On July 30, around 200 LGBTQ+ new immigrants and refugees participated in a sports day at the Varsity Stadium, staffed by around 60 staff members and volunteers. Hart House, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education, and The 519 — an LGBTQ+ services organization — co-hosted the event.
Although the meetup primarily served newcomer refugees seeking asylum based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, the event was open to everyone who uses The 519’s services.
Participants split into teams and competed in soccer, dance, and running competitions, among other games. “[LGBTQ+] refugees aren’t generally the target population for occupying this kind of space,” said Julie Hamara, manager of programs and services at The 519, in an interview with The Varsity.
The event marked The 519’s second-ever Sports Day using Hart House facilities; the first took place in 2019, but the event went on pause during the pandemic.
Photocap: Participants took part in running races as part of the event.
The 519 is based in Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. Founded in 1976, it is one of the city’s oldest organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community. It primarily provides settlement support to newcomers to the city but also hosts weekly athletic events at Hart House facilities.
“We’re only a rather small community centre, so this really is one of the biggest events that we can host for our newcomer populations,” said Hamara. “It wouldn’t be possible without a venue like this.” Before working with Hart House, The 519 tried to host a Sports Day at Regent Park but struggled with the lack of shade or easily accessible bathrooms.
For participant Rebecca Kufafira, originally from Entebbe, Uganda, Sports Day helped her build a community in a new city. “I want to live my life [and] be proud of my life. I wasn’t myself at home,” Kufafira told The Varsity.
Francis Kihara was originally from Kenya and moved to Canada in October 2022. Before emigrating, he was unable to find an LGBTQ+ community. “You might get killed… whatever happens, nobody cares, as long as you identify as yourself: as gay, bisexual, or whatever. You have no chance,” he told The Varsity.However, he has enjoyed finding support through Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community and The 519’s services. “Sports brings everybody together,” he told The Varsity.