Welcome Corps offers U.S. citizens new way to help LGBT+ refugees

Saturday June 17, 2023

In Poland, more than one hundred municipalities have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones.” In Russia, the government has made it illegal to portray publicly “non-traditional sexual relations” with the stated purpose of condemning the presentation of homosexuality as a normal part of society. Under the laws of Mauritania, Somalia, and Nigeria, gay people can be put to death for having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes. In Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the penalty is life in prison. Community members in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala face high levels of violence, have limited protections under national law, and in recent years have fled home in significant numbers. According to Transgender Europe, 78 percent of homicides of transgender people are concentrated in Latin America.

All over the world, LGBTQI+ people face oppression, violence, and death, and some become refugees in an attempt to escape to safety.  Currently, governmental agencies — including federal agencies in the U.S. — do not publish statistics on asylum claims based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But a study published by UCLA’s Williams Institute estimates that nearly 31,000 LGBT people sought asylum in the U.S. between 2012 and 2017.

Now U.S. citizens and permanent residents have a new way to help. The U.S. Welcome Corps has entered into an historic partnership with Rainbow Railroad, a queer-led nonprofit that helps LGBTQI+ refugees get to safety in Canada and the U.S. Private sponsorship groups can now form through the U.S. Welcome Corps with the express purpose of helping LGBTQI+ refugees start new lives in the U.S.

“Right now we’re in the process of identifying 50 groups of at least five volunteers each to sponsor an LGBTQI+ individual. If that individual has a partner or dependent, then they will be settled together,” said Timothy Hutten, Rainbow Railroad’s director of volunteer engagement. “Any private sponsorship group that signs up to participate in the U.S. Welcome Corps through Rainbow Railroad is now able to specify they want to sponsor a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender refugee — or an individual who identifies in any other way as a member of the LGBTQI+ community.”

It’s important that the sponsorship group reflects — as much as possible — the sexual orientation or identity of the refugees. “So, for example, a refugee who is a transgender woman will ideally have a sponsoring circle with at least one member who is also a transgender woman. Someone who shares the experience of being a transgender woman will be best able to help a newcomer settle successfully into life in their new community,” Hutten said.

Those who aren’t in a position to participate directly in a private sponsorship group can still play a crucial role in helping LGBTQI+ refugees get to safety. Rainbow Railroad is fundraising to help with the financial commitment Welcome Corps groups must make.  “Private sponsorship groups must raise a minimum of $2,375 to provide financial support to refugees for their first 90 days in the U.S.,” said Latoya Nugent, Rainbow Railroad’s director of community engagement. “We’re fundraising to help groups that may be ideal for welcoming LGBTQI+ community members, but who need help with the necessary financial resources.”

Donors with a particular interest in supporting groups forming through the Welcome Corps in the U.S. can earmark their donations for that purpose. They do so by using the comments section when filling out their donor information.

“The Welcome Corps offers members of the queer community and our allies an historic opportunity to provide a pathway to safety, dignity, and stability,” said Nugent. “For many of these newcomers, it will be the first time in their lives they are free of the constant threat of physical violence, sexual violence, and extreme societal rejection and oppression. Seeing people find new communities where they can live with dignity and contribute to the fullest of their capabilities is a uniquely rewarding experience.”

To learn more about participating in the work of Rainbow Railroad, fill out a volunteer interest form. You’ll be contacted about participating in one of the organization’s bi-weekly informational sessions, which provide a complete overview of the Welcome Corps process. Additionally, Rainbow Railroad provides resources and support to welcoming circles along every stage of the private sponsorship journey.

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