Clicky

The Rainbow Railroad Is Helping LGBTQ+ People Flee Persecution

Rainbow Railroad

It's still illegal to be LGBTQ+ in 70 countries. In these countries, LGBTQ+ people have zero basic human rights protections, and being outed means you can lose employment or housing.

In 11 countries, queer people face the death penalty.

A Canada-based international organization called Rainbow Railroad is helping LGBTQ+ people escape countries where they face imminent danger because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In countries where same-sex intimacy is illegal, the LGTBQ+ community faces violence and discrimination from their families, their communities, and even the government.

Rainbow Railroad works to solve a multi-layered problem that goes beyond LGBTQ+ persecution — they’re also responding to a global refugee crisis. Refugees already face mounting challenges, but anti-LGTBQ+ legislation only adds to the obstacles. The organization is addressing both challenges together.

“80 million displaced people around the world, and I don't want to do any crude math around what percentage of that population is LGBTQ+ because there is not enough data, but you can imagine that there's a significant number of those people who are members of the LGBTQ+ community,” executive director Kimahli Powell told us.

"There are 70 countries that criminalize same-sex intimacy."

“On top of that, there are 70 countries that criminalize same-sex intimacy. The nexus of those two problems is where the people who reach out to us for help are — why there are folks who are members of the LGBTQ+ community who are forcibly displaced or seeking refuge in a world.”

After reviewing each case submission and determining how best to help, Rainbow Railroad works to select effective routes to safety and connect with local contacts who can provide pre-travel and logistical support. Then they provide transportation to the migrant’s destination country and immediate post-travel support.

"Notably, Rainbow Railroad has been praised for helping 70 Chechen men resettle in response to anti-gay purges in Chechnya beginning in 2017."

Notably, Rainbow Railroad has been praised for helping 70 Chechen men resettle in response to anti-gay purges in Chechnya beginning in 2017.

“What I'm really, truly proud of with that story is that while I was making that trip, people were doing online fundraisers,” Powell said.

“One Facebook fundraiser raised $250,000 that we were able to use to build safe houses. People were doing bake sales, drag shows, you name it. Rainbow Railroad is 100 percent funded by private sources. We really are a community movement. It shows you how people rallying together can help one person. That's what I'm most proud of with the organization.”

The organization’s community funding is especially impressive because it costs about $10,000 to help just one person.

“First and foremost, our goal is to help keep someone safe within their country,” Powell said.

Refugees Welcome
Refugees Welcome / Photo courtesy of Rainbow Railroad

“That means access to a safe house, moving them to a safer place within the country, providing them access to resources, or connecting them with an organization — anything to get them out of a dangerous situation. And for cases that require emergency relocation, of course, that means providing the cost of getting them from to a country where they can make a safe asylum claim.”

"Since 2006, Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 800 persecuted LGBTQ+ people from 38 countries travel to safety."

In 2020, the group received 2,800 asylum requests and helped 465 people. Since 2006, Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 800 persecuted LGBTQ+ people from 38 countries travel to safety. 

“What I love most about Rainbow Road is that we really have been a queer-led response to a problem,” Powell said.

“As a LGBTQ+-led organization, being able to understand the problem and understand the systemic barriers to migration and discrimination have allowed us to be really innovative in seeing solutions that can help beyond the LGBTQ+ community.”

Get to Know Kimahli Powell, Executive Director of Rainbow Railroad

To learn more about Rainbow Railroad, listen to our podcast episode with executive director Kimahli Powell.

Kimahli shared the story of Rainbow Railroad and how to get involved in supporting LGBTQ+ refugees around the world.

Take Action in Support of LGBTQ+ People Around the World

You can show your support for the mission of Rainbow Railroad by making a donation.

The cost of helping someone relocate overseas is around $10,000, but every dollar counts.

Article Details

April 30, 2021 5:00 PM
A woman sitting at a table next to a bouquet of roses; the entry of the Casa Alias shelter in Arizona, a photo of Amy Pacheo

Doctor & Former Patient Work Together To Provide Care at Immigration Shelter in Arizona

A retired pediatrician is providing medical care and support for migrants at a temporary shelter in Tucson, Arizona.
Two women hug

7 Ways Aid Workers Are Vital To Humanitarian Relief

Humanitarian aid workers are often the first to step in during times of global crisis. Here's how they help by responding to disasters, conflicts, and wars.
According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2020, there were nearly 26.4 million refugees around the world forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, conflict or persecution. Almost half of them are under the age of 18, some are members of the LBGTQ+ community—and each has a unique story.

5 Ways To Help Refugees

According to the UNHCR, at the end of 2020, there were nearly 26.4 million refugees around the world forced to flee their homes because of war, violence, conflict or persecution.
A close-up crop of an abstract LGBTQ+ pride flag from the Goodnewspaper

12 LGBTQ+ Good News Stories

This year was filled with progress for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States and globally. We saw that elections matter, representation is increasing, and people are finding creative ways to support queer people around the world.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.