Rainbow Railroad has had a breakout year.
The Toronto-based organization which helps LGBT refugees get to safe countries has been ramping up its operations and finding new sources for funding.
In 2015 Rainbow Railroad was able to provide $125,000 in emergency travel assistance that helped 29 people reach safety, according to executive director Justin Taylor. It also assisted 48 additional people, who didn’t require funding, reach safety.
“It was a very, very big year,” he says.
But Taylor says that the organization will be ramping up its efforts even more in the upcoming year. In January 2016 alone, Rainbow Railroad was able to help 20 individuals.
Financial support for Rainbow Railroad has also been growing. Taylor says that enough money was raised to match the $300,000 operating budget from last year. And in December, a fundraiser hosted by the Upside Down Tree foundation in Winnipeg netted $200,000 in a single night. The foundation matched those funds, bringing the total to $400,000.
“Right now the board has set aside that pledge and we will be having a strategic planning session in the coming months to decide how that’s going to be invested,” Taylor says.
But even without those additional funds, Rainbow Railroad will be hiring a full-time caseworker, and is hoping to double the amount of money that goes toward pre-travel support.
Rainbow Railroad has also been building up its capacity to help refugees in different areas.
“About a year and a half ago, the countries that we are getting the requests for help from and we’re working on were all English speaking countries, other Commonwealth countries,” Taylor says.
Much of Rainbow Railroad’s work was being done in Jamaica, in conjunction with J-FLAG, an LGBT organization in the country. It also had built up some expertise in Uganda and Nigeria, two countries that have seen a marked increase in state-sponsored homophobia.
“When people would reach out to us from other regions, it was very difficult, we didn’t have very many connections and we did whatever we could to figure it out,” Taylor says.
But over the last year, Rainbow Railroad has been recruiting volunteers with language skills that can allow them to help non-English speaking refugees, and have been forging partnerships with allied groups in those countries.
Two new teams have been set up: one to handle cases from the Middle East and North Africa, and one to handle cases from South and Central Asia.
“So now we’ve got a team of people who speak Arabic who have connections to the local culture and local organizations there who are working on cases from that region,” Taylor says. “In January we were able to move our very, very first case from Pakistan to get them to safety which is something we never would have been able to do a year ago.”
While the vast majority of the cases that they’re able to help with still come from Jamaica, Taylor says that the Middle East and North Africa is where the most requests for help come from.
Taylor says that while the support from the community has helped build the capacity to respond to humanitarian crises against LGBT people, there is still a long way to go.
“The work’s definitely not done and the need for support is definitely not over,” he says. “But we’re opening a new chapter in our organization’s history where we’re hoping to be able to grow faster than we ever thought was possible.”