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Toronto organization seeks help to resettle LGBT Syrians

Queer Syrians face persecution from ISIS and their own communities

Rainbow Railroad is looking to help LGBT Syrians escape their hostile environments. Credit: Anton Chalakov/iStock/Thinkstock

A Canadian organization is raising funds to bring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Syrian refugees to Canada, as calls to resettle thousands of migrants and refugees from the war-torn region increase.

Justin Taylor, the executive director of the Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad, says that before September 2014, the organization hadn’t had a request from a Syrian person requesting assistance. This year, Rainbow Railroad has had 16 asylum seekers approach them directly, as well as word of many more who are currently in Jordan and Lebanon.

“We’ve been in touch with people who run safe houses and there’s a ton more cases that just didn’t know about Rainbow Railroad until now.”

LGBT Syrians have been targeted by ISIS, an extremist fundamentalist group that has stretched into Syria as the nation endures another year of a civil war that started in 2011. According to Al Jazeera, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the death of 30 people who were accused of  sodomy. Other escapees from the region have recounted how the group persecutes LGBT people, sometimes using social media to find them.

However, Taylor says that LGBT Syrians also face discrimination when they escape Syria for Jordan or Lebanon. “It’s still illegal to be gay,” Taylor says.

“They are being lumped in with a larger Syrian population — that is at risk and faces its own challenges — but within that community, they are still being targeted.”

The photo of Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach after his family tried to make a dangerous journey from Turkey to Greece has galvanized the rest of the world into calling for action for all the refugees and migrants from Syria. “That image is just so devastating,” Taylor says.

He says that Rainbow Railroad, which has helped many LGBT refugees worldwide escape persecution in their home countries, is working with Lifeline Syria, an organization that is helping to bring 1,000 Syrian refugees into the Greater Toronto Area over the next two years on sponsorship applications. Taylor says Rainbow Railroad also plans to establish settlement teams in Toronto who will support Syrian refugees during their first year in the city.

Rainbow Railroad is recruiting volunteers at a Toronto information session on Sept 29, 2015. More details, and information on how to make a donation, are available on its website.