Congress just slammed the 'gay purge' in Chechnya. What's Trump's breaking point?
It's been seven months to the day since The New York Times published an alarming report about state-sanctioned violence targeting queer men in Chechnya.
The Times, citing Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, had reported men believed to be gay or bisexual were being arrested and killed en masse by Chechen officials. At least 100 people — but likely many, many more — have been swept up in the region's "gay purge."
Russia police arrest an LGBTQ activist in 2015. Photo by Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images.
The situation, it seems, hasn't improved.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has denied any wrongdoing, claiming, incredulously, the region doesn't even have any LGBTQ people. Human rights groups in and around Chechnya have said the arrests, torturing, and killings have continued throughout the summer and early fall. Last week, reports surfaced that Russian singer Zelimkhan Bakayev — who'd visited Chechnya for a wedding in August — went missing; some have speculated he may be dead.
Finally, Congress is speaking up.
On Oct. 30, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution slamming Chechnya for allowing its gay purge to continue.
The measure follows a nearly identical and unanimously approved resolution passed in the House in June, calling on Chechen officials to stop targeting queer men and bring those accountable to justice. Admittedly, these measures are largely symbolic, but they're important nonetheless: They help keep the issue on the world's radar and legitimize the claims that the violence is actually happening — despite Chechen and Russian officials deflecting responsibility.
Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts (foreground), who, along with Sen. Pat Toomey, introduced the resolution on Chechnya to his colleagues. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Calling for officials to end the purge immediately, the Senate's resolution puts pressure on Russia (which oversees semi-independent Chechnya) to protect the rights of all of its citizens, while also demanding the U.S. continues to condemn the abuses until justice is served.
It's that last part that's particularly noteworthy.
While both chambers of Congress have spoken out on Chechnya, Trump has remained silent.
Many other world leaders — including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — have strongly condemned Chechnya's gay purge and taken concrete steps to help Chechens in need.
So why — seven months after we first learned this abuse is taking place — is Trump still remaining silent?
Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images.
There's no good answer, really.
The president hasn't been an ally to gay Americans, of course, but the Congressional resolutions gained support from even the staunchest anti-LGBTQ legislators in the House and Senate. Some have pointed to the president's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin, speculating that Trump is hesitant to rock the boat with the Russian president by confronting him on Chechnya. Whatever the reason, his indifference on the matter is sending a clear message.
"If Chechnya has indeed begun persecuting gay men, as international reports suggest, it is precisely because the government recognizes that the U.S. won’t organize any opposition," Samar Habib wrote for The Washington Post in May.
Here's how you can help.
Share stories like this with family and friends. Let your reps know you appreciate them taking action and demand that they put pressure on the president to do the same. Support LGBTQ advocacy groups pressuring Trump to speak up. Tweet at Trump. Write and call his White House. Force him to confront this issue.
Trump's silence may be overwhelming, but so are the voices demanding he act.