Angel knew from a child she was different, and others saw it too, but they couldn’t figure out what was “wrong” with her, she says. She was assigned male at birth, but that didn’t feel right to her. Growing up trans in a Roma Gypsy community was also difficult; there was no support for Angel when she underwent surgery to transition, and she knew other lesbian and gay Roma Gypsies who lived in the closet for fear of rejection from the community.
Angel herself was cast out from her community, and faced physical and verbal abuse. She moved around Europe, hoping to find a place to settle, but continued to face harassment for living her authentic self. Her uncle told her about a large LGBQT+ community and a neighbourhood in Toronto that was the historic home of this inclusive community, so in 2017, with his help, she came to Toronto as a refugee.
“Here, everybody is free to live,” she says.
Angel lived with her uncle before having a falling out. She was staying at a shelter but felt uncomfortable under the stares of other shelter users, and would go out to have her meals. Then staff found her a home at Homes First’s Bellevue property in Kensington Market.
“I moved here and I felt like home. It’s my own. I can do what I want. I go when I want, I come when I want. I can cook, I can bake, I can do whatever I want.”
Since coming to Toronto, Angel has attended the Toronto Pride Parade and is volunteering at a community centre serving Roma Canadians, as well as going to school every day. She hopes to get her permanent residency soon and start working with others who were in situations like her, to provide support and guidance. But the biggest change for Angel is that she feels she can finally be herself.
“Nobody is watching you and pointing at you and laughing. You’re normal, just like anybody else. That’s the best thing.”