Some headlines in Europe have yelled “Concentration camps for LGBT people,” or “100 gays rounded up, beaten and imprisoned” or “Kidnappings of LGBT people off the streets.”
Such headlines have gotten my attention, and should have, but there is a catch — and a twist.
The catch is that such atrocities are happening in Russia, a place already not known for its stellar position on LGBT equality. It’s occurring in a region called Chechnya, an area in Russia where there are freedom fighters fighting for independence and where it’s difficult to get firsthand information. In fact, the recent alerts came from Russian LGBT organizations mostly located in St. Petersburg, far from Chechnya.
The European Union has chimed in on the situation, and here’s your twist: so has the Trump administration. This is the actual press release from the U.S. State Department:
“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya, where there have been numerous credible reports indicating the detention of at least 100 men on the basis of their sexual orientation. Some reports indicate many of those arrested have been tortured, in some cases leading to death. We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.
“We are deeply disturbed by recent public statements by Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons. We urge Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these reports, and hold any perpetrators responsible.”
The memo was signed by acting spokesperson Mark C. Toner.
This is the clearest statement not only on this issue, but also I hope a hint on how the Trump administration will forge its foreign policy on human rights. There are many LGBT international human-rights organizations and hopefully they will see this as an opening to create dialogue.
When the lives of 100 people are being held in the balance, there is no time to play politics. It’s time to stop the carnage against LGBT people.