What's Happening to LGBT People in Chechnya, & What Can You Do to Help?

About two years ago, I remember a flood of posts and headlines across social media claiming that gay men in Chechnya were being abducted and murdered in concentration camps. Obviously, this was horrific and disturbing news, but the story seemed to fade away soon afterward. After I heard that, there’s been a renewed crackdown on the Chechen LGBT community in the past few months, I decided to learn more about just what's been happening, what has been done to stop it, and what ordinary people can do to help.

Firstly, Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, very conservative republic of Russia. Although homosexuality has been decriminalized in Russia since the 90s, it’s still a deeply homophobic country, and the Russian government reportedly turns a blind eye to humans rights abuses in Chechnya. Chechen society, in particular, is extremely prejudiced against gay people. A gay relative is often seen as a “stain” on the whole family, and many keep their sexuality a secret to avoid violence and even murder by their own relatives.

Reports of state-led homophobic brutality first surfaced in early 2017, when Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta stated that gay men were being illegally arrested and tortured in “secret prisons”. Amnesty International has said that these prisons are better referred to as detention sites instead of Nazi-style concentration camps, but the acts committed there are atrocities nonetheless. Men suspected of being gay were kidnapped, beaten, and forced to give up the names of other gay people they knew. Some were even executed, though the exact death toll is still unknown.

Multiple entities, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United States, England, France, and more, called on Russia to investigate the reports of violence in Chechnya, and the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Chechen president. Leaders in the country have denied any abuses, with a government spokesperson claiming that gay people simply don’t exist in Chechnya: “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn't need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning". In January 2019, the Russian LGBT Network announced that both men and women suspected of being gay had been arrested, and at least two killed, in a resurgence of violence against the LGBT community. The Chechen Minister of National Policy dismissed the reports as lies by people with a “sick imagination”. But it’s clear that these allegations aren’t coming out of thin air. Gay men and women in Chechnya are at risk of being tortured and even murdered by their government. So, what has the international community done to stop it?

Well, besides the sanctions and words of condemnation, not much. Only a few countries, like Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Canada have granted visas to those fleeing Chechnya. It’s difficult to hear about these atrocities happening across the world and feel powerless to help. But we can do more than we think. A Change.org petition that is almost 650,000 people strong has been started to urge an official investigation into these reports, and the Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian nonprofit, is accepting donations to help members of the LGBT community in Chechnya and around the world escape from dangerous situations. These actions may seem small, but even a few dollars can go towards saving a life.

It’s important that the world doesn’t forget the plight of those in Chechnya. Injustice, even if it seems far away and distant, deserves our attention, our prayers, and our action. So do what you can to help, whether it’s donating or simply spreading the word. Nobody deserves to be persecuted, brutalized and murdered because of their sexual orientation. And as long as the world stands by and does nothing, this injustice will continue.