The online archive of global LGBTQ history, current events, and personal stories

Rainbow Railroad Saves LGBTQ Lives Around the World

Wikis > Rainbow Railroad Saves LGBTQ Lives Around the World

Rainbow Railroad, Stories of Suffering and Freedom


The Rainbow Railroad is a Canadian charitable organization created to rescue LGBTQ persons whose lives are in imminent danger from state-tolerated anti-gay terror. The organization takes its name from and is inspired by the Underground Railroad, a group of abolitionists who helped endangered slaves flee the American South and escape to freedom via a secret network of safe houses and hiding places during the United States’ Civil War.

Since its founding in 2006, Rainbow Railroad has received hundreds of requests for emergency help from people in Uganda, Jamaica, Syria, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, and several other countries. At any given time, Rainbow Railroad is processing 30 to 50 open cases, verifying the facts of each case, connecting endangered individuals to people and organizations in their areas who are in position to assist, and ultimately put them on a path of escape to a safe country where they can seek asylum. Because the number of people in need of help is so great, Rainbow Railroad is able to help only those in the most imminent danger of violence, imprisonment, or death.

Violence, prison, and death

Many people live in a society where being LGBTQ is so dangerous they risk being assaulted, imprisoned, or—worse—brutally murdered, simply for expressing their sexual identity. Living in constant fear, they are afraid to reveal their secret inner life to anyone by exposing their sexual orientation, which could place them at the mercy of a hostile stranger, neighbor, or state apparatus. This situation is a daily reality for millions of people around the world.

For example, in 2017 reports emerged that gay and bisexual men were being rounded up and tortured in Chechnya. News reports of concentration camps for gay men were met with condemnation from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The stories were vehemently denied by Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov. He claimed gay people simply didn’t exist in his country. He added, “They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people.”

In response, Rainbow Railroad worked behind the scenes to provide emergency visas and travel arrangements to Canada, according to its Executive Director Kimahli Powell, a Canadian whose mother moved from Jamaica before he was born. Working discreetly with Canada’s foreign minister and the Russian LGBT Network, a nongovernmental organization responding to the Chechnya situation, Rainbow Railroad reported that as of March 2018 numerous people have escaped camps in Chechnya to Russian safe houses. So far, the group has been in touch with 140 people seeking asylum.

A vital and life-saving service

It is estimated that LGBTQ lives are in danger from state-sponsored terrorism in over 70 countries around the world. The governments and police forces in these countries not only tolerate violence against LGBTQ persons, they encourage the brutality. Because of this, individuals in such circumstances have precious few resources and even fewer places to turn for protection. Since its inception, Rainbow Railroad has provided a vital and one-of-a kind service, helping hundreds of people find a path to safety, at a cost of about $10,000 per person. Current immigration policy in the United States makes it difficult to move people to the U.S., so most are now going to Europe or Canada.

For those who have successfully escaped the violence of their home country, Rainbow Railroad has been nothing short of transformational. Heartbreaking stories of beatings, detention, death threats, and torture give way to stories of love and support, safety, successful asylum claims, and hope for a secure future in a new home. Couples who had been forced to separate and go into hiding are reunited in a new country and area able to start the process of building a new life.

As the organization grows and becomes better known, the cries for help also increase. Of course, the real solution to the problem is to transform the cultures where anti-LGBTQ violence is allowed and condoned, so that organizations like Rainbow Railroad are no longer needed. Until that day, however, Rainbow Railroad is necessary, and will continue its courageous work saving lives around the world.


1603

Jan 1, 1603

Wakashu–Japan’s Third Gender

image
Wakashu–Japan’s Third Gender
Read More
1919

Jan 1, 1919

Berlin 1919–1933: Birth of the LGBTQ Movement

image
Berlin 1919–1933: Birth of the LGBTQ Movement
Read More
1922

Aug 8, 1922

Rudi Gernreich 1922 - 1985

image
Rudi Gernreich 1922 - 1985
Read More
1936

Feb 21, 1936

Barbara Jordan 1936 - 1996

image
Barbara Jordan 1936 - 1996
Read More
1959

May 1, 1959

Cooper’s Do-nuts Rebellion, Los Angeles CA

image
Cooper’s Do-nuts Rebellion, Los Angeles CA
Read More
1961

Sep 24, 1961

Love Poem Leads to Airman’s Discharge

image
Love Poem Leads to Airman’s Discharge
Read More
1966

Dec 31, 1966

Black Cat Riot, Los Angeles CA

image
Black Cat Riot, Los Angeles CA
Read More
2006

Jan 1, 2006

Rainbow Railroad

image
Rainbow Railroad
Read More

Mar 14, 2006

India's First Openly Gay Prince

image
India's First Openly Gay Prince
Read More
2009

Sep 19, 2009

LGBTQ Mosque Opens

image
LGBTQ Mosque Opens
Read More
2014

Sep 8, 2014

Tom of Finland's Stamp of Approval

image
Tom of Finland's Stamp of Approval
Read More
2016

Aug 1, 2016

Cambodia's First Gay Dance Company

image
Cambodia's First Gay Dance Company
Read More

Nov 1, 2016

LGBTQ History Approved for California K-8 Classrooms

image
LGBTQ History Approved for California K-8 Classrooms
Read More
2019

May 17, 2019

Taiwan OKs LGBT Marriage

image
Taiwan OKs LGBT Marriage
Read More
2019

Sarah Hegazi, a prominent queer Egyptian feminist, committed suicide in exile in Toronto, Canada. She bore the scars of torture and assault she endured in prison in Egypt following her arrest for raising the Pride flag at a Cairo concert in 2017.Sarah HegaziRussian-speaking American activists held a rallу in NYC on the anniversarу of the disappearance of the Chechen singer Zelim Bakaуev.LGBTQ rights activists in St. Petersburg bring allegations of an anti-gay purge in Chechnya. The sign on the left says, “Everyone needs protection from murders.” The banner on the right reads, “LGBT.It could happen to you too.”Moscow Police arrest Nikolai Alexeyev, a LGBT activist and gay pride parade organizer, in 2015. Alexeyev was sentenced to ten days in jail.Police detain a gay rights activist in Minsk, Belarus, in 2010.Broadway Bares raised $25,000 for Rainbow Railroad in 2017.Police in St. Petersburg, Russia, arrest a man who was protesting the treatment of gay men in Chechnya.A woman being caned in public in Indonesia. In September 2018, two Malaysian women were caned for attempting to have lesbian sex in a car.Supporters of LGBTQ Chechens protest outside the Russian embassy in London, 2017.

Add a comment… [account required]
Diego Perez: Learning about LGBTQ people helps me understand that I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s good to know there are places in the world where people like me are accepted or even embraced. This makes me feel hopeful, like maybe I could be a part of a bigger community, a global community.
Miriam Karman: The media galleries really bring LGBTQ history to life. Rainbopedia will be where I go when I write my social studies papers because my high school’s library doesn’t have any books at all covering the subject.
Kungawo Singh: This will keep me up to date on current LGBTQ developments. As an activist, I hope to use the site to network with other people who are trying to make things better in my city.
Sheryl Rithouse: I teach LGBTQ history to fifth-grade students. Because there’s only one approved textbook for my school system, Rainbopedia will be a big help when I’m creating the lesson plans. What a great resource!

logo