An intimate moment secretly recorded 11 years ago changed the course of Ali B.’s life forever.
Ali B. lived in Iran and had been having an on-and-off again relationship with another man.
However, Ali’s partner at the time taped one of their sexual encounters and attempted to blackmail Ali by threatening to show the tape to his father.
After the threats had gone on for some time, Ali told the man that he didn’t believe he would do what he said and told him to go away.
Ali was in northern Iran with another friend when he received a phone call from is mother. She was crying and yelling at him, telling him that his father and the police were looking for him.
Ali fled to Turkey that day with the clothes on his back and what little money his friend could offer him.
Still in Turkey, he is waiting to come to Canada as a Rainbow Refugee with the help of Golden Ears United Church in Maple Ridge, who will be sponsoring him.
Being gay in Iran is illegal.
According to Amnesty International, same-sex activity is considered a crime in 70 countries around the world and can be punished by death in 10 countries including Iran.
Even where these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTQ people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence, according to Amnesty.
Turkey is better, but according to Human Rights Watch, the Turkish government has had an increasingly repressive approach to LGBTQ groups, including the enforcement of a November 2017 ban on public events by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights groups by the governor of Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
And in July 2018, a report by the human watch group said the Istanbul governor banned the city’s annual Pride march for a fourth year, citing security and public order concerns.
That is why Ali has asked that his full name not be used for the article.
Pamela Kennedy with the Golden Ears United Church and part of the group trying to bring Ali to B.C. says they heard about Ali’s plight through the grapevine and they managed to connect with a friend of his who moved to Canada a few years ago and is currently living in Vancouver.
“It was just a wonderful fit,” said Kennedy about the church’s new project.
“He’s about the same age as my son. He’s around 33 now,” said Kennedy of Ali.
Kennedy said they have been working to bring Ali here for about one year. She says the process has been slow, trying to get hold of the right people to help them.
Kennedy says he has completed all his paperwork with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees but he still has to be accepted as a Rainbow Refugee, which will fast-track his application.
The Rainbow Refugee Society is a Vancouver-based community group founded in 2000 that supports people seeking refugee protection in Canada because of persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or HIV status.
In 2011, the society partnered with the federal government to direct a blended sponsorship program called the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Project.
Kennedy says her group has met with a representative with the society who is now trying to get him one of the 37 spots available for LGBTQ refugee applicants this year to come to Canada throughout the whole country. Once a spot is available for him, the sponsorship group will submit their paperwork to the Canadian government and Ali will have to go the Canadian Embassy, Consulate or High Commission in Ankara and submit to the interview process and security checks to get into the country.
Kennedy says once they get him here they will need $13,500 to subsidize his living for the next year while he sets down roots, gets a job and adjusts to the Canadian lifestyle. They have already raised $11,000.
Sometimes, Kennedy explained, new residents will join the church that sponsored them if they are the same faith. However, she said, Ali is not and will be living for a while with his friend in Vancouver, where he will have more assistance getting used to his new home.
“Get used to being in a new city in a new country under a completely different set of rules and regulations where he doesn’t really have to fear anything, you know, if he sees a police officer, he doesn’t have to freak out anymore. He needs to get used to those things so he can really acclimatize himself to become a Canadian,” said Kennedy.
Ali and Kennedy talk frequently by phone and online.
When Kennedy first talked to Ali a year ago, he told her that when he found out that the police were searching for him in Iran that his first thought was that he hoped the police found him before his father.
Although he knew he could never return to his home country, she said, she could hear in his voice the joy of knowing that he was close to coming to Canada and also the agony of not wanting to believe it because what if it wasn’t true.
“I cried my eyes out,” she said.
“That was quite a moment. I’ve never heard that before in anybody’s voice. It was a really foreign. It really makes you realize that for all that we think we have to complain about, here in Canada, here specifically in B.C. and the Lower Mainland, we really have very little if anything to really really complain about.”
Kennedy remains hopeful that Ali will be here by the end of the year.
“It would be everything to me if he could come in 2019.”