Before Nathaniel was old enough to understand why, he was tormented for being gay. He grew up in a large family on a small Caribbean island. From a tender age, he was verbally abused and spoken to in an explicit way. Everywhere he went, he was called “anti-man”, the local gay slur. Before he could contemplate his own identity, he had to evade the hatred and ridicule of others. Neither school nor home felt safe.
In high school, Nathaniel’s mother’s boyfriend tried to molest him, but he was able to physically fight him off. When he told his mother about the incident, she flew into a rage, saying that after all she had sacrificed for him, he had no right to upset her by telling her. The last of six children, Nathaniel found no allies at home. The other kids in his chaotic home followed separate troubled paths. He vowed to create a more positive future for himself.
Nathaniel got a job at a luxury resort and found he had a gift for hospitality. Visitors loved his charm and helpfulness, but they did not realize how gratifying he also found a simple conversation with them about a local attraction or restaurant. The pleasantness and gratitude he experienced from the diverse international guests was a revelation after years of bullying. He felt he needed to move abroad to be respected and safe. He had looked into immigrating to Canada in his late teens, but when a manager in the hotel began harassing him, he knew the time was right to leave.
“I knew that coming to Canada was leaving a bad situation to come to a situation I knew nothing about,” explains Nathaniel. Even though he had planned his immigration carefully, when he arrived, he found he had trouble finding housing. He connected with a refugee centre where he learned about Covenant House.
At Covenant House, Nathaniel first stopped by our drop-in centre and sat down with our housing worker Danny. He told Nathaniel that he was a good candidate for a place in a building where a number of our youth had been tenants. Danny moved quickly to secure the spot for Nathaniel and soon he was living in the community. He returned to us frequently to use our food and clothing bank, to get a warm meal, and to connect with staff. Danny and our other workers would also visit him to check in and bring him items like detergent.
“The staff are perfect examples of people who are always there for you. It was all truly amazing to me,” says Nathaniel. “Anytime I stopped by, I had really supportive conversations with everyone. I got help with things like applying to OHIP or advice about school programs.”
Today, Nathaniel works two jobs. He’s a server at a club and he also does reception and general assistance at the refugee centre he first sought out. “I love working at the refugee centre. The appreciation you get from clients is so rewarding,” he explains. He also loves that he has the chance to meet people from all over the world. “I want to experience Canada for what it has to offer.” For him, that means being open to new ideas, people and experiences.
Outgoing and genial, Nathaniel has the confidence and energy that suggests he is always the life of the party. But a thoughtful conversation with him reveals that he is also grounded and driven with a keen eye on what lies ahead. In the past couple of years, he has worked hard and has some savings. He has his sights on school for next fall.
“Here you can go further than just working in a hotel, so why not do it?” Nathaniel says. His goal is to work with youth, ideally as a high school guidance counsellor. He is carefully researching programs now and seeking advice from our staff. He confides that he feels like he missed out on that part of life that should have been a time of innocence, self-discovery and hope for the future. He wants more for other young people. “I felt like I had to grow up too quickly, so I want to be there for other youth during that time.”