PR for People Monthly February 2020 | Page 5

And perhaps never before has that mission come so much to the fore as with “Love Beyond Borders,” SMC’s upcoming program on March 20 and 21. That’s because this concert will spotlight Seattle’s unique epicenter as a 21st century effort akin to the antebellum Underground Railroad 200 years ago. Except this time, the refugees aren’t black people fleeing the American South. Instead, they’re LGBTQ individuals who grew up in Muslim-majority countries.

In the Middle East, assaults, executions, and honor killings of LGBTQ people are very real threats. But for the past few years, a retired Seattle chiropractor has been working to help LGBTQ individuals in those countries escape to safety.

Michael Failla has been an activist for most of his life. In high school and college he organized food co-ops and anti-war sit-ins. He began working with refugees years ago when he discovered that his Cambodian housekeeper had escaped the killing fields and he assisted her and others get on with their lives as they came to the United States. Then a wave of Ethiopian immigrants came to Seattle, and he helped them get situated. With the arrival of a new group of Somali refugees, he went so far as to set up Somali Talk Radio to help that community adapt to life in a new environment.

And then at some point, Failla says, “I realized that in different parts of the world, gay people – who were my own people – were being persecuted and killed for being gay. So….”

A new Underground Railroad was born.

Failla says it takes a combination of skills. Often it starts with helping people to find a place to hide in their own countries, then figuring how to get them out of their country into a safer situation where they can apply for asylum.

Refugee camps can be especially perilous for LGBTQ individuals. And all of this happens against a constantly evolving geopolitical landscape. There are changes in leadership, shifts in policy, economic pressures, and compassion fatigue. Travelers along this “Railroad” have a variety of logistical needs. And – sometimes just as much – they need moral support.

If Failla is this Underground Railroad’s chief engineer, there also have been many conductors along the route. There are other organizations, other people, other skill sets – but it takes someone to keep track of things overseas – identifying safe-houses, getting money to stranded refugees, helping with documentation and transportation – all while trying to secure permanent asylum for the refugees in countries in Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States.

Failla is constantly talking up the opportunity to fund and sponsor these refugees, which is exactly what he was doing at a party one day when he met Paul Caldwell.

Paul Caldwell, Artistic Director of Seattle Men’s Chorus. Photo credit: John Pai