Before you read this article, please watch this video below. It’s entitled Unchechen and is based on accounts provided by some of the men who have escaped the ongoing campaign of kidnapping, detainment and torture of suspected gay and bi men in Chechnya. It provides a good overview of Chechnya’s anti-gay crackdown.
This morning, we spoke with the Russian LGBT Network, an interregional, non-governmental LGBTQ human rights organization that is helping gay and bi men flee Chechnya. Due to safety concerns, the network’s representatives stayed anonymous, but here’s what we learned:
1. Reports of LGBT activists “provoking” Chechnya’s anti-gay purge are inaccurate
Buzzfeed News reported that Chechnya’s campaign began after March 9 when activists with the Moscow-based LGBTQ group GayRussia “applied for permits to hold pride parades in cities across the country” in an attempt to gather denials and bring them before the European Court of Human Rights. Some online commenters criticized GayRussia for “provoking” Chechnya’s anti-gay crackdown.
However, the representative from the Russian LGBT Network said, “We don’t think that GayRussia or any LGBT activist is responsible for what’s going on there. It is the responsibility of those who are [doing the violence] and the government.” The representative also said that reports of the Chechen round-up actually began at the end of February and the beginning of March (before GayRussia applied for the permits), with preparations by Chechen official beginning as early as December.
2. Authorities are using social networks to find gay men
We already knew that Chechen authorities are torturing gay and bi men as a way to round-up and torture their gay and bi associates, but the Russian LGBT Network representative revealed that authorities are doing this by gaining access to gay and bi Chechen men’s social media accounts and searching through old chats and posts for clues.
These searches are sowing distrust and disconnection between gay and bi Chechen men — they cannot trust or reach out to their friends and now they must censor themselves in every interaction. Thus, gay and bi men are being isolated in digital and analog spaces, unable to discuss their true identities or lives even to their closest friends and allies.
3. Evacuating the country’s gay citizens isn’t easy or a real solution
Because Chechen’s gay and bi men have to remain closeted, it’s hard for LGBTQ advocacy groups to identify those who want to escape. And because authorities are entrapping gay and bi men by pretending to be friends and supporters online, persecuted men do not trust the organizations offering them refuge.
For the last month, the Russian LGBT Network has run a hotline for gay and bi Chechens to call for help escaping the country — thus far, only 80 people have called it and only 40 of those have escaped. Feasibly, there’s little way that current evacuation efforts can transport Chechnya’s entire gay and bi population out of the country.
Furthermore, because Chechen culture stresses strong bonds between family members, many men are reluctant to leave because it means cutting off all family contact entirely. Some of these men are also married with children and Chechen authorities have threatened violence against families with gay and bi members who flee.
Ironically, some of these families subject to violence by Chechen authorities would also willingly kill their gay and bisexual relatives in an “honor killing” to avoid additional harassment and shame. Thus, everyone in the family is subject to violence whether they’re anti-gay or not.
4. Russian LGBTQ activists think there’s only one way to stop the violence
When asked what can be done for gay men in Chechnya unable to evacuate, the Russian LGBT Network said not many things can stop the violence besides direct intervention from the Russian government.
However, we have suggested some other actions people can take and the video above suggests the following three actions:
1. Donate to the Rainbow Railroad, an organization helping gay and bi Chechens escape
2. Sign every online petition to demand politicians apply diplomatic pressure and sanctions
3. E-mail the Russian Embassy to protest at email@example.com
Also, alturi.org — an online hub for LGBTQ international information — is raising money to help evacuation efforts orchestrated by the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), a Polish member organization of ILGA-Europe (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association of Europe).
5. Lesbians and women are being persecuted too
The Russian LGBT Network reports that bi and lesbian women are being subjected to violence in Chechnya as well, although this violence is being committed by their family members rather than Chechen officials. Some of the women will be outed by officials to their families (as Chechen women are seen as their family’s property) and then hurt in their own homes by blood relatives.
(Featured image by ConstantineV via iStock Photography)