Around the world, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals face worse health outcomes than the general population. As a result, a large portion of the LGBT community faces mental health issues, injury, violence, suicide, substance abuse and more. We know the problem is in part due to the barriers they face to accessing health care and health professionals being educated in LGBT-related health issues. But because there is relatively little health research on this population globally, the true scope of the global burden is difficult to calculate. These barriers range from denial in care, to inadequate or substandard care, to unwillingness to go to a doctor because of discrimination. Sometimes serious penalties are involved. The most recent news involved the LGBT community in Chechnya (North Caucasus region of Russia), also known as Chechens.
Canada, a country where leaders of many-if not all- levels of government march alongside the LGBT community in Pride parades, it’s easy to forget that much of the world is still a scary place for LGBT individuals to openly live as such. Don’t get me wrong- not everything is ideal for sexual minorities in Canada either, as many people are victims of bullying or risk of violence and suicide. But these issues are recognized and the Canadian government, in the past few decades, has shown a will to address them. For example, with newly created protections geared towards the transgender community. In the last year a policy was approved that men who have sex with men are allowed to donate blood.
Since last March, Chechnya has been making headlines for its cruel treatment of homosexuals. It was reported that Chechnya’s authorities were detaining over 100 gay men. Eventually more information on this issue surfaced and the details are extremely bone-chilling. Most were arrested and detained from anywhere to a day and up to several weeks, beaten, verbally abused, starved tortured, and forced to reveal the names of others.
At the beginning of September it was revealed that the Canadian government along with the Rainbow Railroad (a Toronto-based non profit) were working for months in secrecy to rescue gay individuals in Russia and welcome them to the country. The Rainbow Railroad said the organization had joined with the Canadian government to create a program to expedite the safe passage to Canada. Over 22 gay men (it is harder for women to escape) have made the journey while several other arrivals are expected; they have been deemed government-assisted refugees. Providing the necessary support for the Chechens in a challenge however, the Rainbow Railroad also helped matched these individuals with private sponsors. These victims need a safe sanctuary and Canada set the example for others by welcoming them with open arms.
This act of kindness is an excellent example of Canada’s increasing global awareness of human rights and a welcoming place for refugees, especially in a world that is shutting its doors constantly. While these individuals have suffered a great deal the hope is now they can feel safe, protected and live a life without violence.