Eeva Ström and Ursula Drake
Helsinki-pride week will be celebrated on September 7-13, 2020. Espoo services for refugees participates in this Pride-week celebration under the leadership of its LGBTQ task force. The LGBTQ, or as we call it, our Rainbow Task Force was established in the fall of 2019 when social care professionals wanted to come together to think about the challenges and opportunities of equal encounter and LGBTQ segregation in social services for refugees. The aim of the group is to promote the special needs of clients belonging to sexual and gender minorities in the daily life of our services.
The need for such a task force and a LGBTQ group for clients arises from our daily work. Espoo specializes in working with refugees who have had to flee their country due to persecution of sexual or gender minorities. For example we receive LGBTQ quota refugees directly from refugee camps around the world.
Our clients move to Finland from countries where diverse sexual orientations and gender minorities are highly opposed. These attitudes are also present in the everyday life of our services, as part of our clientele share these views. This also explains why the relationship of LGBTQ people to their own ethnic community and even their own families can be difficult in Finland as well. Sometimes situations are resolved by continuing to be in the closet toward one’s own family and ethnic community, enduring or even normalizing bullying and intimidation, completely detaching oneself from the family and/or community, or attempting to deny one’s own orientation and identity. Therefore, the need for an understanding and respectful place where there is truly space to be oneself is highlighted among refugees belonging to sexual and gender minorities.
We are trying to meet this need with our LGBTQ Group for clients. The group meets regularly and participates in supporting integration into the Finnish rainbow community. According to the feedback we receive from customers, it has been important for the members of the group to finally be able to be themselves. Some of our clients tell us they are sorry for never being able to tell anyone about it and having to lie to loved ones. Our work also emphasizes cross-border contacts: the support received in Finland can also play a crucial role in raising the issue for the first time with relatives who have remained in the home country.
Those who have experienced discrimination or harassment say they limit their participation in various events because they anticipate that they may have to experience the same thing again (Ministry of Justice 2018). Therefore, in addition to LGBTQ group, all the work of services for refugees strive for the principle of safe space. Services for refugees work to ensure that our clients know in advance that our service is a safe space where you can come without the fear of being harassed or discriminated. We communicate LGBTQ pride in our premises with posters, and now for Pride Week we have brought a rainbow flag to our lobby space. Not only in customer encounters, but also in the work community, we use gender-neutral language. In our work community we are committed to non-discrimination and the assurance that everyone is welcome just as they are. We have a very low threshold to all discrimination and we truly take pride in our work with LGBTQ refugees.
We want to wish a happy pride week to all of Espoo.
The writers work in Espoo Social services for refugees. Eeva Ström, MSocSci, is a chief social worker, and Ursula Drake BASocSci, leads the LGBTQ group for clients.