How frequent flyer miles helped LGBT people in danger

The founder of travel website The Points Guy explains how donated airline miles helped LGBT Chechnyans escape persecution and violence

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As a gay man living in the United States, Brian Kelly was shocked to read about the violent anti-gay crackdown in the Russian republic of Chechnya a few years ago. So when he heard about Rainbow Railroad, he knew he wanted to help.
Based in Toronto and operating without government funding, Rainbow Railroad helps LGBT individuals escape violence and persecution in their home countries and get across borders to safety. Named in homage to the Underground Railroad, the group has its work cut out for it: same-sex relations are a crime in 70 countries worldwide, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.    

Kelly is well positioned to help Rainbow Railroad. A travel guru, he is the founder of The Points Guy, a website for travel and credit card rewards advice. In 2017, his site held a drive for people to donate their frequent flyer miles to Rainbow Railroad, which can use them to help fly people to safety.

The readers of his website responded: They donated more than 3 million miles, which helped at least 20 LGBT Chechnyans leave the country. Kelly met a few of those who flew to Canada.

"To me, it just reignited the fire within me to help," Kelly told 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim in the video above.

Through The Points Guy, Kelly has also raised $200,000 for Rainbow Railroad. As he told Wertheim, he now wants to turn his attention to CEOs of travel companies and everyday travelers and encourage them to be more aware of which businesses they support—and where.

"I think everywhere we go, we should be elevating our mindfulness of what's going on in the country you're visiting," Kelly said.

To watch Jon Wertheim's 60 Minutes report on Rainbow Railroad, click here.

The video above was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.