Ugandan transgender swimmer in Edmonton gets refugee status: ‘Canada saved my life’

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Ugandan swimmer gets refugee status
WATCH ABOVE: A transgender swimmer from Uganda first came to Canada for a competition in August but decided to stay after receiving death threats from family in his native Uganda. Julia Wong has his story – Dec 27, 2016

A transgender man from Uganda who came to Edmonton in summer 2016 has been granted refugee status, after saying he feared for his safety to return to his home country, where homosexuality is illegal.

Adebayo Katiiti spoke to Global News in August as the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championships were set to start. He took part in a panel where LGBTQ swimmers from around the world shared stories of the discrimination, brutality and hate they faced simply for being who they are.

RELATED: Ugandan swimmers in Edmonton recount police raid on LGBTQ event, share challenges

Katiiti was participating in a gay pride event earlier that month when it was raided by police. The transgender man, who was a judge at the event, described police beating and inappropriately touching the people in attendance.

READ MORE: Pride event in Uganda disrupted by police; leaders briefly detained

After he arrived in Edmonton, Katiiti said he received threatening messages from his family members, many of whom did not know his sexual orientation.

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“Chasing me away, calling me evil, tell[ing] me I no longer belong to their family and if I go back, they will kill me,” he said.

While in Edmonton at the aquatics championship, he decided to seek refugee status.

“I thought [Edmonton was] a safe place for me to stay. It was where I was at that particular time when everything happened.”

Katiiti admits it was a tough decision to make.

“It wasn’t in my mind before I came. I wasn’t thinking about staying in Canada. I was ready to go back home, despite the police raid and everything I went through,” he said.

“[But] my life was in danger. I talked to the people I was living with, I was staying with. ‘No Adebayo, if your life is in danger, you can stay and save your life.’”
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The swimmer said he made the decision the morning he was supposed to leave for Uganda. He received support from the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, the Central United Church and the LGBTQ community in Edmonton.

“We normally don’t deal with refugee claimants and those people with no status in Canada. It so happens that an agency in Edmonton, the Pride Centre of Edmonton, gave us a call and referred Adebayo to our team,” said Greg Lopez, a social worker at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, who helped Katiiti with his application.

“It’s becoming common now. Actually before Adebayo, I would say there were about two or three cases, most of them from the Pride Centre of Edmonton, [that were] LGBTQ cases.”

In November, after a hearing with a judge, Katiiti learned he received refugee status.

“It really means a lot. It’s like Canada really saved my life. It was too hard for me, but now I’m free.”

Katiiti said he has spent the last couple of months adjusting to his new life and his refugee status.

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“I have to catch up with the new community, with…winter, snow–this is new for me. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been abused of who I am. I can’t compare that [to] the weather. I can survive the weather. I’m happy that I’m here. I’m happy for the people I’ve met. I know my life is going to change from down to up,” he said.

However, he said it is hard to leave the LGBTQ community in Uganda.

“Most of them are running away from their homes. They’re being chased away from homes. They’re being harassed, sexually harassed,” he said.

“I’m willing to give back to Canada and help my gay community back home. I hope this message reaches them. One day I’ll be their hope.”

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