LGBT equality has been an important topic in the United States for the last several years, and the legal strides we’ve made to improve our lives have been impressive. We still have a way to go in changing laws and minds but in other parts of the world, it’s much, much worse.
Chechnya, a southern republic of Russia, has recently drawn international headlines for its recent uptick in violence against LGBT people. It all started with a petition for permits to hold gay Pride parades; not only were the permits denied, but authorities reportedly began a “round up” of more than 100 gay men. Posing as gay or friends of friends, authorities reportedly lured gay Chechen men to apartments where they overpowered them, transported them to “detainment centers” and tortured them for more names of gay men.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wants gay men “eliminated” by the start of Ramadan, which begins May 26.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” said Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Kadyrov. Whether that means gay men have been killed or run out of the country, it’s clear that the existence of LGBT individuals is an inherent problem for Chechen leaders.
While homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, “propaganda” condoning it is, thanks to a law passed in 2014. If you recall, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi were mired in controversy over the safety of the visiting LGBT athletes and spectators. While tensions were high, violence against LGBTQ people was not widely reported during the games.
Human Rights Watch recently confirmed that three Chechen men have been killed: one during the ongoing torture that Chechen leaders deny is taking place, and two after returning to their families. According to The New York Times, the number is likely closer to 20. LGBT-rights activists are scrambling to get as many gay men out of the area as they can.
LGBT Chechens are not the only ones in danger. One of the two reporters for the Novaya Gazeta, the Russian newspaper that originally broke the story, has fled Russia in fear for her life and in the last week, two envelopes filled with an unknown white powder arrived at the newspaper’s offices. The other reporter responsible for breaking the story is staying put, saying this is part of working for the Novaya Gazeta. And apparently it is; the publication has said that, in the last 20 years, six of its reporters have been killed “in the line of duty.”
A formal government investigation into the detention of gay Chechens turned up “no supporting evidence,” so it’s not likely help will be coming for the men soon. In fact, some officials are calling for vengeance against the newspaper that broke the story.
The world, however, has responded. Former Vice President Joe Biden called on the White House to raise the issue with Russian leaders, stating, “[T]he United States must lead the way to demand an end to these egregious violations of human rights.” Two separate Facebook campaigns raised more than $100,000 to help LGBTQ refugees flee Chechnya. The round-up has been widely condemned by the United Nations and other Western governments, with even conservative Republican Marco Rubio condemning the attacks from the floor of the Senate.
But where is the official American government statement condemning these acts? People are being killed by their government in an effort to eradicate their very existence because they are LGBT, and President Donald Trump says nothing? Earlier this month, the Syrian government killed 88 of its citizens with chemical weapons. Within two days, the United States launched cruise missiles on targets in Syria in response. But 100 gay men are being systematically tortured and killed in Chechnya, and the president doesn’t even make a statement?
Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the human-rights violations in Chechnya “cannot be ignored.” Within hours, the U.S. State Department released a statement saying Haley should have cleared her statements with them first, and within days, Trump joked to a room full of people about firing Haley.
Chechnya’s gay men need someone to fight for them, maybe literally, in the face of a government that wants to deny their existence or, worse, eradicate it.
The best thing we can do here in America is vote. Put people in office who won’t tolerate these human-rights violations, who won’t stand by and say nothing. Educate yourself. Find charities that work internationally and do what you can to help in crisis situations, both for people abroad and at home. We have rampant LGBT youth-homelessness issues right here in the United States because these young people were thrown out for being who they are. Donate money if you can. And, last but not least, put pressure on your leaders. Demand more from them because we deserve better.