When the atrocities of the Holocaust came to light over 70 years ago, the international community declared it would “never again” turn away from a group being systematically persecuted. Yet today, in Russia’s southern republic of Chechnya, the government has opened a concentration camp to isolate, torture, extort, and even kill gay men. This barbarism is a clear violation of international human rights, and should be widely condemned. We cannot be silent and watch members of the global LGBT community be subjected to persecution. Political leaders worldwide, our Congress, our president, and the U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights must immediately act to stop these atrocities.
The news of a Chechen concentration camp for gay men is horrific. Yet it’s not the first time the republic’s government has targeted the LGBT community. Russian SOBR officers (members of a special, rapid-response police force) have organized hunts to identify gay men who they then capture, torture, and beat — sometimes to death. So-called “honor killings,” which have occurred when some of these gay men were returned to their families, have been tacitly sanctioned by the government. Alvi Karimov, the spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, has said “there are no gay people in Chechnya…because their families would send them somewhere from which there is no return.”
Chechnya is a prime example of how unchecked persecution of a group of people can escalate. It is a warning sign that we need to act not just in Chechnya, but any place where LGBT people are under siege. According to the High Commissioner of Human Rights’ 2015 Free and Equal Report, 76 countries have discriminatory laws that criminalize private, consensual, same-sex relationships. These laws make individuals subject to arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment. There are eight countries, or regions of a country, where the penalty for a same-sex relationship is death. We cannot sit back and celebrate marriage equality in the U.S., while our brothers and sisters in 76 counties are treated as criminals because of who they are and who they love.
This is a pivotal crossroads, one where innocent LGBT lives in Chechnya and other nations are at grave risk. Statements condemning these atrocities are not enough. We must act. Join a network on the front lines of the fight for global LGBT equality. Find organizations that fund local LGBT groups working for equal rights in these countries. Give money to organizations that work to rescue LGBT victims of violence who are at risk of persecution because of their sexual identity. Click here for tangible ways to help.
At Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), we act not simply because human rights are being violated, but also because these actions drive people at risk of HIV transmission into hiding where they cannot access HIV prevention interventions and prevent individuals living with HIV from accessing treatment. We take pride in our work to resolve asylum legal issues for refugees, protect victims of LGBT violence and HIV discrimination, and help people access HIV safety net programs.
Please join the global equality movement. Stand up for our brothers and sisters in Chechnya, so “never again” doesn’t happen today.
KELSEY LOUIE is the chief executive officer of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first, and nation's leading provider of HIV/AIDS care, prevention services, and advocacy.