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Rainbow Railroad – One Year Follow Up

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Article by: Unscattered Horizons

For the April 2023 issue of No Stunts Magazine we were proud to interview Rainbow Railroad about the work they do to support LGBTQIA+ people, especially LGBTQIA+ refugees, around the world (the full interview can be found here). This year, I’ll be providing an update on several of the topics covered in last year’s interview as well as sharing what Rainbow Railroad has been up to since.

No Stunts Magazine first reached out to Rainbow Railroad because of Liam Payne’s involvement with their organisation. Liam has donated money to Rainbow Railroad, attended fundraising events hosted by his friends Landon Ross and Julian Morris, and his tweet supporting Rainbow Railroad is one of the most interacted with posts about the organisation, bringing necessary attention to their work (Liam’s post can be found here). As fans of Liam, the magazine was proud to see him connect with such a vital organisation and we were happy to highlight their work for the fandom, continuing what Liam started by using his platform to raise awareness about Rainbow Railroad’s work.

To summarise their mission, “Rainbow Railroad helps at risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety.” This is the core of their work and they use many avenues to accomplish this goal. Where they spend the most resources and a bulk of their money is with direct intervention, evacuating at risk queer people and relocating them to safety, often in another country.

Since 2006, Rainbow Railroad “has helped over 13,000 LGBTQI+ individuals find safety through emergency relocation, crisis response, cash assistance, and other forms of assistance.”  Relocation is a complex, often dangerous task for all involved, but Rainbow Railroad is clear that the heroes of the stories they share and the focus of their mission is on those who reach out for help. In some countries, just opening the Rainbow Railroad website would be considered illegal, and these individuals put themselves through incredible circumstances to reach safety.

Using a trauma informed approach, Rainbow Railroad responds to the most urgent safety needs as immediately as possible. They receive thousands of requests for help, and the assistance they provide can come in many forms. To read a handful of stories from those who have been relocated, visit their website or their YouTube channel. Rainbow Railroad is based in New York and Toronto but they operate globally, and the individuals they help are from all over the world.

When we spoke last year, the increasing levels of violence and legalised bigotry against queer people in the US, especially trans people, were a concern but not quite at the level we see now. There has been a continued escalation in anti-trans legislation across the US and in several other places. Notably, the murders of Brianna Ghey and Nex Benedict have been prominent in the news and across social media. Dozens, likely hundreds, of trans people have been victims of hate crimes in the past year because of their actual or perceived gender identity with little to no protections. Rainbow Railroad still considers many parts of the US and Canada to be the safest options for relocation for trans people whose safety is at risk, but they intentionally relocate individuals where they do have protections as well as community, which does not include all states or regions of the United States or Canada.

One of the ways that Rainbow Railroad ensures a lasting, secure relocation for individuals is through the Welcome Corps. A program through the United States government, Welcome Corps allows Americans to sponsor one of the refugees relocating to the US. It gives the refugee immediate access to support networks and targeted services when they arrive. This is a relatively new program and is still developing, but if you’re interested in learning more or potentially sponsoring an LGBTQIA+ refugee, this page of the Rainbow Railroad website will give you more information.

Not everyone has the ability to sponsor a refugee, but there are many other ways to show your support for Rainbow Railroad. They accept monetary donations to assist with evacuations and other assistance. There’s also the option to host your own fundraiser, like the one that Liam attended. And if all you can do is retweet or repost their content and stay informed on the issues, that is also incredibly helpful to their mission. The more people know about the services they offer, the more people they are able to help.

During our 2023 interview, we asked Rainbow Railroad about their work with LGBTQIA+ refugees from Afghanistan. 2024 will be the third year of Rainbow Railroad’s acute response to the continued need for evacuation from Afghanistan for queer individuals. The Taliban holding control of the country’s governance has increased the danger for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Afghanistan, and at this point there is no clear end in sight. Because of this, the need for evacuations and other assistance to queer people in the country is incredibly high. Hundreds of queer Afghans have been evacuated and thousands more have received other forms of help from Rainbow Railroad. The work in Afghanistan is ongoing, and unfortunately, “the availability of pathways to safety for LGBTQI+ Afghans is stagnating.” To learn more about the strategic plan for Rainbow Railroad’s work in Afghanistan, they have provided a full report that is available here.

Since our interview, Rainbow Railroad was recognised by Pink News with the 2023 Charity/Community Group of the Year Award. Pink News specifically highlighted their work in Chechnya and Afghanistan as reasons for honouring the organisation in this way.

In addition to their work in the areas already mentioned, Rainbow Railroad has had an increased focus on Uganda and Ghana due to recently implemented legislation and the effects that legislation has had on the queer people in those countries. There is a higher need for evacuations and other assistance, with a higher volume of requests than in the past.

Ghana’s parliament recently passed an extremely harsh anti-LGBTQIA+ bill in February of 2024. The bill is called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Act. As Rainbow Railroad points out, “Despite gaining independence from British rule…in 1957, more than six decades later, colonial anti-LGBTQI+ laws continue to reverberate in the country and across the continent.” The law allows a three year prison sentence for any Ghanans who participate in consensual same-sex intimacy as well as criminalising the “promotion and support of LGBTQI+ activities.” Essentially, any queer identity or any action in line with that identity is now illegal and a jailable offence. As a consequence, there is increased violence and surveillance of queer people and queer communities in response to this legislation.

Rainbow Railroad has seen a “49% increase in requests for help from Uganda compared to the same period in 2023.” Going even further than Ghana, Uganda has fully criminalised same-sex intimacy and it is currently punishable by the death sentence. Homosexuality is illegal in 31 African countries with varying levels of punishment for those found guilty. This is an evolving situation, and Rainbow Railroad is working with organisations in Africa and elsewhere to ensure the safety and security of as many individuals as they can. There will likely be updates to Rainbow Railroad’s response that will be posted on their website and across social media as they become available.

If you or someone you know is in need of the assistance of Rainbow Railroad, their website has a direct link to the Request Help page. This page is available in multiple languages and will break down the process for anyone contacting the organisation for help.

One thing I think is vital to include in this update for our 2024 article about Rainbow Railroad is that the increased violence against LGBTQIA+ people in places like Ghana and Uganda is not separate from the increased violence that we are seeing in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the Western World.

As Rainbow Railroad mentioned, there is a direct link between the colonisation and exploitation of the African continent (and Australia, and India, and so on) by the same people who colonised the Americas and brought ingrained homophobia and racism into the fabric of our current government and our society. The struggle for queer liberation is not Ghana’s problem, or Africa’s problem, or the United States’ problem. Everyone is complicit and every individual has a responsibility for the safety and security of queer people in our local communities and across the world. There is no separating the hatred towards our Ghanan queer siblings from the hatred that led to the death of Nex Benedict or Brianna Ghey or, to go back a few decades, Marsha P Johnson (who I covered in a previous article).

Homophobia, transphobia, and anti-queer bigotry continue to spread. The past year has seen a global increase in anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation and an increase in interpersonal violence against queer individuals. Supporting organisations with Rainbow Railroad is one way to tangibly help those who are most in immediate danger. Share their information, learn from the stories of those they’ve helped, and support their work monetarily if you can. Rainbow Railroad is so desperately needed and it is a life-saving organisation. Someday we hope their work will no longer be needed, but in this moment, in April of 2024, they are vital to the safety of vulnerable queer individuals.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read last year’s interview and this year’s update. Please spread the word about this incredible organisation so that they can continue to help at risk LGBTQIA+ individuals get to safety.

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