New report reveals state of LGBTQ+ persecution worldwide

Pride flags wave in the wind
Pride flags at Philadelphia City Hall. (June 2022)

Rainbow Railroad — a nonprofit organization that provides relocation and other assistance to LGBTQI+ people in unsafe countries — supported 4,560 people and fielded a record 9,591 requests for help in 2022. This includes people trying to flee countries such as Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led government persecutes people who do not abide by gender norms, and Uganda, which recently imposed the harshest anti-LGBTQ+ law in the world.

To shed further light on the state of global oppression of sexual orientation and gender identity, the organization released its annual report “Understanding the State of Global LGBTQI+ Persecution” on June 20.

The report features data compiled from those Rainbow Railroad has assisted as well as case studies about the organization helping people escape or avoid harm due to being LGBTQ+.

“Some wished to share their stories even though they are not in a safe enough environment to disclose their names publicly,” the organization wrote on their website. “In this report, we share stories of persecution and trauma, but also ask case individuals about their views of regional political dynamics in the Middle East, what it’s like to be a human rights defender, what safety means to them, and so much more. We feature perspectives from folks who are still waiting to travel, those who have just resettled and those who have built their lives in a destination country.”

Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey topped the list of countries where people sought Rainbow Railroad’s assistance. Uganda, Jamaica, Russia, Jordan, Nigeria and Kenya were also included.

One country also appeared in the top ten requests for the first time: the United States. Two hundred seventy-three people in the U.S., including 162 U.S. nationals, sought assistance from Rainbow Railroad in 2022.

“It is important to understand that there are vast inequalities in access to safety even within a single country,” the report states. 

Among the people in the U.S. requesting assistance were a trans man “desperate to relocate somewhere safe, where I can be myself without fear,” and a mother facing a custody battle as a result of her child coming out as trans. 

The report also reveals countries with high levels of LGBTQ+ persecution based on their citizens who have fled. For example, in 2022, Rainbow Railroad received 59 requests for assistance from Iranian refugees in Turkey and 54 requests from Ugandan refugees in Kenya. Both Turkey and Kenya have much less stringent laws impacting LGBTQ+ people than other countries in their region, making them better — but not perfect — destinations for people to flee to.

The vast majority of requests for help (86%) came from persons between the ages of 18 and 35. Individuals also ranked higher than families (80% to 20%) in requesting help. Of the families requesting assistance, the largest percentages came from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the surrounding region. 

The top three gender identities of people requesting help from Rainbow Railroad in 2022 were cisgender men, cisgender women, and transgender women, while requests from intergender, intersex, and agender people increased at the highest rates — which the report says “tracks with a rising and concerning trend of anti-Trans violence, legislation, and sentiment globally.” And among the most reported safety concerns from people seeking Rainbow Railroad’s assistance, community rejection (52%) and family-based rejection (48%) were most cited, followed by life-threatening violence (28%), verbal threats and abuse (25%), and family-based violence (25%). 

“For me, safety means freedom of expression without persecution, inclusion, respect and acceptance,” said Elceta, a Jamaican living in Germany who was quoted in the report. “Currently, my level of safety is 100. No longer am I just described as a lesbian, but acknowledged as a person, a woman, a mother, a daughter, and a sister and rightfully so. I can introduce my partner as such without being judged and can openly show affection without scrutiny and the fear of being in danger. I can finally express myself freely.”

The report also features sections on support for the LGBTQ+ community amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the status of LGBTQ+ people in Afghanistan, and the state of LGBTQ+ issues in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) following the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“According to activists,” the report states, “western media’s critical narrative of the persecution of LGBTQI+ persons in MENA countries like Qatar has ironically reinforced regional stereotypes and prejudices against the community, failing to acknowledge the complex cultural and religious factors that inform the region’s social and legal attitudes.”

“We know that the data in this report represents a difficult year in queer history,” Rainbow Railroad wrote upon the report’s release. “It is a solemn moment where we declare, as we release this report on June 20th — World Refugee Day: LGBTQI+ people are here. We exist. And we will not be erased.”

To view the report, visit rainbowrailroad.org/.