The Rainbow Railroad has arrived on Canada's Drag's Race.
Five LGBTQ+ refugees — Elton from Jamaica, Rebal from Syria, Dennis from Uganda, and husbands Rainer and Eka from Indonesia — appeared in the Thursday episode of the reality drag competition as subjects in a makeover challenge.
Their arrival changed the mood in the workroom from a cutthroat competition to an awakening of the serious challenges facing queer people around the world. As cohost Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman explained, nearly 70 countries criminalize LGBTQ+ people, and six impose the death penalty.
“The people we are meeting today, they just want to live, period,” said contestant Rita Baga, who was paired with Rainer.
Rainbow Railroad helps these at-risk folks find safety as refugees in Canada; in total, the group has helped save around 700 lives from persecution. The group has made headlines for saving dozens of LGBTQ+ people from Chechnya, where members of the community continue to be rounded up, tortured, and killed in camps.
The refugees on Drag Race explained how dire their circumstances were as they underwent drag transformations. “Back in 2016 in Indonesia, the whole country waged a war against LGBT," Rainer said. "There was like police raids on private residences. Even for me and Eka, we had to move four different places. Every time there’s a group of police downatsirs, we have to flee through the emergency exit."
"People finding out who we are, they send us texts telling us to kill ourselves," he added.
"In a Middle Eastern country, it’s considered a taboo for a man to be dressed as a woman," said Rebal, who "had it" with Syria "just like everybody else that lives in there."
Dennis broke down the terrifying climate in Uganda. "For me, it’s easier if the people attacking me are known to me," he said. "For example, if the police [are] beating me up and arresting me, I don’t care because I know I have a record. But when the people following you and attacking you are anonymous, they can make you disappear, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
"Since I left, everything has just been going from bad to worse. Four people I know have been killed. And just two weeks ago, 125 people were arrested just from going to hang out in a gay-friendly bar."
Dennis also explained how difficult it is for refugees to leave their homes. "When you see someone moving from one country to another, it’s most likely the hardest decision of their life," he said. "No one wants to do that, so if you see a refugee out there, give them a hug. It’s really tough for them to make that transformation."
However, that hasn't stopped Dennis from fighting for change from abroad. "If I didn’t think the laws would ever change, I wouldn’t be fighting the fight I’m fighting today," he said.
Lemon, a contestant, summed up the experience of having these remarkable survivors in the workroom. "To put faces to those numbers just reminds you of like how serious this is and how there’s real people who need help," she said.
No spoilers, but the winner of this week's episode may have received the most rewarding prize in Drag Race history: a $10,000 donation to Rainbow Railroad in their name. This amount has the power to save one LGBTQ+ life from persecution.
Donate yourselves at RainbowRailroad.org. And catch Canada's Drag Race on the app WOW Presents Plus and Logo TV.