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For the past few months, gay and bisexual men in the Russian district of Chechnya have been rounded up, interrogated and tortured in detention facilities. At least three men have been killed so far, and more than 100 are believed to have been captured and imprisoned.
Russia has long been a dangerous place for LGBT people, and rural Chechnya, a majority Muslim area with only minimal control from the Russian government, is worse than most. The reports have been chilling, and every continuing development makes me nauseous with worry. According to sources, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has threatened to eliminate the region’s gay community by Ramadan, which begins this year in May.
Kadyrov’s most frightening allegation so far is that there are no gay people in Chechnya.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” spokesman Alvi Karimov said on behalf of Kadyrov, according to The New York Times. “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
The lie that there are no gay people in a certain region has been used by countless people across history to paint gay people as foreign, dangerous “others” who are not native to a culture and deserve to be driven out if discovered. It’s also a convenient way to cover up abuses of LGBT people — if you refuse to admit they even exist, you aren’t responsible for acknowledging that they need support or protection from violence.
This rhetoric has a dangerous parallel to the recent news that the 2020 U.S. census will not ask questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. Data on LGBT populations is important to gather so that people can know what the needs of the community are. If no such data exists, it becomes easier for the government to deny services to LGBT groups or to understate the scope of the LGBT community’s needs.
Homophobia is on the rise in countries across the world — in Indonesia, gay men are being beaten under Sharia law. On the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage, Taiwan is experiencing a strong backlash from its Christian right and South Korea is cracking down on gay soldiers. In China, outrage erupted after a women’s basketball team at a major university displayed a banner reading “keep homosexuality far from campus.” After last year’s “Brexit” referendum, homophobic attacks in the UK rose by 147 percent in three months. Here in the United States, a rash of suicides has swept across gay youth in Utah’s Mormon societies, and 13 shots were fired into the Tulsa LGBT center in March.
The idea that homophobia is a thing of the past has picked up traction, but that is a dangerous idea to endorse. It’s true that with the legalization of same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws in the U.S. and a number of other countries, life is safer for many LGBT people. However, homophobia is far from gone, and LGBT people all over the world still struggle with finding community, safety and acceptance. Denying that fact hurts our ability to recognize homophobia when it occurs and mobilize to stop it.
At the Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder two weeks ago, LGBT activist Joel Gallant urged us to see ourselves as an international brotherhood and sisterhood and said that LGBT people in the U.S. should have a sense of solidarity with those in other countries. I share his sentiments — we are all affected by homophobia to some degree, but many of us are lucky to be living relatively safe lives. We should strive to help those who still live with fear for their lives and livelihoods because of homophobia.
The Russian LGBT Network is working to evacuate gay and bi men from Chechnya, and is accepting donations. Additionally, Americans should put pressure on their lawmakers to speak out against the atrocity and make sure that their elected officials support LGBT protections at home. Homophobia is sadly far from over, but we all have a responsibility to resist it however we can.
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Carina Julig at firstname.lastname@example.org.