Rainbow Railroad

How Rainbow Railroad is Saving LGBTQI Lives Worldwide

Person holding the Pride flag. Yannis Papanastasopoulos. CC 2.0

Person holding the Pride flag. Yannis Papanastasopoulos. CC 2.0

Love is one of the most powerful acts of humanity. Unfortunately, it is an act not all can do freely. For those in countries that disavow LGBTQI+ rights, love is illegal for them. To express it is a crime, dangerous and potentially life-threatening. For these individuals, there almost seems no hope. “I want you to imagine being beaten, interrogated, stabbed for who you love,” says Executive Director Kimahli Powell in a YouTube video by Rainbow Railroad titled SAVE A LGBTQI LIFE. “I want you to imagine this is all happening to you because you live in one of over 70 countries where your government not only tolerates, but supports and initiates this violence towards you—and in some cases, you might even face the death penalty all for loving who you love.”

Rainbow Railroad is a non-profit organization solely focused on rescuing and aiding LGBTQI+ individuals across the globe. They help those who are living in countries that do not condone the LGBTQI+ community. Rainbow Railroad is currently “working on 30-50 open cases, confirming their details, putting them in touch with local resources and helping them identify safe routes for escape.”. One of their most recent cases helped Ahmed, an Egyptian activist and Rainbow Railroad rescuee, escape.

Ahmed was persecuted by his own country solely because he made the brave decision of brandishing the rainbow Pride Flag at a Marshrou’ Lelia concert in Cairo, Egypt. The consequence of the impactful decision? Ahmed being sentenced to jail for a little over three months. “It was the worst feeling I had ever felt,” states Ahmed in a video detailing his story on the Rainbow Railroad site. “Knowing that all of the country was against you and all of the country wanted to … arrest you and kill you.” Ahmed then pauses in the video and then pridefully states, “Now I am free.”

Egypt has no explicit laws condemning homosexuality, but the country has many ways of making the law work in their favor. Many individuals who are suspected of being apart of or supporting the LGBTQI+ community can face “debauchery and public morals laws with prison terms of up to 17 years” according to Lonely Planet's advice column for LGBTQI+ travellers going to Egypt. But they are not alone in their mistreatment.

Countries such as Malaysia, Brunei, Maldives, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan have strict and life-threatening laws in place that subject anybody who is openly or suspected of being in the LGBTQI+ community in danger. The laws in place range from years in imprisonment, fines, public whipping/physical abuse, and in the worst cases, death. Rainbow Railroad has been able to aid the people in these countries, specifically Tarek and Mazen, a couple from Syria. They applied for aid and were granted asylum in Canada in 2016, where they now live happily and freely.

But how does Rainbow Railroad do it? They raise funds from donations that volunteers, visitors, or supporters of their cause can donate at any time. All donations are put into a general fund that helps the organizations overall mission. Rainbow Railroad also provides a way where one can turn their upcoming birthday party or celebration into a sponsored event. If a host opts to sponsor an event, the proceeds they will raise go directly to a case they are sponsoring. According to a spokesperson for Rainbow Railroad, “Rainbow Railroad has community sponsorship, which means the organization facilitates helping LGBTQI refugees through the government PSR program (http://www.rstp.ca/en/refugee-sponsorship/the-private-sponsorship-of-refugees-program/). Groups of community members get together, raise about $20,000 to support a newcomer as they prepare for their journey, meet them at the airport and through their first year in Canada.” Rainbow Railroad also has volunteers across the globe to help with tasks from outsourcing people to verifying individuals request for help. For more information, click on their TAKE ACTION tab on their website, rainbowrailroad.com. There they list step by step how to get involved and how to contact them regarding how one wants to get involved.

Ahmed is one of the 198 people helped in 2018, but there are still many more individuals in need of escape. If you are interested in helping Rainbow Railroad, under their TAKE ACTION tab on their website, rainbowrailroad.com, list the many ways you could get involved with their organization. The most immediate way to help is to click the DONATE tab and give whatever you are able. Our capacity to love is what keeps us powerful and Rainbow Railroad continues to exemplify the actions that can be taken with said power.

OLIVIA HAMMOND is an undergraduate at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. She studies Creative Writing, with minors in Sociology/Anthropology and Marketing. She has travelled to seven different countries, most recently studying abroad this past summer in the Netherlands. She has a passion for words, traveling, and learning in any form.

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Pride or Prejudice

A look at the countries where LGBTQ+ is not something celebrated

Pride NYC, photo credit: Anna Lopez

Pride NYC, photo credit: Anna Lopez

June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month. That means parades, celebrations, self-expression, and acknowledgment. At least, in the US that is. While people in the LGBTQ+ community still face struggles every day all over the world, the United States included, it is sometimes easy to forget that there are some places in the world where being a part of the LGBTQ+ community can mean imprisonment, and in some cases, death.

There are an abundance of places that have criminalized same-sex relations around the world. In Liberia, the penalty for same-sex intercourse can be a maximum of one year in prison, and/or a fine of $1,000. In 2012, a direct quote from the Speaker of the House of Representatives named Alex Tyler was “I am a Methodist and traditionalist. I will never support a gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country.” And he is not alone in his stance. According to 76crimes.com, there are 74 countries as of April of this year that have laws against people in the LGBTQ+ community. In some cases, such as in Afghanistan, LGBTQ+ people can be put to death for who they are.

Many of the countries that have anti-LGBTQ+ laws are located in the Eastern hemisphere, condensed to many parts of Africa and southern Asia, and there is also a lot of discrimination in the Middle East. A well-known place for discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is Russia. While same-sex intercourse was finally legalized in 1993, and gender identity and expression laws, specifically legal gender change, were finalized in 1997, there are no legal discrimination protections in place. The anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Russia is well known around the world, and is periodically brought up in the news and online. Years ago, there was a few images circulating the web of Vladimir Putin with rainbow flags and drag makeup. These images were popular in 2013 after the Russian government prohibited propaganda that showed “non-traditional sexual relationships” being given to children.

It is undeniable that people in the LGBTQ+ community are met with hate and prejudice in the United States despite the strides that have been made here, and those acts of hate and violence should not be forgotten or swept under the rug. However, this Pride Month let us not forget about those who don’t have a voice to go against or speak out against their oppressors. Celebrate those who cannot celebrate themselves due to the unjust and violent laws they may face in their homelands.


ANNA LOPEZ is a rising sophomore at Ithaca college. She is a writing major with aspirations of heading to law school after completing her undergraduate years. She loves animals, art, and travel; she can't wait to see where writing takes her!

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