Rainbow Railroad is an organisation that helps LGBTQ+ people from around the world flee their home countries in search of safer and more accepting shores. With a caseload of around 3,000 each year, they have added an additional 500 people in need of support during the pandemic with 49 of them fleeing their home country.
One of the people Rainbow Railroad previously helped was Amin, a victim of the infamous ‘gay purge’ in Chechnya which saw the creation of ‘concentration camps’ for LGBTQ+ people.
“In Chechnya, being gay, you always have to hide who you are.” Amin said, “I was kidnapped from the salon I was working in by soldiers with guns. I was tortured with other gay men for two weeks, expecting that I am not going to leave that place alive.”
Amin had to leave everything behind, including his career, family and friends, to find safety.
Meanwhile, Jamaican LGBTQ+ campaigner, Elton, has also shared his story, saying: “It was difficult living [as] LGBTI in Jamaica, especially because I was an advocate.”
“I was attacked by two young men, one of which I went to school with. Luckily I escaped with bruises and cuts. Most police in Jamaica, they don’t have any sense of care towards the LGBTI community. I had to reach out to Rainbow Railroad to basically rescue me,” Elton continued.
Now Elton is making a new life in Canada and hopes to contribute to his new home by becoming a teacher: “My life has changed significantly. I want to pursue my masters in education so I can be an educator. It feels like freedom to be able to live as an out gay man in Canada.”
Likewise, Amin is now happy and safe, living in Toronto, Canada with his partner, stating: “I am just living my best life. I am not afraid to open and speak who I am now. It is being yourself, each day, this is the best thing.”
However, over 70 countries criminalise homosexuality with up to 11 imposing the death penalty. Many more also criminalise gender non-conforming identities. But even these figures are underestimates with police and prosecutors targeting LGBTQ+ people based on a bias to persecute them even in countries without specific LGBTQ+ criminalisation.
Which is why Rainbow Railroad, based in Toronto, says it is struggling with huge numbers of LGBTQ+ people in danger.
“The stakes are high. We now field nearly 3,000 requests for help a year.
“And at this very moment, we are triaging the cases of hundreds of LGBTQI people around the world who need support right now. We need our community to come together and help us give a chance at freedom to as many people as possible,” Rainbow Railroad executive director Kimahli Powell says.
It costs around $10,000 for Rainbow Railroad to help an LGBTQ+ person find safety, and the organisation is trying to raise $600,000 to save 60 lives. So far it has raised over $140,000. You can find out more and donate here.
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