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Kindness, Hope, and Activism: A Conversation with Sebastian Rocca, CEO of Micro Rainbow

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Kindness, Hope, and Activism: A Conversation with Sebastian Rocca, CEO of Micro Rainbow

​Trinnovo Group sat down for a conversation with the incredible Sebastian Rocca, the founder and CEO of Micro Rainbow.
Sebastian is a social entrepreneur, innovator, public speaker, and an LGBTQIA+ activist – we couldn’t be prouder to be partnered with Micro Rainbow, whose work supports LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers fleeing oppression and persecution around the world.
Read our conversation below for Sebastian’s thoughts on social inclusion, resettlement, and resilience.
Tell us about Sebastian – what has been your journey to date?

My first chance to feel the pulse of LGBTQIA+ activism globally came from my role as the Head of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), now based in Geneva. It brings together most LGBTQIA+ organisations around the world. We had a presence in Africa, Latin and North America, Oceania, Asia and Europe too.

A challenge I faced was persuading governments to decriminalise homosexuality for LGBTQIA+ people. Despite lobbying at the UN, which is important for creating change at a large scale, I still felt like I needed to see changes in my lifetime. At the time, I recognised there was a gap in LGBTQIA+ activism that needed to be filled: economic empowerment. I felt that by discussing the economic value that queer folks bring to the country (the pink pound is worth £6 billion every year in the UK) governments might be more inclined to listen about LGBTQIA+ rights.

In 2012, I decided to create Micro Rainbow, which at the time was ‘Micro Rainbow International.’ We wanted to support people, but also change social attitudes around them.

Tell us about Micro Rainbow.

Micro Rainbow supports LGBTQIA+ people fleeing persecution, with a unique, holistic approach to integration. We support over 1,000 people every year, who come from more than 60 countries around the world.

Our integration strategy focuses on three primary elements, the first being safe housing. After recognising the vulnerability of LGBTQIA+ refugees to abuse in the UK, in 2017, we got our first safe-housing flat for four people. We have swiftly expanded this to 22 safe houses across the UK. It’s beautiful to see individuals discovering their own LGBTQIA+ identity for the first time while being among other queer folks in the process. It’s a very liberating feeling for them.

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A safe house at Micro Rainbow.

The second element is our social inclusion programme. While safe housing is crucial, it can still be very isolating, and some still face abuse. Through our programme, we offer diverse activities such as yoga and body and dance movement classes led by professional dancers. Through these programmes, members can connect with their bodies, enhance their confidence and regain self-esteem. We also have creative writing, poetry, drumming, choirs, and much, much more!

Finally, our employability programme supports individuals moving forward with their lives. Often, claiming asylum can last from two, three, or even five years. Most of them are also unable to legally work and must live off a low allowance. So, working with a company like Trinnovo Group is brilliant for us, as it allows our community to learn how to obtain certain skills, as well as prepare for employment and understand the UK job market while awaiting the resolution of their asylum claim.

We also work with people from our resettlement schemes. For people from Ukraine, we created a programme aiding individuals in relocating from Ukraine to nations nearer to the UK. We've trained approximately 30 lawyers, proficient in visa applications, specifically for LGBTQIA+ individuals fleeing the invasion. We are also supporting people who arrived from Afghanistan since the Taliban came back to Kabul two years ago. We also support queer people who come through the Hong Kong resettlement scheme.

Is there a particular story from around the world that stands out to you the most?

Back when Micro Rainbow was less developed, I handled various tasks, including support work. I remember working with a gay Ugandan man with his home office submission. Despite the absence of lawyers, we worked together, and after reaching out to several legal contacts, he eventually obtained refugee status. Since then, we have exchanged Christmas messages annually, and this connection remains deeply meaningful.

Another moment was the first person who came to our Micro Rainbow house. As an LGBTQIA+ individual, they had moved several times due to experiencing abuse and sexual harassment. Being present when they arrived with their luggage, we just cried. We both knew what this moment meant.

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Micro Rainbow winning 'Charity of the Year' at the British Diversity Awards.

How can folks support the Micro Rainbow charity and make a tangible impact?

There are various ways. Obviously, we welcome money! We can’t do our job without it, particularly due to the cost-of-living crisis and the rising cost of energy bills. You can become an ally with Micro Rainbow for as little as £10 per month. We also have a wonderful Amazon Wishlist! People can buy essential products like toasters, kettles or duvets. Remember to let us know who’s sent it!

You can also volunteer your time. We are always looking for translators capable of interpreting or volunteers with a counselling background. Additionally, introducing Micro Rainbow to your company and organising ‘lunch & learn’ sessions can significantly raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ individuals fleeing persecution.

What advice would you give to your future self?

Take care of yourself. We work in an environment that is tough and can often be traumatic.

I think it’s important to also step back and celebrate past success. Often, we focus on how much still needs to be done, that’s the default. It can sometimes take away from the small wins we have on a regular basis.

And finally, what’s your go-to Queer anthem?

At the risk of sounding cliche, it has to be Believe by Cher! Its message of hope in particular speaks volumes to the Queer community, acknowledging the challenges of authenticity and the resilience required to be oneself.

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If you want to help Micro Rainbow make a positive, transformational impact on the lives of the global LGBTQIA+ community, you can explore their fundraising opportunities on their website here.