▲ Londoners protest against the Gay Concentration Camp. Photo taken by Stephen Chung
As Barack Obama proclaimed, it was truly a “victory for America” when same sex marriage was legalized throughout the United States (U.S.) on June 26, 2015. All Americans now have the right to love and dream of a future with anyone, regardless of gender. However, the right to love seems more like a guarded privilege than a right in certain parts of the world. Under the leadership of Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya, a country that prosecutes and detains lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) in a concentration camp, can be a horrifying place to be in love.
On April 1, an opposition Russian news agency, Novaya Gazeta, reported an incident in which 100 individuals were arrested and taken into a concentration camp which tortures LGBTs. While Russia has been accused of kidnapping suspected terrorists and holding them in a pogrom* , Chechnya’s detention camp for LGBTs is the first to be established since the Holocaust. People in the camp, including former celebrities, are usually kidnapped without warning, and this has aroused much concern.
What is in it for Russian LGBTs
In 2013, the Russian Assembly unanimously passed a law that fined acts propagating homosexuality to minors. The acts include supporting LGBT rights, deeming homosexual and heterosexual relationships equal, and hosting events that support LGBT. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian Prime Minister also signed an Anti-gay Adoption Ban decree that prohibited foreign same-sex couples from adopting a Russian child three years ago. All these initiatives were carried out, disguised under the slogan of “On the Defense of Children from Information Harming their Health and Development.”
Ultimately, policies influence social norms. Russians, as young as they are during their childhood, are raised in an environment where LGBTs are labelled as dangerous people. It is no wonder that the American popstar, Madonna, raised controversy for advocating LGBT rights during a concert held in St. Petersburg. Even after LGBT was decriminalized consequent to the demolition of the Soviet Union, homophobia still remains notoriously visible in the Russian culture. Arguably, life is limiting—and even dangerous—for LGBTs in Russia.
▲ Putin and Kadyrov. Photo retained from Getty Images. Lo
According to Professor Soh Changrok (Division of International Studies), “When people deal with LGBTs, some do not view it from a humanitarian view point. They look at the issue through the lenses of politics or religion.” Soh said that due to personal ideologies regarding homosexuality, one opinion cannot be deemed superior to all others. “This is why finding a middle ground is very crucial,” said Soh. That middle ground, however, has been lost in Russia.
Kadyrov’s vow to “eliminate gays” reflects the thoughts of many Chechens, and anti-gay movements are on the rise in the region. LGBT has become such a taboo that tormenting LGBTs is considered “honor killing” in this district. However, Chechnya’s Interior Ministry has denied allegations of repressing LGBTs, describing them as an “April Fool’s Day joke.” It went on to say that LGBTs no longer live in the region as they all have already fled, making it impossible to detain any.
At the end of April, Human Rights First, a nonpartisan human rights organization based in New York, released a video that included the personal accounts of victims of the concentration camp. One wrote, “They stripped me naked. One filmed me on his phone. Three of them beat me up. They kicked me, broke my jaw.” Another wrote, “They attached the wires of the stun gun to me. It was very painful. I endured as much as I could and then passed out.”
▲ Location of the concentration camp in Chechnya. Taken via Google Maps.
The Fight Persists
Disputing such evidence, the spokesperson of Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that there was no evidence for the Novaya Gazeta’s claims. However, Elena Milashina, the Novaya Gazeta reporter who wrote about Chechnya’s ill treatment of homosexuals, has recently received death threats. Since six of the newspaper’s reporters have already been murdered during the 24 years of its existence, such threats are very real indeed.
On April 20, Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, said, “The U.S. government (…) should demand an end to the persecution of innocent people across the world,” to point out how U.S. President Trump has remained silent regarding the persecution of LGBTs in Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, though, publicly urged Putin to take action against the violation of LGBT rights in Chechnya. “I asked President Vladimir Putin to use his influence to protect these minority rights,” she stated.
Earlier, on May 1, an estimated 10 protesters in St. Petersburg were arrested for rallying against the LGBT concentration camp. Local authorities arrested the protesters because they were waving the rainbow flag, which is illegal under the Russian Gay Propaganda Law. They shouted out “Kadyrov to The Hague!” loud and clear as the police took them away. The Hague is home to the International Criminal Court.
The protests led by international activists have been growing. In London, for instance, hundreds protested against the LGBT concentration camp in front of the Russian Embassy. In Manila, the Philippines, college students assembled on May 19 to voice their anger about Kadyrov’s atrocities. All these efforts were to pressure the Russian government into taking action and protecting the rights of the marginalized.
▲ Protesters holding rainbow flag being detained by the Russian police. Photo retrieved from European Press Agency.
Russia Is Not the Only One
While empathy towards LGBTs has been recognized by many communities and governments globally, some states are falling behind. Korea is one country where plenty of civilians and politicians fail to recognize members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and more (LGBTQ+) community as equals. Soh said, “While more than 70 percent of the country’s [Korea’s] youth believe that LGBTs should not be discriminated against, those who believe that they should be given the right to marry is actually very low.”
A report published by the Center for Military Human Rights Korea stated that the Korean army is hunting down soldiers who are homosexuals. Soldiers who are identified as potential homosexuals are forced to not only confess the names of other homosexual soldiers, but are also questioned about their sexuality and sex history. Furthermore, their personal information is used on homosexual dating apps to flush out other LGBT soldiers. LGBT soldiers comply with such demands because they are threatened with dishonorable discharge from the military otherwise. So far, one soldier has been charged and 32 are being investigated in the effort to eliminate LGBTs from the Korean military.
The military is known to be traditionally conservative, which is why it is no surprise it deems homosexuality a taboo. Within the army, being a homosexual is regarded as disgraceful conduct which prohibits the maintenance of a wholesome lifestyle. “These are statements for which there is no proof,” said Soh. “However, the recent presidential debates shed light on how insignificant this issue is for the presidential candidates and even Korean politics.”
Whether it is the Korean military’s internal practices or a Chechnya’s gay concentration camp, such instances are inconsistent with the standards of the United Nation’s (UN) International Human Rights Law regarding sexual orientation and gender identity; “The United Nations human rights treaty bodies have confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity are included among prohibited grounds of discrimination under international human rights law. This means that it is unlawful to make any distinction of people’s rights based on the fact that they are LGBT, just as it is unlawful to do so based on skin color, race, sex, religion or any other status.”
Crimes against homosexuals exist in a vast array of practices. They range from demeaning their identity to actively discriminating against them in social and workplace conditions to detaining them in concentration camps. It is about time that the influential political figures of not only Korea and Russia, but those all over the world, start recognizing the rights of all individuals, regardless of who they choose to love. As Lin-Manuel Miranda, the star of the Broadway musical Hamilton (2015), aptly expressed, “Love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.”
▲ Kadyrov, a murderer. Photo retrieved from Politico.