"I realized how easily those funds translate to saving actual lives," New York City lawyer Frederick Allen tells PEOPLE of raising money for Rainbow Railroad

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Credit: Ben Trivett

When news broke in the spring that gay and bisexual men in the Russian republic of Chechyna, Frederick Allen couldn’t believe it.

“I just remember being incredibly frustrated and angry,” the New York City lawyer says in the current issue of PEOPLE.

Since then, Chechnyan officials have continued to imprison gay men, torturing them in facilities that are being compared to concentration camps—even pressuring locals to murder their gay relatives.

“We take for granted how lucky we are in this country,” Allen, 34, says of being a gay American. “When the news broke, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”

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So he decided to do something. In April, Allen launched a fund-raising campaign on Facebook, and within a month he’d raised more than $250,000.

“I couldn’t believe it,” admits Allen, who donated the proceeds to Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian nonprofit that helps LGBTQ people around the world find safe haven from state-enabled violence.

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Thanks in large part to Allen’s contributions, Rainbow Railroad has helped more than 30 gay and bisexual men secretly escape from Chechnya to Canada.

“I almost broke down when I heard,” says Allen, who emigrated with his family from Ukraine to the U.S. in 1987 as Jewish refugees. “I realized how easily those funds translate to saving actual lives.”

For more information about Rainbow Railroad, visit www.rainbowrailroad.com.