The administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin has never disguised its disdain for lesbians, gay men, and anyone else it deems to have a “nontraditional” sexual orientation. Yet in a nation with an open disregard for human rights, recent events have taken an even more disturbing turn. A Russian opposition newspaper is reporting that more than 100 men who are gay or perceived to be gay have been arrested and detained in the Russian republic of Chechnya in the past month. It is believed some have been tortured, and at least three men killed.
Antigay tensions intensified last month when GayRussia.ru, a gay rights group based in Moscow, applied for permits to hold rallies in the majority-Muslim North Caucasus region. Not surprisingly all were denied, but the requests alone fueled antigay protests. Shortly thereafter, male teenagers and adults began to disappear.
“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep,’ and it went as far as real murders,” the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported.
Chechen authorities call these accounts “absolute lies and disinformation.” Bizarrely, Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, claimed the story is false because there are no gay men in the republic. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Karimov told the news agency Interfax. “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.”
Karimov was likely referring to “honor killings,” in which people murder their own relatives whose actions are considered damaging to a family’s reputation.
Homophobia in Russia isn’t just rampant; it’s the law. In 2012, a Moscow court imposed a 100-year ban on gay and lesbian pride parades in the Russian capital. A year later, Russia’s parliament unanimously passed its “gay propaganda” law banning the dissemination of positive information about the LGBT community. It also became illegal to portray same-sex relationships as equal to those of heterosexual couples. Such discriminatory acts are often cloaked as necessary protections for children.
Even Disney films are subject to absurd levels of scrutiny. Some Russian politicians wanted the live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” banned because it violated national laws by featuring a gay character. Ultimately, the film wasn’t banned, but it did receive a rating that excluded children, its target audience, from seeing it.
Films and parades are one thing; a terror campaign against men because of their perceived sexuality is far more frightening and nefarious. Amnesty International UK has launched a petition to demand that Aleksandr Ivanovich Bastrykin, chairman of the Investigation Committee of the Russian Federation, “carry out prompt, effective and thorough investigations” into these disappearances, and to “ensure [the] safety of any individual who may be at risk in Chechnya because of their sexual orientation, and to condemn in the strongest terms possible any discriminatory comments made by officials.”
Pressure must also come from the world community to push Russia to stop its relentless oppression. The United States, which might normally pursue such a dialogue, is unfortunately saddled with its most antigay administration in decades, and will likely do nothing to help. With lives at stake, this is a morally unsound position, with destructive consequences. History has proved time and again that silence and inaction work only to the benefit of tyrants, and leave the most vulnerable susceptible to persecution, devastation, and death.