A Chechen transgender woman who escaped after being attacked in Moscow in 2015 has come forward with her story of facing harassment and violence.
The woman, who calls herself Leila, suffered persecution even before the recent crackdown on gay and bisexual men in Chechnya, reports International Business Times UK, which based its account on her interview with Russian independent TV station Rain. Her worst experiences came after she left Chechnya, a semiautonomous republic within Russia, and moved to Moscow.
Leila, who had gender-affirmation surgery in the mid-2000s, worked in the Chechen government early in this century, when the republic’s president was Akhmad Kadyrov, father of the current president, Ramzan Kadyrov.
“I even met with Kadyrov senior,” she told Rain. “He was a nice man, and there was no negative feeling towards me from him that I noticed even though I had plucked eyebrows and it was clear that I stood out from the crowd.”
But when she moved to Moscow, she faced threats. Her relatives back in Chechnya had been contacted by strangers who demanded that the family arrange for Leila’s murder, saying they would bring back her body. She also received threatening texts, which she reported to police, who just advised her to emigrate to a European country or go back to Chechnya.
Finally, in 2015, she was stabbed in Moscow by a fellow Chechen who said, “When will you stop disgracing your people?” After that she went into hiding and eventually left Russia for the U.S. She had considered settling in Argentina, but changed her plans after hearing her attackers were following her there.
Leila said LGBT people have been suffering in Chechnya at least since 2007, when Ramzan Kadyrov came to power. Many Chechens follow an ultraconservative strain of Islam. Reports surfaced in April of the most recent persecution of sexual minorities in the republic, with at least 100 gay and bisexual men detained and tortured in what amount to concentration camps and at least three killed. Some have been released into the custody of their families, where they still face danger, as Chechen law enforcement authorities have advised families to kill gay and bisexual members. Some others have escaped to the West.
Chechen leaders have denied that an antigay purge is taking place, even saying that there are no gay people in the republic. Russian President Vladimir Putin finally agreed, under pressure, that his government would investigate. Some U.S. officials have condemned the persecution, although President Donald Trump has not addressed it. And it has been reported that Chechen refugees have been denied U.S. visas.