What would you do if your life was at risk for being you?
These are the first words you will read on the Rainbow Railroad website, a Toronto-based charity that focuses on helping LGBTQ+ people escape persecution and violence.
As you read this, a brutal campaign against LGBTQ+ people is sweeping through Chechnya, a region in southern Russia.
Dozens of men suspected of being gay or bisexual are being rounded up and tortured under the order of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen Republic leader. These men are being held in secret detentions, where they are being electrocuted and beaten.
These are the first alleged concentration camps for LGBTQ+ people since the Holocaust.
There are reports of violent “interrogations” at these camps, as Chechen officials attempt to get detained men to confess the names and locations of more gay and bisexual men.
Some of these men appear to have forcibly disappeared, and some others have returned to their families barely alive from beatings. At least three men appear to have died since this brutal “purge” came to light this past April.
Chechen government spokespeople deny any knowledge of a purge, claiming that there are no gay people to detain; they are insisting that “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic.” Chechnya is strictly conservative and therefore officials have insisted that gay people do not live in their country.
The Russian LGBTQ+ network has created a hotline for gay individuals seeking help to escape potential detainment and torture.
Kimashli Powell, Rainbow Railroad’s executive director, reported that his group reached out to Randy Boissonnault – who serves as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special advisor on LGBTQ+ issues – in April following the reports that gay men were under attack in conservative Chechnya.
Mr. Boissonnault helped coordinate the secret evacuation program with the Canadian Global Affairs and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship department.
Rainbow Railroad has since helped 35 LGBTQ+ individuals escape from Chechnya, 31 of whom have now arrived in Canada. There are about 40 Chechens residing in safe houses waiting to leave Russia.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
• DONATE. Visit the Rainbow Railroad website (www.rainbowrailroad.ca) to make a one-time donation to help save a life. They also accept donations of Aeroplan miles.
• HOST AN EVENT. Help raise awareness and donate the proceeds. Send an email to the Events team of Rainbow Railroad and they can provide you with support material to help make your fundraiser a success.
• SPONSOR A CASE. Groups can work together to sponsor a case through the Canadian Government’s Group of Five program.