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Friends and supporters demand residency status for queer artist

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Queer community advocate Alvaro Orozco continues to fight for his release from detention and a stay on his deportation proceedings until his Humanitarian and Compassionate application has been heard.

No deportation date has been set yet.

In the detention review hearings on Tuesday, Orozco was told that none of his long time friends could post bail for him because they supported his decision to live "illegally" in Canada after he was denied refugee status in 2007.

He has been detained at the Rexdale Immigration Holding Centre since last Friday following his arrest by Toronto Police outside Ossington subway station.

"Alvaro was denied refugee status in 2007 after the IRB board judge Deborah Lamont declared that he 'did not look gay enough' to her," said Craig Fortier, long time friend and supporter. "Since then he has filed a Humanitarian and Compassionate Application on which he is awaiting a decision."  

After crossing through Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and America he finally arrived in Canada in 2004 and settled in downtown Toronto.

"In his lifetime, this is the only home and place he feels safe at," said Suhail Abualsameed, Coordinator, Newcomer/Immigrant Youth Program at Sherbourne Health Centre where Alvaro works with queer newcomer youth.

When Orozco fled Nicaragua at the age of 12, he left behind a childhood of abuse and torture. Two years ago, Orozco wrote a note to Montreal Simon which he published online with Orozco’s permission.

In the note, Orozco admitted that his father was an alcoholic who often abused his mother. He beat Orozco every day in order to turn him into a "real" man. Unfortunately, Orozco said, there are no laws in Nicaragua to protect women and gay men from abuse.

"He never felt he belonged to his family after they rejected him and he was on the run for years after that," said Abualsameed, who has seen Orozco almost every day since his detention. "If he's sent back, he'll be sent to a place where he has no connection. Taken away from his family and home in Toronto."

Since Orozco's story has received considerable media attention outside Canada, he'll be returning to a country where everyone knows that he is gay. "And he is very anxious about that as well," said Abualsameed.

A press conference was held Wednesday morning at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre where artists, friends and politicians spoke passionately about Orozco and his ties to the community.

"This is a story that should touch each and every one of us," said Kristyn Wong-Tam who succeeded Kyle Rae as councillor in Ward 27 in the recent municipal election in Toronto. "His father had made threats to kill any of his children if they turned out to be homosexual."

Over the last two days, dozens of people have recorded emotional video testimonials calling for his release from detention and immigration status.

Ruth Howard is the artistic director at Jumblies Theatre where Orozco volunteered during 2009 and 2010. "I've rarely met a young person who has the combination of talent and passion and vision and ability to follow through on a brilliant idea in the way that he has," said Howard.

Victoria Mata, a community artist, organizer and exhibitor in Toronto, said Orozco was also an artist who provided a lot of support for other young artists in the community in spite of his vulnerable situation.

There are a lot of queer artists in the community without status who need financial support as well as the opportunity to showcase their art. "And we have to do it in ways that are very safe," she said.

In Ottawa, NDP MP Olivia Chow joined the press conference via video teleconference. She promised to speak to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on behalf of Orozco and ask the Minister to allow him to remain in Canada.

"His activism both as an artist and as a youth gay activist is phenomenal," said Chow. "His photography, his volunteer work and the amazing mentorship he's done for young people. He should not be deported back to Nicaragua."

Alejandro Martinez met Orozco in 2007 and since then the two have become good friends. Martinez said Orozco expresses his feeling through his artwork because often words are not enough.

"At an age when a boy is supposed to be in school and playing, he had to run away in order to save his life," he said.

Leonardo Zuniga, another gay refugee who faced similar circumstances in his battle for permanent residency status a couple of years ago, said nobody deserves to end up in detention, especially someone like Orozco who's been struggling for his freedom for the past 13 years.

On Friday, friends of Alvaro Orozco are organizing a dance mob to insist that Orozco be released from detention. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of Church and Wellesley. Supporters have been invited to dress in their "brightest, glitteriest, and most glamorous, and lets dance and sing our loudest and proudest."

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