'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.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

RELATED: A gay couple's pride flag helped give a young teen the courage to come out to their family

One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

RELATED: A homophobic ad was placed next to a pizza shop. They messed with the wrong place.

He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.