In 2012, Kevin and Mohammad met one another as students at a Jordanian university. Kevin was there to learn Arabic while Mohammad was studying English. The two struck up a close friendship tutoring each other, cooking meals together, and taking long walks around the university. Despite the largely taboo nature of LGBT issues in Jordan, Kevin came out to Mohammad as gay, and Mohammad eventually came out to Kevin as well. The two maintained a close bond, staying in close touch after Kevin returned to his studies in California.
The following year Mohammad urgently contacted Kevin while Kevin was commuting to his job in Silicon Valley. Mohammad had been maliciously outed to his conservative father. He was subsequently beaten, disinherited, and chased from his childhood home. He suddenly found himself homeless and without the means to cover his basic expenses. His goal was to finish his degree and then resettle in the United States, free from his family’s continued threats against his life. But to have a hope, he had to lie low and finish school first.
Kevin and Mohammad researched all possible opportunities, hoping to find a resource tailored to the emergency needs of LGBT people in the region who find themselves in crisis. Unfortunately, no such programs existed. The time was ripe to form one.
It started as Kevin scraping together funds from friends and family to provide shelter and other necessities for his close friend on the other side of the world. It soon became an organized effort by a growing volunteer network of American fundraisers and Jordanian field staff.
Formal registration in Jordan was too risky. So by early 2014, Rainbow Street was formally established in California. By 2015, Rainbow Street achieved federal tax-exempt status. And as the fundraising successfully grew, so did the field operations.
To date, Rainbow Street has benefited dozens of people in Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. Many of those have been refugees who were forced to flee their home countries due to persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and with little to no possibility of stable income during the turbulent years spent waiting for permanent resettlement. Others are LGBT community members residing in their country of origin who seek emotional support or other local LGBT-friendly resources.
Today, Mohammad and many other forced LGBT migrants are safely and permanently resettled in safe countries due to Rainbow Street’s sustained financial assistance and expert team of volunteer case managers in the MENA region. Still more individuals find refuge and affirmation in their home countries thanks to Rainbow Street’s local community programming.
True to its origins, Rainbow Street continues to be a shining example of the power of international LGBT solidarity: grassroots donations from supportive individuals in the United States generate the overwhelming majority of funds, while activists on the ground in the MENA region lead the strategic and operational support critical to Rainbow Street’s mission.
Learn more about Rainbow Street's work.