'People who just don’t exist': 6 things to keep in mind as gay men disappear in Chechnya.

More than 100 gay men have quietly been "rounded up" by law enforcement in Chechnya, a semi-independent state of southern Russia, according to Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta. At least three men are believed to have been killed.

This atrocity may be happening on the other side of the globe, but the message it's sending to the world hits very close to home.


Here are six facts to keep in mind as this story develops:

1. The move to round up men suspected of being gay began with gay pride parades — an irrational threat to any homophobe.

GayRussia.ru, a gay rights group, had begun applying for permits in order to hold LGBTQ pride parades in many cities across Russia. The group didn't expect any of the applications to be accepted under President Vladimir Putin's notoriously anti-gay policies, of course (and, in fact, none of them were), but GayRussia.ru was planning to use the permit denials to build a civil rights case to take to the European Court of Human Rights in France.

Russian police detain an LGBTQ rights activist in Moscow in 2015. Photo by Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP/Getty Images.

Tragically, even talk of gay pride parades emboldened anti-LGBTQ law enforcement, and the move by GayRussia.ru galvanized authorities to push back against even an attempt at pursuing equality.

“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep,’" Novaya Gazeta reported. "And it went as far as real murders."

Confirming the exact number of men affected by the "sweep," however, is near-impossible at the moment.

2. Hard facts have been difficult to verify because the subject of gay rights is taboo in that region of the world.

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, an International Crisis Group worker, told The Guardian that she'd been hearing concerning information about law enforcement targeting gay men in and around Grozny, Chechnya's capital, for nearly two weeks prior to widespread news reports on the matter.

But proving any connections between missing persons and the authorities allegedly responsible for their disappearances has been difficult. The topic of gay rights is so taboo and frowned upon in Chechnya that people refuse to speak up — Sokirianskaia was only getting information from second- or third-hand accounts.

Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images.

Still, Sokirianskaia knows the arrests and murders aren't imaginary: "The number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening," she told The Guardian.

It doesn't help that officials cannot be trusted with the truth either.

3. Often, gay people conveniently don't "exist" in the very places they're oppressed (or so we're told to believe). That same myth is being sold in Chechnya.

Confronted with the alarming revelation that the government may be behind these disappearances, Alvi Karimov, a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, suggested the report by Novaya Gazeta is a fallacy, claiming gay people simply don't exist in that region of Russia.

And even if they did, he claimed, their own families would have fixed the issue.

“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic,” Karimov said in a statement, according to Radio Free Europe. “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."

Police arrest an LGBTQ rights activist in Moscow in 2013. Photo by Alexander Nemeno/AFP/Getty Images.

If this specific tactic of deflecting reality seems familiar, it may be because former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad infamously told an audience at Columbia University in 2007 that Iran doesn't "have homosexuals, like in your country," when asked about Iran's crackdown on LGBTQ rights. Kadyrov's lie has been told before.

Considering who one of the Chechen leader's dear friends is, however, this news maybe isn't quite as shocking as it should be. Which brings us to...

4. Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, is a close ally and friend of Putin, who has a heinous track record on LGBTQ rights.

Photo by Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images.

While Chechnya is technically part of Russia, it operates independently in some ways under Kadyrov, a "vulgar, vicious, and very rich" ally to — and political instrument used by — Putin, The Guardian explained. Kadyrov is like a son to Putin, and Putin is one of Kadyrov's idols.

In 2013, Russia passed vague but far-reaching legislation that banned "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" — a major step backward for LGBTQ rights advocates. According to Human Rights Watch, the law legalized discrimination against queer Russians and encouraged violence spurred by homophobia. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes spiked in the lead-up to and aftermath of the bill's passing.

Vladimir Putin (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov. Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images.

It makes sense that Kadyrov may try to replicate Putin's disturbing crackdown on gay rights in his own territory.

But one thing he hasn't been able to vanquish is hope.

5. Although the work has been difficult, there is some hope to be found: A Russian LGBTQ rights organization is helping gay men in Chechnya.

Fighting for equality in Chechnya has proven to be nearly impossible, so one civil rights group is trying to aid LGBTQ people in finding refuge elsewhere. It may be a small glimmer of light in very dark circumstances, but an organization based in St. Petersburg has reportedly set up an anonymous hotline for Chechens to call to find help in escaping the region to find a more tolerant place.

LGBTQ rights activists march in St. Petersburg in 2013. Photo by Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images.

6. While this problem may seem oceans away to many of us, news travels fast when the world is as small as it is today. That's a good thing.

That means people can help make a difference, even from miles away. To make a difference, you can help the news travel even faster.

Share this story with friends and family online and keep track of developments in the days and weeks ahead. Demand your leaders — including our own president with questionable ties to Russia — speak out on the atrocities happening in Chechnya. Do your part in spreading the truth.

We can't let these gay men be forgotten.

More

Mom and blogger Mary Katherine Backstrom regularly shares snippets of life with her two children on her Facebook page. One particularly touching interaction with her daughter is melting hearts and blowing minds due to the three-year-old's wise words about forgiveness.

Even adults struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Entire books have been written about how and why to forgive those who have wronged us, but many still have a hard time getting it. Who would guess that a preschooler could encapsulate what forgiveness means in a handful of innocent words?

Keep Reading Show less
Family

California has a housing crisis. Rent is so astronomical, one San Francisco company is offering bunk bedsfor $1,200 a month; Google even pledged$1 billion to help tackle the issue in the Bay Area. But the person who might fix it for good? Kanye West.

The music mogul first announced his plan to build low-income housing on Twitter late last year.

"We're starting a Yeezy architecture arm called Yeezy home. We're looking for architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better," West tweeted.

Keep Reading Show less
Cities

The U.S. women's soccer team won the Women's World Cup, but the victory is marred by the fact that the team is currently fighting for equal pay. In soccer, the game is won by scoring points, but the fight for equal pay isn't as clearly winnable and the playing field isn't as even.

We live in a world where winning the World Cup is easier than winning equal pay, but co-captain Megan Rapinoe says there's one easy way fans can support the team: Go see games.

Some people argue the men's team deserves to get paid more because they are more successful and earn more money for the United States Soccer Federation. Pay depends on merchandise and ticket sales, and in general, men's sporting events tend to draw a bigger crowd than women's sporting events. It's not about sex, many argue; it's about the fact that people just prefer to see men play.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

You think you know someone pretty well when you spend years with them, but, as we've seen time and again, that's not always the case. And though many relationships don't get to a point where the producers of "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" start calling every day just to chat, the reality is that sometimes partners will reveal shocking things even after you thought you'd been all shocked out.

That's the case for one woman whose Reddit thread has recently gone viral. The 25-year-old, who's been with her boyfriend for five years, took to a forum for relationship advice to ask if it was normal that her seemingly cool and loving boyfriend recently revealed women shouldn't have a fundamental right. (And no, it's not abortion — although there are a lot of "otherwise best ever boyfriends" out there who want to deny women the rights to bodily autonomy, too.)

Keep Reading Show less
Recommended