While much progress has been made for the LGBT+ community, due to the bravery and hard work of many activists and advocates over many decades, the number of individuals who are at risk or face persecution for their sexuality is growing.
Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto and New York-based non-profit organization that assists LGBT+ worldwide escape violence and discrimination, is expecting to receive more than 10,000 requests for assistance this year as the number of displaced people globally surges amid geopolitical conflicts like the war in Ukraine. That’s up from roughly 8,500 requests in 2021, which was 100% more than in 2020.
"When migrant issues happen or when crises happen, LGBT+ people are uniquely vulnerable because they lack basic legal protections,” said Dane Bland, Rainbow Railroad's Director of Development & Communications.
“And then if you take away all protections and put that place into a state of war or a state of large-scale geopolitical crisis, well, then out the window goes pretty much any hope that LGBT+ individuals and refugees have of any kind of safety or protection. And that is where we come in.”
From helping to navigate legal and immigration requirements to researching possible routes to social support on the ground, Rainbow Railroad's mission is to help LGBT+ people find safety through emergency relocation and other forms of assistance. The process can take anywhere from a few months to years, depending on the complexity of the situation.
Scotiabank formed a partnership with Rainbow Railroad in 2021 and donated $125,000 to provide direct assistance to LGBT+ people in need globally. The donation was made as part of ScotiaRISE, the Bank’s 10-year, $500 million initiative to promote economic resilience among underrepresented groups.
The Bank is now committing $495,000 over the next three years to support Rainbow Railroad. The funds will go toward the non-profit’s core programs, as well as settlement support, facilitating the resettlement of refugees to a number of countries and assistance with basic needs such as food, shelter, employment, mental and physical healthcare, and legal aid.
There are more places around the world where LGBT+ people experience persecution than there are where they experience safety and welcome.
"Rainbow Railroad's work of helping LGBT+ refugees to find safety is incredibly important and impactful, and can mean the difference between life or death. Scotiabank is proud to partner with the organization and support its mission to save lives and foster inclusivity around the globe," said Meigan Terry, Chief Sustainability, Social Impact and Communications Officer at Scotiabank.
Scotiabank’s investment will also provide LGBT+ people with direct support in countries where they're experiencing persecution (financial support, mental health support), as well as post-evacuation support in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. LGBT+ newcomers will also see their inclusion accelerated through provision of direct financial aid upon settlement, legal aid support, and direct mental health service provision supported by Rainbow Railroad.
As of December 2020, at least 69 United Nations member states currently criminalize homosexuality, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). Same-sex intimacy is legally punishable by death in six countries.
Bland notes that there are 70 countries with laws on the books related to same-sex intimacy, and another 14 with specific laws related to gender identity and free gender expression. However, Rainbow Railroad, which operates in six regions worldwide, received requests for help from 140-plus countries.
Protective laws don’t necessarily equal safety, as social attitudes and social discrimination can be pervasive, Bland added. LGBT+ individuals face social persecution and may not have adequate protections, he added.
“There’s significant systemic prejudice that exists that really works against LGBT+ people, and they face this in home or in family violence that just isn't policed and they can't really escape from. It’s very dangerous,” Bland said.
Roughly 30% to 40% of Rainbow Railroad’s requests right now are from regions in crisis — Afghanistan and Ukraine predominantly, he added. He notes that LGBT+ people in Russia, particularly human-rights defenders and activists, are also at high risk.
Still, the discrimination and persecution LGBT+ people face is “a truly global issue,” he said.
“People really think of LGBT+ persecution or the migrant and refugee crisis as centered on specific locations in the world. But that's not really the case. And that's unfortunate. There are more places around the world where LGBT+ people experience persecution than there are where they experience safety and welcome.”