Rainbow Railroad is a global not-for-profit organization that helps LGBTQI people facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. They were founded in 2006 as a volunteer-run organization by a diverse group of LGBTQI activists and human rights defenders who wanted to address the levels of violence LGBTQI people face worldwide. They engage in strategic advocacy, provide counseling to LGBTQI folks, and help build the capacity of human rights defenders and organizations in countries where people are being displaced. They also provide emergency travel support and arrange for the private sponsorship of refugees. Rainbow Railroad has developed significant partnerships with corporations such as TD Bank and Labatt Brewing Company, who provide vital funding and promotion for the organization through advertising campaigns. Corporations and other organizations also provide Rainbow Railroad with pro-bono support, such as employee time, services, and expertise. Rainbow Railroad takes donations in forms of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, travel points, proceeds from events, and sales portions. They also provide event speaker services to corporations and organizations for suggested donations in return.
Though the pandemic severely affected possibilities to relocate people across borders, Rainbow Railroad relied on existing research and their own interviews with human rights defenders to develop policy recommendations on upholding the refugee system during the pandemic. They argued that LGBTQI refugees are uniquely vulnerable to the negative effects of the pandemic, that it could lead to more crackdowns on LGBTQI people, and that border closures could lead to the breakdown of refugee resettlement. In their conversations with policy makers throughout the pandemic, Rainbow Railroad has advocated that governments must uphold the right to asylum, resume the resettlement of LGBTQI refugees, release those being held in detention centres, and increase resources dedicated to LGBTQI refugees.
Theory of Change
Involving corporations in the delivery of key services, as well as advocating for government support, ensures that the most vulnerable groups, such as LGBTQI refugees, are not overlooked by society.
While providing emergency travel support to LGBTQI people has been their core focus, Rainbow Railroad supports the LGBTQI community in a myriad of ways. The people they help are often experiencing police harassment, family violence, employment discrimination, or forced conversion therapy. To respond to this, Rainbow Railroad provides accommodation, medical care, access to essential medicines, and relocation. Moreover, they provide direct capacity building and livelihood support to human rights defenders, organizations and collectives that face persecution. Finally, they provide essential counseling and help LGBTQI refugees obtain private sponsorship and resettlement. Rainbow Railroad’s work is completed in partnership with a global network of activists and human rights defenders advocating for LGBTQI rights in countries all around the world such as Jamaica, Uganda, Russia, Indonesia, and Egypt. Most recently, Rainbow Railroad and their partners have been advocating for the immediate resettlement of vulnerable LGBTQI people in Afghanistan. In response, the Canadian government announced their goal of resettling 20,000 Afghans, specifically naming and creating a special program for LGBTQI individuals.
Since Rainbow Railroad’s founding, they have helped over 1,600 LGBTQI individuals find safety through emergency relocation and other forms of assistance. In 2020 alone, they responded to over 2,700 requests for help from around the world, such as providing emotional and counseling support to the gay community in Egypt and providing life saving financial support to LGBTQI people facing persecution in Rwanda. When 20 people were arrested at an LGBTQI shelter in Uganda in 2020, Rainbow Railroad assisted in the effort to free those arrested and contributed to the legal victory that saw all 20 victims released. Rainbow Railroad has also been on the frontlines of securing greater developmental assistance for human rights defenders around the world. In 2020, their work helped spur the creation of the $10 million Act Together for Inclusion fund, which will distribute money to Canadian organizations and Global South partners to support the international movement for LGBTQI equality.