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Thesis Highlights: A Qualitative Study Exploring Community-Based Support Group Participation Among Sexual and Gender Minority Asylum Seekers

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Somewhere Over the Rainbow

A Qualitative Study Exploring Community-Based Support Group Participation among Sexual and Gender Minority Asylum Seekers 

Lue tämä juttu suomeksi.

The idea for my master’s thesis started to emerge already a few years ago while working at a reception center for asylum seekers. In my opinion, the rights of LGBTIQ people have not yet been addressed to a sufficient extent, thus making it an important topic of discussion. Furthermore, my attention was drawn towards how LGBTIQ people are coping inside our national (and international) asylum system. Also, in 2015 an NGO called Helsinki Pride Community (formerly known as HeSeta) started its Together -peer group activities for asylum seekers and LGBTIQ people with a refugee background. Helsinki Pride Community became an important associate for social work professionals working in reception centers. Therefore, as soon as I started my master’s studies, it was clear that my thesis would focus on LGBTIQ asylum seekers.

In my thesis, I investigated what kind of significance Together group activities hold for the participants. At first, I took part in the group meetings as a volunteer instructor. The personal volunteering supported my research in many ways: I was able to get in touch with the potential interviewees and create confidential interview settings with them, and most of all, it helped me to acquire a deeper understanding of the group dynamics. Altogether 12 individuals from the Together group participated in my study, and I explored the interviews using a content analysis method, utilizing the concept of belonging.

The multifaceted interview data revealed how the living circumstances of LGBTIQ asylum seekers in Finland are aggregated from multiple intersecting marginal categories and that there is a substantial need to find peers who share similar experiences. Together community had become a unique place to build reciprocal relationships and reflect on one’s own identity. In addition, through the meetings participants became attached to Finland, conceived their future plans and also questioned the othering perceptions of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and limitations put on their social involvement that they face in their lives.

My research highlights how asylum seekers who identify as sexual and gender minorities form their own particularly vulnerable group with their own specific needs. Therefore, promoting their well-being and social inclusion requires from professionals both a special sensitivity to these clients’ experiences and courage to engage in structural social work. In my study the experience of belonging emerges particularly from a shared experience of a similar life situation (as a LGBTIQ person seeking asylum) and therefore it is evident that there is a need for services targeted at this particular group of people in the future as well. Social work professionals have an essential role in terms of creating and implementing these services and strengthening LGBTIQ asylum seekers’ own voice.

The well-being of LGBTIQ asylum seekers has not been studied to a sufficient degree on the international level and therefore I am looking to continue my research on this important topic.

You can access the thesis in Finnish here.

Pauliina Pulkki has graduated from the University of Turku with a master’s degree in social work in the beginning of 2020. She is currently working in the field of education in Helsinki. Pauliina considers it important to defend human rights, hold on to dreams and challenge herself. She would like to give her warmest thanks to her thesis’ instructor Anniina Kaittila, to the staff of the Helsinki Pride Community and especially to all the brave and inspiring people that she got a chance to interview for her research!


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