A little over a week ago, I was asked to write an article about Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Haley is an unusual character when it comes to LGBT issues. In 2012 she said it was her job to uphold her state’s constitution and its ban on same-sex marriage, yet in 2016 she said that the Republicans would respect the "differences in modern families" in the official rebuttal to President Obama’s last State of the Union Address. At the same time she called for respect for religious liberty. That same year Haley however also said she wouldn’t support a bill to block transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender they identify as, citing the fact there was no clear evidence that anyone’s privacy was being violated and implying that the predator myth was just that, a myth. So it’s safe to say that while she won’t be the grand marshal of a Pride parade anytime soon, she’s also not a foaming-at-the-mouth homophobe.
The reason I told my editor to give me an extra week before I submitted anything about Ambassador Haley is that I wanted to wait to see if she would say anything before the United Nations about what’s happening in Chechnya. In case you aren’t familiar with the situation, Chechnya, a Russian republic (a semiautonomous one, still subservient to Russia), began arresting gay and bisexual men and placing them in secret prisons that have been dubbed "concentration camps" by some observers. These men are often lured in through entrapment schemes where they are videotaped, beaten, and forced to reveal information about their acquaintances.
While about 100 men have been detained in the camps, the number of people killed is unknown beyond the three reported in the camps, because these men are often released to their families to be murdered as an "honor killing." As the story emerged, Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov, denied that there are any gay Chechens. "You cannot arrest and repress those who simply aren't in the republic," Karimov told the news agency Interfax. "If there were such people in Chechnya, then the law enforcement agencies wouldn't have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they won't return."
Numerous nongovernmental organizations and even the United Nations Human Rights Council have confirmed that these events are occurring, even as Chechen officials call the reports an “April Fool's joke,” and Russian authorities have stated they didn’t have any reliable information about any “problems in this area.” While members of Congress have called for an investigation and for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak out, it has taken over two weeks for anyone in the Trump administration to say anything — and it was Haley who finally condemned the horrific campaign and demanded that it stop.
While Donald Trump promised throughout his presidential campaign to be the best friend LGBT people ever had, his administration said nothing before Haley's announcement. The issue has become part of the French election, and Australia has issued a public condemnation, yet there is mostly silence from the U.S. This silence stands in stark contrast to Trump's promises to stand up for LGBT people, but is more in line with his domestic actions to rescind executive orders and policies that defend their rights.
Additionally, with the lingering accusations of Trump’s collusion with the Russians before, during, and after the election, the silence takes on an ominous tone. Some have said Trump’s recent rhetoric toward Russia for its support of President Assad of Syria and the use of force to send a message to Putin pal Assad after his use of chemical weapons on civilians are a sign that he is not in thrall to the Russian president (a stretch). Much of this rhetoric, including an accusation that Russia knew of and supported the use of these weapons, came first from Haley.
If Trump was truly a friend to the LGBT community, he and his diplomats like Tillerson and Haley would have publicly condemned these actions much sooner — reports have been circulating for over two weeks. If Trump was not a puppet of Russia or even wanted to prove he was not, what could have served better than a condemnation of the human rights violations of one of Putin’s puppet states to show American leadership and compassion? If Haley was truly a moderate Republican on LGBT issues, she would have stood before the General Assembly of the U.N. and condemned Chechnya and Russia for their actions.Yet it took weeks for a statement.
Haley's action is purely symbolic and cannot punish anyone or even start an investigation into the situation in Chechnya. A condemnation by Trump would also be ultimately unable to do much other than enhance awareness of the issue and put international pressure on Putin to rein in his Chechen thug, yet there is nothing. I was already fully convinced that Trump had no use for LGBT people as anything but a political prop. Trump’s actions in Syria and inaction in Chechnya reinforces my belief that he is merely a political theatrics opportunist. As for Nikki Haley, weeks without any public statement or action before the United Nations on Chechnya, a body that recognized the Orlando Pulse shooting as a violation of human rights, is a vast disappointment.
Weeks worth of inaction may be politically dangerous, but for LGBT Chechens, it can be deadly. Trump and Haley’s silence and inaction only further proves that neither is a trustworthy ally to LGBT people and both are politically out of their league.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.