‘Underground Railroad’ Ferries Gays Out Of Uganda

The plight of gay Ugandans is well-known here, but it hasn't gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. A group of Quakers calling themselves Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) formed to take action and help gays and lesbians in Uganda escape persecution.

UgandaModeling themselves after the Quakers from the Civil War the Olympia, WA-based group has "conductors" guide those trying to flee in small groups along back roads to safe houses. Everyone's identities are kept secret, and even other conductors don't know each other. Even the leader of the group goes by the pseudonym Levi Coffin II, named after one of the conductors from the Civil War.

So far an estimated 107 people have been helped to escape from Uganda, but the group is not without detractors. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch said:

This is not the kind of stuff that well-meaning amateurs can do, and the money’s basically going to be wasted. I fully appreciate the good intentions here, but the organizers [should] be persuaded to subordinate their efforts to a recognized refugee NGO or to the security committee.


  1. Merv says

    I would be more than a little suspicious of a Christian group providing this service. It could be a ploy to deliver them up for ex-gay indoctrination, or even to the Ugandan authorities.

  2. DavidR says

    Sounds like great work and I have to say, HRW comes off sounding a little too much like they’re protecting a fiefdom, not the gays.

  3. Randye says

    @ Merv Generally you would be correct but Quakers have always been on the good side and what one could call real Christians…

  4. Chuck Mielke says

    While I understand the suspicion and agree that caution is needed, I will give a certain amount of credibility to the Quakers whose progressive attitudes and projects have characterized the sect for centuries — they were seriously among the first groups to recognize the inhumanity of slavery in England and the USA. The story this new underground railroad has been reported in Newsweek and on Buzzfeed, among other news sources. Those interested can learn more here:

  5. Smartypants says

    In the 1990s I worked with the American Friends Service Committee (the Quaker equivalent of Lutheran Social Services) in Washington State. Their primary focus was protection and support for LGBT youth with no absolutely no proselytizing and indoctrination. The Quaker meeting in Olympia was supportive of this work and was a completely open and affirming congregation. I trust the motives of this effort, while sharing some of the concerns about their lack of experience or expertise getting refugees out of a dangerous situation. On the other hand, I’m not aware that any of the major international refugee NGOs are doing anything to rescue LGBT Ugandans, so I’d tell them to put up or shut up.

  6. Chitown Kev says


    But these Quakers are…put a sock in it.

    I read this story a few days ago. It seems that there are Ugandan Quakers as well and while they don’t seem to be playing a part in this Underground Railroad, I believe the story (or least the one that I read)says that their attitudes are moderating.

  7. Randye says

    @ Smartypants I was thinking along the same lines, though i believe after further reading that the Quakers have a fairly large presence in Africa and so have the resources to move people around without bothering with the “legal” refugee camps… So while the NGO’s are getting people into camps or telling them to stay in Uganda, the quakes can move them through the meeting houses…

  8. KJPNYC says

    They should also set up shop in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas to help the gays get out of there!

  9. crispy says

    “Black Africans showing sympathy towards gay men? Maybe times truly have changed.”

    Desmond Tutu would like to have a word with you.

  10. Don says

    “This is not the kind of stuff that well-meaning amateurs can do” HRW says. pffft.

    Meanwhile these amateurs are out there getting the job done.

  11. Ricco. Reid says

    @ MERV speaking as a Quaker . . . a gay Quaker who hails from Olympia, WA . . . from the very Meeting house where said efforts are organized . . . you need to understand that while historically Christain based, many Quaker meeting houses are no longer strictly Christian. The Olympia Meeting house where, the underground effrots have been organized, is interfaith based . . . buddhists, and other Eastern religions, and we are allied with mosques and other religions in the area who wish to good by all people in the world, regardless of their faith, or sexual orientation . . .and our meeting is also comprised of agnostics and athiests.

    You think you have made a point in saying that Nixon was a Quaker, as if one Quaker is representative of the whole. Do you know what it is called when an entire group is judged by a few individuals?

    Racism . . . sexism . . . bigotry, and perhaps you have heard of the this one . . . Homophobia!

    Quakers do not deny membership to anyone. The only time in our history where membership was denied was to slave holders.

    Also, even in the very beginning, Quakers, while Christian, did not, and do not, hold the Bible as a blue print for operating churches, or governments. We believe that truths were not entirely laid out in the holy bible, but that truths continue to emerge through the ages.

    We do not knock on peoples doors. We do not evangelize, and we certainly do not help people out and as a charge for helping them out make them read the bible, or submit to being lectured, preached at, or indoctrinated. We do not even preach at each other.

    We have no pastor. We sit in silence for one hour . . .what we call slent worship because we believe that the light is in all people, and we speak, as we feel led, in that hour of silent worhsip. We might speak a word from the bible, but just as much from Buddha, or just our political views as we feel led . . .a turh totally unrelated to Christianity, or any religion. We have respect for the light in all people.

    From the inception of the Quaker faith in the late 1600s in England women were recognized as being integral to the Meeting . . . but because 17th century Enlgand basically regarded women as property the women held their own meetings until they became comfortable in speaking out. Women were always seen as equal to men.

    You should take the time to understand something before speaking out.

    As for Mr. Scott Long. I find it amusing that there are always those who feel that they are the experts, and everyone else the ameteurs. Had we listened to Joe Solmonese, the self-fashioned Washington DC political expert, who tried to hush everyone up when they called President Obama to task, who had a mancrush on Obama that rendered him utterly inefective, we would not have the bans on gay marriage being knocked down like dominoes today.

    Quakers, generally speaking, are highy intelligent, educated, well traveled, and and whatever they undertake is not half-baked or ameteurish.

    I only know one conductor, personally . . . and his accomplishments and intellect, and heart, far outstrip Mr. Long’s.

    The gays, lesbains, and transgendered people we have gottne out of Uganda, would have been dead within 24 hours of going into hiding if not for this railroad . . . they could hardly be expected to wait on Mr. Long.

    And this railroad, I remind you is in East Africa. That part of the world is not exactly a hot bed of Quakerism . . . so even if proselytism were our thing, it would hardly be accomplished in the havens we find for them.

    MERV . . . you might look up a Quaker Meeting in your area. Although we have, like people, individual personalities that differ from Meeting House to Meeting House . . . perhaps you would find in that hour of silen worhsip and contemplation a greater truth than the cynicism you have seeminly long nurtured and fed.

    Peace and Love – Ricco Reid

  12. olympiasepiriot says

    “Not all Quakers are liberals. Nixon was a Quaker.” — by Merv

    Nixon was born into a Quaker family. He was a so-called “birthright” Friend. That doesn’t mean that he was actually a Member of a meeting nor a regular attender.

  13. Ricco. Reid says

    Not all Quakers are liberals . . . but generally speaking, as a group, we are advocative by nature shunning violence, acts of violence on our part, or violence perpetrated against the vulnerable.

    Also, Quakers, generally speaking, of course there always exceptions when dealing with people, do not indoctrinate their children as much as people of other faith, rather they tend to educate and lead by example. Many children disassociate themselves when they come of an age, and are not penalized or hunted down by their parents or the Meeting.

    We are a small group of people worldwide. There are only about 140,000 Quakers in East Africa, and most of those in Kenya . . . this does not mean that Ugandans final stop is that nation. No one individual knows the final extent of a railroad, or all its proponents.

  14. ratbastard says

    A nobel effort. Not surprisingly involving Quakers. This is true Christianity, not the corrupt filth that tries and pass itself off as Christian.

  15. Bill says

    @Merv: Nixon’s parents were Quakers and he claimed to be one, but Quakers are supposedly pacifists and Nixon was anything but that.

    When a politician claims to practice some particular religion, all you can claim for sure is that he thinks having a religion will help him get elected.

  16. john patrick says

    Quakers were indeed the first religious group to condemn slavery. They were not bound by the Bible. They were open to other ideas. They were also pioneers, in this country at least, to advocate for the rights of LGBT people, long before other groups.

  17. Ian says

    Scott Long’s critique, found at his blog, Paper Bird, is outstanding, but he hasn’t been HRW staff for a few years.

  18. Daniel says

    So what does Human Rights Watch suggest? That we just let the people who are there be killed?

  19. says

    I am one of the Railroad facilitators, though I would note that the Railroad is operated by Africans (both gay and straight, who are risking their lives) for Africans. We came into existence at the request of several of the conductors.

    To date, we have attempted to help 159 passengers escape, and 159 have made it to their interim destinations (some of that is pure luck). We can now confirm that 9 are in Canada, 9 in Sweden, and 6 in South Africa. There are another 30 or so in Europe, we are working on confirmations as I am writing.

    NONE of our passengers go to those awful refugee camps such as Kakuma, that Scott Long references (it would have been nice had he checked with us), and none are receiving aid from the UNHCR. Each conductor is working with other groups and organizations in the interim countries where passengers receive housing, food, medical, psychosocial, legal, and visa assistance. None of this is provided by the Railroad itself, but by others, most of them African. The Railroad has also received significant funding from Africans.

    Of the 159 we have assisted thus far, they are roughly even split among men and women, and there have been 8 transpeople. We have a waiting list currently of more than 118.

    We neither take nor forward any referrals, as the security risk would be too great. The only way to become a passenger is if one were to come into contact with one of the conductors.

    None of the conductors are in Kampala. They note that they ask their clients why they didn’t go to SMUG or HRW or any of a number of other groups, and they tell us either, 1) they would be afraid to go to a well-known established group in Kampala, or 2) they’ve never heard of them. We support all those who choose to stay in Uganda and work to effect change – we are not the answer; it is just what we can do.

    We continue to need your help. Please check our web presence at http://www.friendsnewundergroundrailroad.org