As Pride month ends, we must remember that there are nearly 70 countries where homosexuality is considered illegal, with 14 of those countries having the ability to go as far as enforcing the death penalty as punishment. Rainbow Railroad is a Canadian organization based in Toronto that helps individuals living in these places to escape the persecution in their home countries and set up new lives in countries where they are free to be themselves.
This past May the organization was featured on a CBS segment of 60 Minutes, and this past month the organization presented, Journey to Freedom, a timely conversation held during WorldPride month in New York City on World Refugee Day (June 20), focusing on the global LGBTQI refugee crisis. The event brought together some of the LGBT communities’ most critical thinkers and advocates for LGBTQI human rights, including Rainbow Railroad executive director Kimahli Powell, activist and writer, Jodie Patterson, trans activist, Tiq Milan, and human rights activist Scot Nakagawa. Discussions included the intersection of racism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia and how these oppressions cause marginalized LGBTQI people to live in fear, experience violence, and even death in countries throughout the world. The event also featured images from the “Freedom or Fear Campaign.”
Founded in 2006, Rainbow Railroad is inspired by and pays homage to the famous Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses established in the 1800s in North America to help slaves escape into free states. In this same vein, Rainbow Railroad aims to help members of the LGBTQ2+ community escape from a country where they fear persecution. With a network of community leaders in each of the affected countries, every request they receive is independently verified to ensure they are legitimately in need of help. Once the individual has successfully made it to their new home country, Rainbow Railroad connects them with local organizations that can help get them to get established.
Receiving over 1,000 requests annually for assistance, and working on 30-50 open cases at any given time, the estimated costs to assist one individual is approximately $10,000. This includes costs for transport, moving expenses, legal advice, and administrative costs throughout the entire procedure. The organization does receive some financial support from various organizations but also relies heavily on donations and fundraising efforts. The organization is primarily volunteer-run and is always looking for others with specific skill sets to join.