LGBT Visibility and Chechnya

For the last few months at least, the government of the Russian republic of Chechnya has been investigated for torture of members of the LGBT community. To these allegations, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, countered, “Chechen society does not have this phenomenon called non-traditional sexual orientation. For thousands of years the people have lived by other rules, prescribed by God.”

In Russia, a law signed by Putin banning “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors has caused a spike in violence against LGBT people. Online videos have also surfaced of “vigilante” groups assaulting and humiliating gay men.

Kadyrov claims that no official reports have been filed about anti- LGBT violence. Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of this is that many of these crimes are being committed by Russian police officers and officials. This means that victims of assault would be forced to submit their testimony to their own attackers. If you are wondering how this can continue to happen, Chechnya is a republic of the Russian Federation but is only loosely tied to federal law. Kadyrov has significant slack to run his republic with an iron fist, as long as he destroys any local separatist movements. Kadryov claimed, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.”

As an American, I often try to resist the temptation to pass judgment about the affairs of other countries without taking a look at a larger picture. In the case of Chechnya’s intolerance, we are forced to bring to light an entire population of invisible people. These are the people whose countries, cultures, or religions do not recognize their entire identities. We hear about the persecution of LGBT people every day in the news, but we rarely think about the people who are not even allowed to own that part of their identity. In many cultures, being queer is not seen as acceptable or unacceptable, it is simply not seen. As members of the community become more comfortable and visible, they ironically put themselves in greater danger. This is not just a problem that happens far from home, but a problem that prevails everywhere. The subjugation of LGBT people, especially those of color or in other parts of the world, is heartbreaking. As a nation, we do not have to be idle.

The Russian LGBT Network is working to get LGBT people out of bad situations in Russia. In a post from April of this year they said, “Some of these people are still in the area and are in need of urgent evacuation, while others have managed to relocate themselves but nevertheless need further assistance.” The U.S. and Canada have contacted Russia to investigate the abuses. The U.S plans to keep the heat on Kadyrov to compel him to make a change and put a definite end to this anti-gay purge.