LGBT+ refugees face homophobia and transphobia in the asylum system. This charity is trying to end that

Refugees from Ukraine wait for the bus after they crossed the Ukrainian-Polish border at the border crossing in Medyka, southeastern Poland on April 8, 2022.

Most people will never understand just how traumatic it is to flee your home country to search for safety.

It’s a terrifying prospect, and it’s one that the people of Ukraine are dealing with right now as Russia’s cruel, unjust war wages on. More than 4.4 million people have fled Ukraine in the six weeks since the attack began.

For LGBT+ people fleeing war and violence, there are specific issues they have to face. On top of leaving their homes behind, some will have to contend with homophobia, biphobia or transphobia along the way. That’s why they need specific, targeted supports.

Micro Rainbow is just one of the organisations working to make sure LGBT+ refugees are being adequately cared for when they arrive in the UK. They operate 16 safe houses around the UK for queer refugees arriving into the country, and they also provide numerous other services to help them adjust to their new lives.

Their work has never been so important – that’s why PinkNews has launched the LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign, an initiative that aims to raise £50,000 to support LGBT+ Ukrainians and other displaced people.

Donations will be shared between Micro Rainbow and OutRight Action International, which is distributing funds to LGBT+ groups working on the ground in Ukraine to support the community.

PinkNews is proud to launch our LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign to help those who need it most.(Mario De Moya F via Getty)

Sebastian Rocca, CEO and founder of Micro Rainbow, says the charity takes a “holistic approach” to helping LGBT+ people fleeing war. The first step is making sure they have access to safe housing – something that’s vital to protect their mental and physical health.

“We currently run 16 safe houses across the UK exclusively for LGBTQIA people seeking asylum. A lot of LGBTQI refugees end up being housed with people who have homophobic or transphobic views, and some of those end up being beaten up, harassed, and even raped.

“We worked very closely with the Home Office to try and figure out the solution to this issue of violence against LGBTQIA migrants and we created a scheme that allow people to come to us as soon as they claim asylum so they don’t have to potentially be housed in environments where they could be abused or harassed.”

Giving LGBT+ refugees access to queer-specific housing is also important because it emboldens them to be themselves.

“They can start exploring their LGBTQI status,” Sebastian says. “If they want to put make-up on, they can. If they want to wear high heels or experiment with their clothes, they can do that in a very safe environment. For many, it’s the first time they’ll have had the chance to do that.” 

Our beneficiaries are often extremely isolated.

Housing is the first step to making sure LGBT+ asylum seekers are being cared for, but it’s not enough by itself. People fleeing their homes have often endured terrible traumas by the time they arrive in their new country – many find comfort by building relationships with other people from their country.

“If you’re a Ugandan refugee you might access the support of the Ugandan community in the UK,” Sebastian says. “Our beneficiaries can’t always do that.” 

The reason some can’t is that their loved ones back home could face repercussions if their LGBT+ identity became open knowledge in the community. 

“We’ve had examples of lesbians who came to the UK,” Sebastian says. “People back home found out about their sexuality and their children in their home country were killed as a way to clean the family name. The result is that our beneficiaries are often extremely isolated.” 

Social inclusion is at the heart of the work Micro Rainbow does

To help LGBT+ people seeking asylum settle in and find a community, Micro Rainbow has a social inclusion programme. Last year, it ran 120 workshops.

“It helps people connect and make new friendships and build life skills,” Sebastian says. “The programme includes yoga classes, creative writing, poetry, a wonderful dance programme with artists who help people to use their bodies to heal past trauma and help them express themselves. We’ve also run sexual health workshops – you name it, we do it. What this does is it creates community for people.”

Micro Rainbow also helps LGBT+ refugees build their employment skills so they can get into secure, steady jobs – that means they’re less likely to fall into poverty and more likely to settle in their new homes. All of those initiatives are designed to make sure LGBT+ refugees have the chance to live life to the fullest.

“The support we offer can also be very practical,” Sebastian says. “If people need a razor or bedding, anything that might alleviate their situation, we can arrange it.

“Most people can’t bring many things with them – a lot of the things we take for granted might be challenging for asylum seekers to access. They might want mobile data so they can stay connected to loved ones back home – the support is very targeted to the individual, and that’s what we like about our work.

“In the LGBTQI family we’re all different, we all have different needs, and depending on the country you come from you’ll also have different needs.” 

He adds: “We want to assure people that when they come to the UK they will find a welcoming environment, which is challenging given the recent government [actions].” 

It’s now been six weeks since Russia declared war on Ukraine. In that time, advocacy groups have been working tirelessly to keep the country’s LGBT+ community afloat. 

Lenny Emson, director of Kyiv Pride, told PinkNews that the community is facing specific issues such as family estrangement, homophobia and transphobia that are exacerbating an already impossible situation.

Meanwhile, countless others have already fled the country in the hope that they can get to safety elsewhere as Russia continues its barbaric attack.

Ukraine’s LGBT+ community needs your support – both those who have chosen to stay and those who have already fled to safety. Please donate what you can to the LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign by visiting our GoFundMe page.