In 2017, Amin Dzhabrailov was at work cutting hair at a salon in the Chechen capital of Grozny when police officers barged in, handcuffed him, took his phone and ID and threw him into the trunk of their vehicle with no explanation.
For the next two weeks Dzhabrailov feared for his life as he was beaten, electrocuted, and psychologically abused by his kidnappers because they suspected him of being gay: punishable by caning and even execution under the Chechen penal code.
Dzhabrailov wasn't the only one to suffer this fate. According to Human Rights Watch, dozens of men were kidnapped, detained and tortured as part of an anti-gay 'purge' that year initiated by Chechen authorities.
Rainbow Railroad: a path to freedom
According to Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian charitable organization that gives emergency travel support to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals escaping violence and persecution in their home countries around the world— at least 69 countries still have national laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults.
More people today, says the organization, are living as refugees or displaced persons than at any time since the end of World War II. Many of those seeking asylum, says the organization, are from the LGBTQ2+ community.
Since 2006, Rainbow Railroad (the name of the organization pays homage to the network of people helping enslaved Black people find freedom via the Underground Railroad), has been able to help over 600 people globally escape persecution, with over 1,244 requests for help being asked of the organization since January 1st, 2021 alone.
TD Pride Silver Round: More than a symbol
This year in celebration of Pride, 100% of the net proceeds of TD's first half-ounce Pride Silver Round will be donated to Rainbow Railroad in support of the work the organization does to support the international LGBTQ2+ community.
"The emergency work that Rainbow Railroad does in getting people from the LGBTQ2+ community, who are at risk out safely is unfortunately still so needed. TD is proud to support this organization in any way that we can," said Al Ramsay, AVP, LGBTQ2+ and Black Customer Segments, Wealth and Business Banking at TD.
"Pride is a time to celebrate the progress that has been made, but also a moment when we need to continue directing our attention to the work that remains in helping to build more equitable and inclusive societies."
Today, Dzhabrailov is a spokesperson for Rainbow Railroad, using the power of his voice and story to raise awareness and speak up for the many like him around the world who are still being silenced and imprisoned. While it's been four years since he was connected with a Russian LGTBQ2+ support network that put him in touch with Rainbow Railroad, he said his first impressions of landing in Canada are still fresh.
"It wasn't just the big beautiful sky and city, but I recall a feeling inside of me; the freedom of being gay without fear for the first time in my life," said Dzhabrailov, who eventually became the first gay Chechen man to speak about the 'purge' when he came out in a TIME magazine article in 2019.
"I hope one day that we will move beyond labels," he said. "That I won't be seen as a gay man, just a human being, deserving of love, freedom, safety, happiness and rights just like everyone else."