Sami and Mehraj © Raphael Chatelain
Sam and Mehraj are in love. They appreciate life, they sing, they play the piano. They have dreams of getting married and starting a family one day. Like most, Sam and Mehraj’s love story, assumes that a basic level of freedom is met—the freedom to be you. Sadly, this type of freedom was unthinkable for Sam and Mehraj until only a few years ago. In approximately 70 countries, LGBTQI+ people face violence and oppression based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is where our story’s hero, Rainbow Railroad, comes in.
Rainbow Railroad is an international not-for-profit organization based in Canada and the United States with a mission to help LGBTQI+ people worldwide find safety. Since 2006, the organization has helped more than 1,500 individuals escape violence and live openly, and has provided livelihood support for thousands more. Rainbow Railroad counts a great number of supporters and recently added the TreadRight Foundation to that list, a widely recognized and award-winning foundation tied to the travel industry.
Before Rainbow Railroad got involved, Sam and Mehraj lived in fear in Azerbaijan, a country where same-sex relations are illegal and one which polices sexual identity and orientation. Those who are oppressed must live in secret because not only is the state itself a threat to their very existence, the society is also empowered to discriminate and hate with impunity on the same basis. Violent attacks, severe beatings and eviction from their apartment were all punishments they received for their sexuality.
Knowing they couldn’t live their lives in constant fear of persecution and violence, the couple tried to escape to a safe country more than once, only to be turned back each time because they could not secure the proper visas. Finally, in 2019, with the help of Rainbow Railroad, the couple was successfully able to escape to Spain.
Through its core Emergency Travel Support program, Rainbow Railroad provides airfare and support to help LGBTQI+ individuals who are at significant risk find a pathway to safety in a new country where they can live in freedom. In addition, Rainbow Railroad provides short-term support in the form of financial aid, information and resources, and referrals to local support programs to keep individuals safe in their current country while helping them understand their rights as asylum seekers.
TreadRight and Rainbow Railroad have a shared commitment to diversity, inclusion and a more equitable future for all. As the charitable arm of global travel provider The Travel Corporation (TTC), and brands like Contiki, Insight Vacations and Trafalgar, TreadRight has supported 60-plus sustainable tourism partners worldwide working to MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®, and its support will further Rainbow Railroad’s ability to help an increased number of persecuted LGBTQI+ individuals find safety.
In addition, as part of its 5-year sustainability strategy, How We Tread Right, TTC and its family of brands are working to advance diversity, equity and inclusion by driving impact against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that both internal teams as well as guests are represented equitably from within the LGBTQI+, Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities.
The need for the work of Rainbow Railroad continues to grow each year, further intensified by the global refugee crisis. Sam and Mehraj are just two of thousands of beneficiaries of Rainbow Railroad who have been able to build new lives in a new home, which allows them to live and love freely.
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