Hand in hand with our over-due sunshine, June also brings us Pride month. For 30 days communities hold a whole array of activities and celebrations to make our LGBTQ+ population feel loved and accepted. Events like rainbow flag raising ceremonies, film festivals, queer history projects and even church services bring the community together. Not to mention the classic Pride Parade, where politicians come out year after year for the most perfect of public photo shoots.
Yet, with all the festivities, we cannot forget that this group spent decades sacrificing and fighting to bring this new mindset into reality. While they have achieved public recognition of LGBTQ+ rights their fight, and by extension ours, is by no means over.
Chechnya is probably the most skin crawling example of why.
Since late March, a series of disappearances have been taking place in the autonomous Russian state when over one hundred men were reported as missing. On April 1st the respected independent newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, revealed that these disappearances were actually a part of a plan by the official Chechen authorities to cleanse the nation of homosexuals.
According to reports, these men were routinely being abducted and herded into concentration camps were they subject to electrical shocks, sodomy and violent beatings in attempts to force them to surrender the identities of other gay men. In line with this barbaric cruelty, officials then used this list to hunt down their ‘suspects’ at which point they exposed these men to their families as homosexuals. At which point, they would encourage the victim’s family to violently dispose of their own relative themselves to complete a so-called honour killing.
When reached for a comment on this damning account, the Chechen Interior Ministry explained the report as an “April Fools’ joke.”
Since then, the war criminal and Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, cemented this utter lack of regard for human life or even public opinion by explaining what he saw to be the absurdity in this account. Namely, he claims that there are no homosexual people in the republic of Chechnya, and therefore there can be no genocide of homosexual people if they are not even there. Well now, don’t we all feel silly for worrying?
Of course the propaganda didn’t stop there. Ramzan even had the audacity to take his insultingly razor-thin explanation one step further when he challenged world leaders and the media to find evidence of these camps in Chechnya. By the time the Russian investigation unit finally arrived to inspect the scene in late May they found nothing but debris at the location of the known concentration camps. However, this doesn’t by any chance mean that the horror is over. More likely, it’s suspected that these camps were moved to a police-training base in Terek, about forty miles north of Argun. Hence, the purging of these innocent people is still going on, just in more covert operations that will shield the nation from an onslaught of international criticism.
Human Rights Watch said that there is “no doubt” as to whether this monstrous campaign is taking place, as they have confirmed with several reputable sources within the region. It’s worth noting that Human Rights Watch didn’t release the names of these sources due to the very real chance of violent persecution these organizations would face if the authorities knew of their involvement in this report. At present the number of men being held in these detention centres is unknown, though there are at least three confirmed deaths that have taken place in the camps and twenty-six deaths in the year 2017 so far.
As saddening as that may be, this reality just underscores how vulnerable LGBTQ+ people are in this area of the world. Even most of the men who have managed to escape the concentration camps alive have decided not to seek justice or retribution of any kind, reasonably fearing the imminent and likely savage retaliation of the Chechen authorities. Instead, these survivors prioritize leaving the nation as soon as possible. So far Lithuania is the only country to openly accept two asylum seekers, as well as five other countries who have chosen not to announce their involvement just yet.
However, what may be surprising is the fact that the United States, United Kingdom and Canada are certainly not on that list. In these nations where we hold stupendous celebrations of LGBTQ+ people to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices they have had to make on their road to equality – that they are still making – we are all standing on the global stage tongue-tied. Having just cheered the LGBTQ+ population as invaluable members of our own community, we watch from across the ocean and do nothing to help these same people are desperately trying to flee from imminent danger.
This isn’t to say that citizens of the Western world aren’t interested in helping this crisis. A number of Facebook campaigns have risen over $250,000 for Rainbow Road, a non-profit organization that helps LGBTQ+ victims escape persecution. Still, what we need now is for our global leaders to act. We need to continue to give to causes like Rainbow Road, or the Russian LGBT Network, who have set up a confidential hotline to help those escaping interment. We need to call our elected officials directly and ask them to advocate against these human rights violations on our behalf. Most of all, we cannot look away or become bored with this story. If this is what the Chechen leaders carry out when we are all watching, we cannot afford to consent by inaction.