overstatement to say that this research has the potential to save lives,” says Callaghan, BA’90, BEd’96. 

Dr. Callaghan's portrait

Tonya Callaghan

Werklund School of Education

Over the Overseas Rainbow 

Callaghan is a proud member of the LGBTQ2S+ community and has been an agent of change ever since their undergraduate years at the University of Calgary. Now a critical social justice scholar at the Werklund School of Education, Callaghan has delved into the world of social research.  

Their latest project, Over the Overseas Rainbow: The Development of an Intersectional Training Initiative to Support LGBTQ+ Newcomers to Canada, pays a heartfelt homage to the community this research is dedicated to. The project received UCalgary’s VPR Catalyst Grant in 2022, and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Engage Grant spanning two years starting this September. 

The CFN helps to address the needs of immigrants and refugees to make a successful transition to their new home in Calgary. Callaghan became acquainted with the organization in 2020, where the foundation of their project began. With the CFN’s recent implementation of LGBTQ2S+ services and its central role in Callaghan's research, Callaghan hopes to help it find effective ways to support those who find themselves struggling with different intersectional identities.  

“The reality is that, while settlement services across Canada are good at addressing difficulties regarding culture and race, they often ignore other aspects of human identity including sexual orientation and gender,” says Callaghan.  

Some existing services are often distressing to LGBTQ2S+ newcomers because they suggest reconnecting with their home communities — the very ones that have caused them trauma, says Callaghan. “Neglecting their intersectional identity could potentially set newcomers adrift, risking further complications and trauma.”  

For this reason, Callaghan and project co-investigators Dr. Kaori Wada, PhD, and Dr. Meredith Maroney, PhD, have proposed an intersectional approach aiming to shift these challenges into positive impacts on affected communities. Working on this initiative will ensure their safety, “not only so that they can survive, but to thrive and do well in this culture,” says Callaghan.  

Dr. Callaghan smiling alongside Dr. Kaori Wada and Dr. Meredith Maroney

From left: Kaori Wada, Meredith Maroney and Tonya Callaghan.

Tonya Callaghan

Calgary Pride at UCalgary, and hopes for the future 

This week, UCalgary celebrates Pride and the ongoing partnership between the university and Calgary Pride. As an alum and a recognized advocate for the LGBTQ2S+ community, Callaghan weighed in on the importance of being agents of change for an ongoing cause. 

“I’m very pleased that the University of Calgary takes part in Pride and has been a Calgary Pride partner since 2015,” says Callaghan, stressing that, while this support can be seen on the stairs by the MacEwan Hall entrance, the gender-neutral bathrooms added across campus and the impact the Q Centre has on undergraduate students, “it can’t just stop there.” 

Following recent incidents of gender and sexual-based violence in Canada and the growing number of anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills in the United States, Callaghan urges the continued need for a safe, affirming and inclusive environment at UCalgary. They suggest the creation of a kind of gay-straight alliance (GSA) hub at the university for faculty and graduate students, beyond the already-existing Q Centre, citing studies that show an overall decrease in violence in schools just by the fact such groups exist.   

While the pressing issues for LGBTQ2S+ newcomers will not be resolved overnight, it is clear that Callaghan's research has the potential to fundamentally change the experiences of some LGBTQ2S+ newcomers and refugees in Canada. 

UCalgary is a proud community partner of Calgary Pride. Pride Week in Calgary provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on the university's commitment to helping everyone feel welcome, safe and respected regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

Centre for Newcomers
The Centre for Newcomers is a social profit organization committed to supporting newcomers in Calgary through services and initiatives that create conditions for success. They offer multiple services and programs for individuals and organizations, extending these to the full range of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other sexually diverse newcomers to Canada. 

Sign up for UToday

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox — a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary's 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.