In more than 70 countries across the globe, LGBTQI+ people still face discrimination, violence and oppression just for being themselves. North American non-profit the Rainbow Railroad, helps persecuted LGBTQI+ people find safety and escape unimaginable challenges.
Through the TreadRight Foundation, the philanthropic arm of our parent company The Travel Corporation (TTC), we help the Rainbow Railroad provide emergency travel support, financial aid, and support to the global LGBTQ+ community. As it’s LGBT+ History Month, we wanted to shine a light on the important work this organisation does to support some of the 80 million displaced people around the world and those LGBTQI+ people whose lives are in danger simply because of who they love or who they are.
Who are the Rainbow Railroad?
A diverse group of passionate activists and human rights defenders founded the Rainbow Railroad in 2006 to address the violence and state-sponsored persecution that the LGBTQI+ community faces worldwide. The name – Rainbow Railroad – references the Underground Railroad, a 19th-century network of activists that helped Black people escape enslavement in the American South. Right now the charity receives around 10,000 requests for help each year. But as awareness grows so too does the need for support.
What does the Rainbow Railroad do?
Each year the non-profit organisation relocates people facing imminent danger. These people are often facing police harassment, family violence, employment discrimination or forced conversion therapy. The charity needs to verify each case, research safe routes and connect with local contacts for logistical help. Then it may provide travel to a safer country where the person can access basic rights and freedoms.
While the Rainbow Railroad can’t relocate every case, the charity works with on-the-ground partners in each location. Together they provide support, care and information to help the LGBTQ+ community. The organisation also monitors and responds to crackdowns on LGBTQ+ people through mass detentions or arrests. It also provides non-monetary resources and counsel, and arranges private sponsorship of refugees.
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Where does the Rainbow Railroad help?
The Rainbow Railroad works in all regions across the world, working in partnership with a network of activists and human rights defenders who advocate for LGBTQI+ rights. The charity has helped people around the globe, from the Caribbean to Egypt to Uganda to Russia.
Hear Edwar’s story
Born and raised in Syria, Edwar always knew he couldn’t live life fully in a country where homosexuality is criminalised. But when war broke out, daily life became very difficult.
“It was a bittersweet moment having to leave. Leaving everything and everyone behind was a very difficult decision to make,” he told the Rainbow Railroad while reflecting on his journey.
“I had never left my country up to that point so everything was new to me. But conditions of living were abysmal – we barely had electricity and food was getting so expensive, I also had to go to college every day under bomb shells not knowing if it will get me some day or not. I was relieved and anxious, but I had to move on and build a better life for myself somewhere else.”
The Syrian refugee resettled in Canada five years ago after fleeing across the border to Turkey. While safe from the war, he was attacked in Istanbul by police after Pride, and so he reached out to the charity for help.
“I have always known that I wanted to leave since living my life as a gay person in Syria was never an option,” he said. “After the war broke out in the country it was definitely the moment that I decided leaving was the best option because it wasn’t safe for anyone.
“The only country I was able to get into at the time was Turkey and it wasn’t the best place to be gay either so I started looking for ways to move and be able to live somewhere where I am accepted. Canada was one of the first countries I thought of for being so diverse and inclusive.”
Now an active part of the LGBTQ+ community in Canada, he’s just chosen to sponsor someone via the Rainbow Railroad. He says it’s important for him to give back to the program that saved his life.
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What Trafalgar’s doing to help
When you travel with us you help us support the work of important charities like the Rainbow Railroad. Through our sustainability partner TreadRight, we’ve committed significant financial support to further Rainbow Railroad’s cause. We hope the important work of this charity can continue to help more LGBTQI+ people find safety.
Learn more about the Rainbow Railroad, its mission and how you can offer direct support here.