In December, Rainbow Railroad queered the system at the 2023 Global Refugee Forum (GRF). Established in the wake of the Global Compact on Refugees, and held every four years, the GRF is the world’s largest gathering on refugees, bringing together representatives from states and civil society organizations to address challenges refugees face worldwide. It is a significant milestone for Rainbow Railroad to have been invited to attend the GRF in 2023, and for Rainbow Railroad CEO, Kimahli Powell, to have been selected to be a part of the official Canadian Delegation.
In mainstream humanitarian spaces and multilateral fora, LGBTQI+ voices are often excluded and deprioritized. In 2018, The Global Compact on Refugees notably failed to affirm protections for LGBTQI+ persons or to recognize their unique vulnerabilities. As a result of our staunch advocacy, only four years later, Rainbow Railroad was given a major platform and opportunity to elevate LGBTQI+ issues at the 2023 GRF.
The Rainbow Railroad delegation attended the main plenary sessions where state officials provided remarks about their refugee pledges, and side sessions with speaker panels that dove deeper into specific refugee issues.
Rainbow Railroad’s own pledge contextualized our work within the global criminalization landscape, and shared our intention to support the resettlement of additional LGBTIQ+ refugees, advocate for and create new pathways to safety, and launch an International LGBTQI+ Forced Displacement Initiative. The full pledge can be accessed by searching the GRF Database.
Rainbow Railroad’s participation in the GRF spoke to the vital importance of having LGBTQI+ voices present and centered in mainstream humanitarian spaces. Rainbow Railroad Community Engagement Officer, Emma Yaaka, participated in a speaker panel in which he came out as an LGBTQI+ refugee advocate himself.
In addition to attending and contributing to conversations around refugee issues, Rainbow Railroad also created LGBTQI+ spaces at the GRF to encourage and empower other LGBTQI+ activists and organizations.
On the last day of the GRF, Rainbow Railroad hosted a breakfast to launch a public joint statement led by LGBTQI+ civil society organizations and supported by allied CSOs from around the world. The statement called on states to create more dedicated pathways and programs to help LGBTQI+ people who are at risk of persecution. The statement was also circulated to and signed by many LGBTQI+ organizations notably not present or invited to the GRF to ensure that their voices were heard. The full statement, which has been signed by nearly 80 organizations, can be read here.
At a panel event, Rainbow Railroad CEO Kimahli Powell also provided an intervention on the world stage where he called on states to recognize LGBTQI+ criminalization as a force of displacement, elevated the joint statement, and shared Rainbow Railroad’s pledge to launch the LGBTQI+ Forced Displacement Initiative.
Recognizing the unique expertise of LGBTQI+ global civil society is essential to addressing issues of forced displacement. While Rainbow Railroad’s presence at the GRF represented a historic milestone, in order for these spaces to truly develop durable solutions, LGBTQI+ and refugee-led organizations must be included and centred.