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'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.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Identity

Do you have a 'gay voice'? Here's how to tell.

Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

Photo pulled from YouTube trailer "Do I sound gay?"

For anyone who's wondering if they have a gay voice and what that actually means.

This article originally appeared on June 5, 2015


Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

If you're anything like me, the answer is yes. Many times.

For anyone who’s laid awake wondering if your voice is just as gay as you are, I've created a rigorous test for you to finally get some answers. Follow the chart below to see if you, in fact, sound like a homosexual. ***(Image needs to pulled from Robbie Couch who wrote the article.)


Temporary pic pulled as a place holder

Temporary pic pulled as a place holder******

Yes, that's correct: You do not have a "gay voice" — because a "gay voice" is not really a thing.

Unlike humans, voices do not identify as certain genders or sexual orientations. They're just ... sounds. (Crazy, I know!)

Stereotypes about what LGBTQ people sound like lead some to think their gay-dar can accurately sniff out queer folks in a crowd based on voices alone. However, research shows we actually do a pretty poor job at guessing another person's sexual orientation solely using our ears.

Even if we do wear our queerness on the tips of our tongues, though, why should it matter?

Some LGBTQ people fret over their voice, fearful their queerness is on display every time they speak. And that concern is understandable. Sometimes, it's not a matter of accepting yourself, but a matter of survival: When your voice outs you as an "other" in an environment that's hostile toward gay, transgender, or otherwise queer people, personal safety becomes a priority.

“A lot of gay men are self-conscious about sounding gay because we were persecuted for that when we were young," LGBTQ activist and media personality Dan Savage said in the 2014 documentary "Do I Sound Gay?"

CNN's Don Lemon, who is openly gay, also chimed in on the topic. Has he ever felt insecure about "sounding gay"? “I’d have to say, if I told you ‘no,’ I’d be lying," Lemon admitted in the documentary.

But we should never let a bully's bigotry convince us our voices should be silenced. You sound perfect the way you are, honey — and don't you forget it.

Checking out the documentary "Do I Sound Gay?", available on multiple streaming platforms. Here's a look at the trailer:

This article was written by Robbie Couch and originally appeared on 11.5.15

@geaux75/TikTok

Molly was found tied to a tree by the new owners of the house.

Molly, an adorable, affectionate 10-year-old pit bull, found herself tied to a tree after her owners had abandoned her.

According to The Dodo, Molly had “always been a loyal dog, but, unfortunately, her first family couldn’t reciprocate that same love back,” and so when the house was sold, neither Molly nor the family’s cat was chosen to move with them. While the cat was allowed to free roam outside, all Molly could do was sit and wait. Alone.

Luckily, the young couple that bought the house agreed to take the animals in as part of their closing agreement, and as soon as the papers were signed, they rushed over to check in.

In a TikTok video, April Parker, the new homeowner, walks up to Molly, who is visibly crestfallen with teary eyes. But as soon as Parker begins cooing, “Baby girl…you’re gonna get a new home,” the pitty instantly perks up—all smiles and tail wagging.

“We are going to make her life so good,” Parker wrote in the video’s caption. “She will never be left all alone tied to a tree.”

@geaux75 The people that sold our house to us left behind their 10yr old dog they had since it was a puppy. I was so stressed we wouldnt get the house and something bad would happeb to her. We are going to maje her life so good. She will never be left all alone tied to a tree. 😭😢@roodytoots ♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) [2018 Remaster] - Kate Bush

The video has been seen upwards of 4 million times. Countless people commented on how enraging it was to see a dog treated so carelessly.

“I’ve had my dog since she was 7 weeks old. She just turned 10 a few days ago. I literally cannot imagine doing this,” one person wrote.”

Another added: “The tears in her eyes…she doesn’t understand why they could just leave her, it breaks my heart. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to be pet owners.”

Subsequent videos show Parker freeing Molly from her leash and introducing the sweet pup to her husband, with whom she was instantly smitten. It’s clear that this doggo was both relieved and elated to be taken in by her new family.

Since being rescued, Molly has accompanied her new mom and dad everywhere.

@geaux75 Replying to @ohitscourtney ♬ Lucky Girl - Carlina


“She’s sticking to our side,” Parker wrote. “She won’t stop following us around. It’s so sweet.”

Parker has created an entire TikTok channel documenting her newfound pet’s journey, aptly named “Molly’s New Life,” showing Molly enjoying warm baths, plenty of treats, cuddles…all the finer things in life.

But what Molly seems to enjoy most of all is car rides:

@geaux75 Taking Molly to get a treat! Stay tuned!! #mollysnewlife #goodgollymissmolly ♬ original sound - Mollysnewlife 🐾🐕💗

And in case you’re wondering, the kitty is doing well, too, though it still prefers to stay outdoors.

Molly also has two indoor cat siblings who instantly welcomed her into the family. The video below shows one of them, Joofus, comforting a trembling Molly with kisses during a thunderstorm.

@geaux75 We had a big storm this morning and Molly was having a hard time. Joofus got on the bed and started comforting her. It was the sweetest thing. They got snuggled up and Molly went to sleep. Animals are amazing. #mollysnewlife #petsarefamily ♬ I Won't Let Go - Rascal Flatts

It seems that Molly has gotten the safe, loving home she’s deserved all along.

We know that animal abandonment is fairly common. According to The Zebra, almost 4 million dogs are either given up to shelters or abandoned each year. And still, it’s really hard to fathom how humans can treat such innocent creatures with such blatant disregard when they provide so much pure joy.

Thankfully, there are folks out there like the Parkers who know that taking care of animals like Molly is one of life’s most precious offerings.

Stay up-to-date with the rest of Molly’s journey by following her on TikTok.


This article originally appeared on 5.31.23

Identity

High school girl’s response to ‘Ugly Girls’ poll inspires positive reaction

This brave high school student stood up to her school’s cyberbullies.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Lynelle Cantwell had a response on her own Facebook page.

Lynelle Cantwell is in 12th grade at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (that's Canada).

On Monday, she found out that she had been featured on another student's anonymous online poll entitled "Ugly Girls in Grade 12," along with several other classmates.


Cantwell responded via Facebook with her own message, which has already been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

cyber bullying, bullies, kindness

The unkind poll.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Take a look:

bullying, brave response, community support

“Just because we don’t look perfect on the outside does not mean we are ugly.” - Lynelle Cantwell.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Since posting her brave response on Facebook, more people have come out to show support than people who voted in the first place.

Check out some of the responses:

appreciation, confidence, self esteem, love and support

Some responses to her post.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

The School District of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced that it will be looking into the incident further. For Cantwell, the positive outpouring of love and support vastly outweighs the initial cyberbullying and is raising her confidence in new ways.


This article originally appeared on 08.20.17

Health

Artists got fed up with these 'anti-homeless spikes.' So they made them a bit more ... comfy.

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

Photo courtesy of CC BY-ND, Immo Klink and Marco Godoy

Spikes line the concrete to prevent sleeping.


These are called "anti-homeless spikes." They're about as friendly as they sound.

As you may have guessed, they're intended to deter people who are homeless from sitting or sleeping on that concrete step. And yeah, they're pretty awful.

The spikes are a prime example of how cities design spaces to keep homeless people away.


Not all concrete steps have spikes on them, but outdoor seating in cities like Montreal and Tokyo have been sneakily designed to prevent people from resting too comfortably for too long.

This guy sawing through a bench was part of a 2006 protest in Toulouse, France, where public seating intentionally included armrests to prevent people from lying down.

Of course, these designs do nothing to fight the cause or problem of homelessness. They're just a way of saying to homeless people, "Go somewhere else. We don't want to look at you,"basically.

One particular set of spikes was outside a former night club in London. And a local group got sick of staring at them.

Leah Borromeo is part of the art collective "Space, Not Spikes" — a group that's fed up with what she describes as "hostile architecture."

"Spikes do nothing more than shoo the realities of poverty and inequality away from your backyard — so you don't have to see it or confront what you can do to make things more equal," Borromeo told Upworthy. "And that is really selfish."

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

charity, social consciousness, artist

A bed covers up spikes on the concrete.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The move by Space, Not Spikes has caused quite a stir in London and around the world. The simple but impactful idea even garnered support from music artist Ellie Goulding.

"That was amazing, wasn't it?" Borromeo said of Goulding's shout-out on Instagram.

books, philanthropy, capitalism

Artist's puppy books and home comforts.

assets.rebelmouse.io

"[The project has] definitely touched a nerve and I think it is because, as a whole, humans will still look out for each other," Borromeo told Upworthy. "Capitalism and greed conditions us to look out for ourselves and negate the welfare of others, but ultimately, I think we're actually really kind."

"We need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."
anti-homeless laws, legislation, panhandling

A message to offer support in contrast with current anti-homeless laws.

assets.rebelmouse.io

These spikes may be in London, but the U.S. definitely has its fair share of anti-homeless sentiment, too.

Spikes are pretty obvious — they're a visual reminder of a problem many cities are trying to ignore. But what we can't see on the street is the rise of anti-homeless laws that have cropped up from sea to shining sea.

Legislation that targets homeless people — like bans on panhandling and prohibiting people from sleeping in cars — has increased significantly in recent years.

For instance, a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty that analyzed 187 American cities found that there's been a 43% hike in citywide bans on sitting or lying down in certain spaces since 2011.

Thankfully, groups like "Space, Not Spikes" are out there changing hearts and minds. But they need our help.

The group created a video to complement its work and Borromeo's hoping its positive underlying message will motivate people to do better.

"[The world] won't always be happy-clappy because positive social change needs constructive conflict and debate," she explained. "But we need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."

Check out their video below:

This article originally appeared on 07.24.15