Soaking up the sun while sitting on a park bench in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley neighbourhood may seem like a basic right and simple joy for most people. But for 36-year-old James Frederick, it’s a privilege and luxury he could never have experienced back home.

“Being a part of the LGBT+ community in Saint Lucia, I would have to constantly look over my shoulder just because of who I am,” he said.

Frederick was a police officer for 12 years in St. Lucia where he said he never received support or protection — let alone a promotion for his years of service.  

“It was difficult for me to work with my colleagues. I wasn't getting promoted. Every department I was getting transferred to, as soon as they would find out that I'm inclined this way, I would notice that the treatment was different,” he said. “I just wasn't living to my full potential, and I wasn't ever comfortable.”  

In March 2023, shortly after his mother passed away, Frederick decided to make the move to Canada. He followed the advice of two of his now-Canadian friends who had also fled their home countries, and who were also queer, BIPOC refugees. They both directed him to The 519, Canada’s largest and most prominent Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex and Asexual (2SLGBTQIA+) service provider and community centre.

Event photo

James Frederick (right) in the Ballroom at The 519

James Frederick with hands in the air

James Frederick in the Ballroom at The 519

Frederick and his friends are just a few of the thousands of newcomers and refugees that The 519 helps through the settlement process annually. The organization’s Project Unlock program, supported by Scotiabank, specifically helps find meaningful employment for LGBTQIA+ newcomers, refugees and asylum-seekers who are facing significant barriers to employment and financial stability. (The 519 only uses the term 2SLGBTQ+ when referring to programs that help Indigenous people in Canada.)

“Jervis from The 519 helped me apply for Ontario Works,” a program that provides money for food, shelter and other costs to people in financial need who meet the eligibility criteria, Frederick said. “I knew nothing about it. I came, sat in his office and he helped me from beginning to end, he submitted everything... within two days I received funding, which was a huge relief.”

Jervis Stone is the manager of Refugee Support Services for The 519 and says having been a refugee client himself gives him greater insight to the people who show up at the community centre doors.   

“Where I came from, being queer was considered ungodly. I was always fearful for my life, it just wasn’t something that was accepted in the community. People were abused because of how they chose to live, and I was fearful of the violence.”

June marks Pride Month, a celebration of the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, inclusivity and freedom of expression. Attending the Pride parade in Toronto opened Stone’s eyes to how he could live in Canada.

“I saw thousands of people who were able to just be themselves… old and queer and proud and loud just being joyful, being friendly,” Stone said. “People of different ages, skin colour, different identities were just in one place, just being themselves, and I remembered that was a turning point for me. This is what I want to be."

He said he committed to the process and found The 519. “Through The 519 I was able to find connection and purpose. I found my joy — that's what I found,” said Stone.  

Jervis Stone headshot

Jervis Stone

Stone says finding that joy and stability through employment can be very complicated when you have layered identities.

“You’re identifying as a BIPOC person, a refugee. You're also identifying as a youth and then add in the layer of LGBTQ+ on top of it. Each of these identities have their own barriers, their own challenges, and when you compile these different identities, the struggle is compounded.” He cites racism, inexperience, and access as the biggest hurdles.

Stone currently coordinates programs and activities for more than 8,000 refugee claimants and newcomers and persons who intend on making a refugee claim in Canada.

With the number of refugees increasing every month in Canada, The 519 received over 7,000 requests from LGBTQIA+ newcomers in need of support in 2023, three times the number of newcomers they supported in 2022.

With funding from ScotiaRISE, Scotiabank's 10-year, $500-million commitment and social impact strategy to promote economic resilience among disadvantaged groups, The 519 can provide individualized programs and career mapping for LGBTQIA+ newcomers, which includes financial assistance, to achieve certification for in-demand careers. Participants receive mentorship and coaching opportunities and job search support. The 519 will also deliver training for employers across Canada to build more inclusive and accepting employment environments.

“ScotiaRISE is supporting us by providing funds to develop in-person and online programs but also programs for employers to address systematic barriers,” said Stone.

This includes engaging with employers to develop their understanding of queer and trans issues, making their spaces more inclusive and diverse. “Once we identify these issues within corporations, we can then work to address them, and that’s what this organization seeks to address,” said Stone.

“We are privileged and proud to support The 519 help LGBTQIA+ refugees establish meaningful careers,” says Meigan Terry, Chief Communications and Social Impact Officer, Scotiabank. “Through ScotiaRISE, we’re committed to providing much-needed funding for essential 2SLGBTQIA+ community programs across our footprint.”  

Although Frederick hasn’t found full-time employment yet, he is actively looking and staying positive. For now, he volunteers at The 519’s Among Friends sessions every Wednesday. “These sessions help prepare you, teach you how you should conduct yourself, the rights of tenants and landlords... how to go about using the TTC and getting your fare discounts — there's a lot to be learned as a newcomer,” he said.

The sessions are where he meets people and grows his own personal network.

“The 519 has been a godsend, it has saved me,” he said. “When I call people back home, they say my face looks brighter. I'm going to the gym. I'm taking care of myself even more than ever. I'm more free. I'm able to walk around without worrying, I can just be myself, something that I wasn't able to be back home.”

Stone says he’s proud to say he hears positive testimonials like this regularly from people like Frederick.

“We change their lives. They are empowered to seek employment. They're given tools and resources to advocate for themselves. We’re able to foster a belonging and a community that they so desperately crave.”

“The funding from ScotiaRISE allows us to provide services and build economic resilience within our community,” said Stone. “And at the end of the day, that is all that we're asking for.”

Woman throwing hands up at Pride Parade, seen from behind

Pride at Scotiabank