Every year, The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s (IGLTA) Global Convention takes place in a new host city and welcomes international delegates from across the world. Every year I speak at the conference but this year I was invited to attend IGLTA fundraising gala and award ceremony on behalf of Visit West Hollywood.
During the ceremony, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was awarded the Pinnacle Award for his work to make Canada a more welcoming and affirming country. Let’s be real, Trudeau is killing it in terms of LGBT inclusive policies. It was well deserved – among the hundreds of policy initiative Trudeau has supported, he also issued a public apology to those LGBTQ individuals who were unfairly criminalized in the past, and he was also the first Prime Minister to march in a Pride parade.
While Trudeau was obviously the most glossy award winner of the evening, one of Canada’s nonprofits really stuck in my memory because of the incredible work they’ve done to support LGBT refugees in hostile countries around the world. Which lead me to an internet search rabbit hole where I discovered LGBT organizations from all over the world doing work to advocate for the most vulnerable folks in their countries.
The most common place Middle Eastern LGBT refugees flee to is to Turkey where they seek asylum from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Today the resettlement process, administered by the UNHCR, can take up to 3 years where in the past it was 10-14 months.
Until they have official documentation, asylum seekers are in limbo. They face the daily fear of being arrested or deportation and face many other challenges. They must learn to speak the local language, find a job to survive, put a roof over their heads, and survive without a social support system, as most make this journey for freedom alone they mostly have little or no money.
At any given time, Rainbow Railroad is working on 30-50 open cases for LGBT refugees. Their work involves confirming their details, putting them in touch with local resources and helping them identify safe routes for escape from their home countries to Canada. As the situation worsens in many parts of the world, these numbers continue to grow.
But Rainbow Railroad is far from the only organization doing this kind of work. There are organizations all over the world doing work both domestically and internationally on behalf of LGBT people.
Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees – Iran
IRQR is a registered charity in Canada. IRQR assists asylum seeking LGBT with finding refuge and provide them with the opportunity for a new chance at life. The IRQR helps each refugee with the extremely complicated process of submitting an asylum claim. The IRQR also assists those refugees whose claims are granted and who are referred to Canada for resettlement with completing the immigration application forms that the refugees must submit to immigration officers at the Canadian Embassy.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) – Uganda
Sexual Minorities Uganda is a nonprofit organization working towards policy reform while acting as an umbrella organization to help coordinate the efforts of 18 smaller LGBT organizations in Uganda. These organizations provide dozens of services to the LGBT community such as medical attention, counseling, guidance, as well as support for the economic empowerment of LGBT people who often struggle to find work once they are outed. SMUG works closely with local, regional and international human rights organizations and activists with one goal to end discrimination and injustice towards LGBT people in Uganda.
Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB) – Brazil
Grupo Gay da Bahia (GGB) The Gay Group of Bahia or simply GGB is the oldest LGBT nonprofit in Brazil. They operate out of the state of Bahia which is known for its high rates of anti-LGBT violence and violence against women. Their aim is to reduce stigma and support local LGBT people through social programming and policy change. If you’re visiting Salvador, check out these social justice oriented things to do on your visit.
Swedish Rainbow Foundation – Sweden
The Rainbow Foundation supports the efforts of RFSL’s Rainbow Academy. They operate a platform for international LGBT training in hostile countries and provide a space for LGBTQ activists to come together and crowdsource information. The foundation also offers support for LGBT refugees seeking asylum. One of the benefits of seeking asylum in Sweden is that refugees can be employed while they wait for their immigration paperwork to be approved while that is not the case for most countries.
The LGBT Asylum Project – San Francisco
The LGBT Asylum Project aids in getting legal services to LGBTQ+ immigrants at a cost lower than the typical $6,000-$15,000 price. They strive to make the asylum seeking processes less stressful and provide resources for those looking for help.
Jewish Family & Community Services Refugees & Immigrants – East Bay
The LGBT Refugee Services of this organization help with housing, health care, benefits, finding LGBT groups, and more parts of the resettlement process. They are supported by various organizations, including HIAS and Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, as well as individual donors.