OTTAWA — Canada has partnered with a non-profit to seek out LGBTQ people fleeing violence all over the world and refer them to Canada as government-assisted refugees.
Rainbow Railroad is based in North America and aims to help people facing persecution from systemic, state-enabled homophobia and transphobia all over the world.
Until now, the agency has done that by offering emergency relocation, crisis response and cash assistance to people in danger.
The partnership with Canada is the first that would see Rainbow Railroad facilitate government-sponsored refugee resettlement.
"What this allows us to do that we haven't been able to do to date is really triage really vulnerable cases and urgent cases for protection," said Rainbow Railroad CEO Kimahli Powell.
Persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity is on the rise. Just last week, Uganda adopted one of the harshest anti-homosexuality laws in the world.
Canadian politicians of all stripes have condemned the law, which prescribes the death penalty for people who engage in same-sex intimacy involving a partner with HIV, and long prison sentences for "promoting" homosexuality and engaging in same-sex relations.
Persecuted people are already referred to Canada by the United Nations refugee agency, but the situation in Uganda illustrates why an agency focused on LGBTQ refugees is so important, said Powell.
"Many people are fleeing Uganda to neighbouring Kenya, that also criminalizes same-sex intimacy," Powell explained in an interview. The discrimination they face in Kenya makes it more difficult for them to access traditional refugee resources.
"A referring partner that has expertise in LGBTQI+ persons, like Rainbow Railroad, especially in times of crisis, can make resettlement safer for LGBTQI+ people at risk."
Since the law passed, Rainbow Railroad has had 600 requests for help from Uganda, which is more than double the number they had all of last year from that country.
Powell says 67 countries have criminalized same-sex intimacy.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser touted the arrangement as one of the first of its kind, and said in a written statement it will help Canada better respond to "emerging situations."
The government is still negotiating how many refugees are likely to be referred through the program, but Powell hopes those referrals will begin as soon as possible.
Rainbow Railroad received some 10,000 requests for help last year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: A previous version of this story referred to the organization as "Rainbow Road" in some instances. In fact, the name of the organization is "Rainbow Railroad."