Rainbow Railroad is a charitable organization that should be on everybody’s lips right now.
What they are able to accomplish is beyond incredible and super admirable. Rainbow Railroad’s daily goal is to help members of our LGBTQ community escape violence and persecution in their home countries.
There is still a vast amount of people in this world who are anti-gay to the point where many have been murdered someone simply because of their sexuality.
Rainbow Railroad does everything they can to get them to a place where they are not only safe but feel like they can be their authentic selves. They were part of facilitating a victim of the infamous 2017 “gay purge” in Chechnya, Amin. His story of escape to Canada as shared with viewers on 60 Minutes in 2019.
Now they have a powerful new initiative worth learning about. It’s called the #60in60 Campaign where the Canadian-based org is trying to raise $600,000 in the last 60 days of 2020 to save 60 lives. So far they’ve made it almost to the halfway point (DONATE HERE FOLKS).
I chatted with their Executive Director Kimahli Powell about #60in60 and so much more about Rainbow Railroad in my exclusive interview below.
First, for those who don’t know, can you please tell us a little bit more about Rainbow Railroad and what your organization does?
Around the world, 70 countries criminalize same-sex activity. In ten of those countries, a conviction could result in a death sentence. In too many countries LGBTQI people are routinely arrested, denied basic human rights, and are being brutally attacked, tortured or even murdered.
Rainbow Railroad is a US 501(c)(3) non-profit and a registered Canadian charity, with a mission to help LGBTQI individuals find safety as they seek freedom from state-enabled persecution and violence.
Rainbow Railroad provides financial assistance and support to LGBTQI individuals who are facing an immediate threat through our core Emergency Travel Support program. Our program officers work directly with the individuals requesting our help to identify options and plan the best route to safety. Beyond direct travel assistance, Rainbow Railroad case workers provide information and resources, coordinate referrals to local organizations and help the individual understand their rights as asylum seekers.
Since its founding in 2006, Rainbow Railroad has facilitated safe travel for more than 900 individuals. In 2019 alone, Rainbow Railroad helped 204 people from 26 countries find a pathway to a safe destination in countries like France, Germany, Spain and Canada.
Today, Rainbow Railroad is an internationally recognized leader in the fight of LGBTQI human rights.
You just launched your #60in60 campaign which promises to save at least 60 LGBTQ lives and have had a great deal of success with it so far. What is your ultimate goal with this incredible initiative?
Our ultimate goal is to raise enough money to help another 60 people who need assistance find safety. We receive thousands of requests each year from LGBTQI people around the world for assistance, and to date, our organization has helped over 1000 people move to safer countries. As an organization, we exist to help out those people facing extreme violence and persecution, but we also advocate for a world where every LGBTQI person can be themselves, regardless of which country they were born in.
Which countries do you find have the highest amount of people trying to escape life-threatening persecution for being LGBTQ?
Last year we received nearly 3000 requests from 121 different countries, so it’s broad. There is a correlation however between the number of people asking for help and whether their country criminalizes same-sex intimacy and discriminates against trans folks.
You’ve also famously facilitated a victim of Chechyna’s “gay purge” in 2017. How is that person doing today?
We’re proud to have helped over 100 Chechens find safety, with the Russian LGBT Network. We tend to not stay in touch directly with the people we help, but we’ve recently connected with them and know they are living their life as their authentic selves with the security of being safe.
It was also amazing to see Rainbow Railroad’s refugees on the debut season of ‘Canada’s Drag Race’. How did that come about and were you thrilled with the result?
It was so much fun! A supporter of ours connected with us during World Pride in New York City and wanted to share this story. We were happy to connect them with a group of people we helped to see if they were interested. We were so thrilled with the result, it introduced us to a whole new audience of potential supporters.
What are your thoughts on Biden beating Trump when it comes to refugees wanting to find solace in living in The United States?
In the lead-up to the US election, we prepared for a Trump or Biden win. If Trump won, we were prepared to be much more vocal about the unjust and illegal treatment of LGBTQI migrants seeking asylum. But as Biden prevailed, we now have an opportunity to advocate for laws and policies that allow for more LGBTQI folks facing persecution to find safety. Hopefully with a new administration, there’s an opportunity to help more LGBTQI folks facing persecution find refuge in the United States.
Finally what are you most hopeful for in the battles that you take on moving into 2021?
The pandemic threatened to halt our work – with restrictions on travel and a precarious financial outlook. So far we have been able to weather the storm, and provide support to over 400 people this year. I’m hopeful that we’re able to work through COVID-19 restrictions to help more people find safety.