By now, we’ve all heard the horrific reports of gay men being imprisoned, tortured and killed in Chechnya — recently, a Chechen teen was reportedly pushed off of a 9 story building by his uncle after being outed to his family.
Activists are struggling to help persecuted queer Chechens mired in one of the most hopelessly homophobic countries on earth. But as the situation on the ground grows ever more dire, one organization offers a glimmer of hope: the Russian LGBT Network has developed a kind of underground gay railroad in recent weeks, helping evacuate LGBT people out of the country.
“Up until now, we rescued 42 people,” a spokesperson for The Russian LGBT Network told Huffington Post today.
Now, the organization says, it’s trying to figure out which countries are “willing to accept Chechen queer refugees.”
The Russian LGBT Network’s operations have to be kept secret, they say, to protect the victims fleeing from their own families: “We negotiate these possibilities with the foreign authorities and NGOs. This has to be done in order to ensure the victims’ maximum safety and security. We have strong evidence that families of those, who fled Chechnya, already started looking for them.”
Aside from evacuation, the Russian LGBT Network offers refugees housing, medical assistance and psychological help. They say they’ve received a total of 80 calls since the crisis began early this year.
So far, President Trump has remained silent on the crisis. In a stunning back-and-forth at a White House press conference this week, spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders confessed she wasn’t even sure Trump had been informed of the anti-gay purge:
“Is the reason why it wasn’t included in the readout because the president is not informed about reports of anti-gay violence in Chechnya?” asked the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson.
“Ah, look, I mean a lot of times there are parts of the conversation that aren’t specifically included in a readout… but I’m not aware, I have not had that conversation,” Huckabee Sanders replied. “So I do not know, I was not part of that meeting. I cannot speak to every detail and I would have to refer you to the readout on the specifics of what I know was discussed.”
Russia’s response has also been lacking. Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed an inquiry into the “rumors” of a crackdown on gay people in Chechnya, but today, five gay rights activists were detained in Moscow as they tried to deliver a petition advocating for a larger investigation to the office of the country’s prosecutor general. According to the activists, they’d already collected more than two million signatures for an expanded inquiry.
The situation for LGBT asylum seekers around the world currently leaves much to be desired; in the U.S., for example, many immigration lawyers fear that Trump’s administration won’t protect LGBT refugees from Muslim countries.
For their part, the Russian LGBT Network plans on continuing to put pressure on lawmakers around the world and urges anyone rightfully petrified by the situation to call their representatives. “This case needs to remain in the international spotlight, so we can make sure a fair investigation actually takes place,” the representative said.
Those who can provide direct aid to the victims are encouraged to contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.