Sitting in the home of the people who took him in when he first arrived in Canada, Rolston Ryan is nervous to speak with a reporter. Although he knows this could help him, it could also make everything that much worse.
Ryan talks about the night a decade ago when he was stabbed and taunted with homophobic slurs because he was gay.
"He just attacked me and started calling me all kinds of names like 'battyman' [a slur for gay men] and kicked me, stabbed me," said Ryan.
He details other acts of discrimination and violence he says he faced on the island of St. Kitts, the home he left in 2013 to seek refuge in Canada.
But his applications for refugee status have twice been rejected. He's applied for judicial review but failing that he'll be sent back to St. Kitts, where he says life will be even harder than before he left.
Gay sex is punishable by up to 10 years in prison in St. Kitts.
"It's really hard. It's very much illegal to be gay there. We have to be very much on the low when it comes to dating and doing anything that's gay," he said.
In another incident, he says he was robbed and slashed on his hand with a knife while the attacker hurled insults about his sexuality.
He told his hearing adjudicator about these attacks, but she wrote in her decision that she didn't find him to be credible. Though they are called "panels," refugee cases are decided by a single adjudicator. In this case it was Brenda Llyod, whom a 2014 analysis found to have among the lowest acceptance rate of cases.
She questioned why Ryan didn't go to police after the stabbing attack. She also decided that although Ryan "would face a serious possibility of persecution" if he returned home, St. Kitts offered adequate state protection.
"I was just really scared for my life, too. That if I went to the police I would get attacked again," he said.
"Living there for so many years, I know, I know definitely they're not about protecting us, especially gay people. It's pretty much illegal to be gay. If you get caught in any kind of sexual, any gay activities, you can be locked up."
He says he went to police to report the robbery, but they didn't follow up on his case. He's also been unable to obtain a record of his report, and suspects police never bothered to file one.
The adjudicator also questioned how Rolston stayed in St. Kitts for so long, living with his family, holding down jobs in customer service and with a dance troupe, if things were so bad. But for Ryan, he just felt stuck.
"I had nowhere to go, nowhere else to go. The island is very small, moving to another place is just like moving across the street," he said.
"I felt like I had no choice, that I had to live with it, until I found out about the whole refugee thing here in Canada," he said.
A Canadian friend he met online told him that Canada gives refugee status on the basis of sexuality. That friend connected him with Rainbow Railroad, an organization that helps LGBT refugees get to Canada. They also set Ryan up with Joel Dick and Dara Douma, a Toronto couple who ended up taking him in for five months.
Now, he's family. Dick and Douma — who call him Roly — took him skating for the first time, helped him make his first gingerbread house, and cried with him when his application was rejected.
He now shares an apartment in the city's east-end and commutes two hours each way to a job at a bakery. He's determined to be self-sufficient and hopes, if he stays, to attend business school and teach dance.
Although he needed some time to adjust — seeing two men holding hands in Toronto's gay village was particularly jarring at first — he feels like he can live freely.
Before he left St. Kitts, Ryan said people would gossip about who was and wasn't gay. Now, after an article in Daily Xtra was picked up by St. Kitts media, everyone will know.
"It would be crazy. All I know is it would be really crazy, everyone would know. It's really small, so everybody would know," he said. "It'll be worse than what it used to be."
Dick and Douma said they've heard from several politicians, but there hasn't been any action yet. And time is running out.
"It's terrifying," said Douma. "And for our country, I'm so sad that that's who we are. That we want to send Rolston to certain persecution, that's so ridiculous to me."
Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.
Contact Lauren Strapagiel at email@example.com.
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