Before Nathaniel was old enough to understand why, he was tormented for being gay. He grew up in a large family on a small Caribbean island and he had to avoid the hatred and bullying of others. Neither school nor home was safe.
In high school, Nathaniel got a job at a resort and discovered his gift for hospitality. International visitors loved his charm and helpfulness and he appreciated their worldliness and tolerance.
Despite this success, Nathaniel continued to face discrimination for being gay. He knew that at some point he would need to leave the island.
Nathaniel heard about Canada for the first time from his friends. By the time he was in his late teens, he had done his research and paperwork. When Nathaniel began experiencing harassment at his workplace, he knew the time was right to leave.
Even though he had planned his immigration carefully, Nathaniel had trouble finding housing in Toronto. A refugee centre told him about Covenant House. Right away Nathaniel knew he had found a safe and accepting place to land. He visited our drop-in centre and was ultimately set up in one of our community apartments. He returned to us frequently to use our food and clothing bank, to get a warm meal and to connect with staff.
“The staff are perfect examples of people who are always there for you. It was all amazing to me. Anytime I stopped by, I had really supportive conversations with everyone. I got help with things like applying to OHIP or advice about school programs.”
According to a survey of youth at Covenant House, 17 per cent identified as 2SLGBTQIA+ and 19 per cent left or were kicked out of their family home due to gender or sexuality issues. That is why it is critical that our doors are open to youth 16 to 24 regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other circumstances that have brought them to seek support.
Today, Nathaniel is a server at restaurant and also works at the refugee centre that helped him when he first arrived. His long-term goal is to work with youth, ideally as a high school guidance counsellor. “I felt like I had to grow up too quickly, so I want to be there for other youth during that time.”