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Russian Parents Are Kidnapping Their LGBTQ+ Children and Sending Them to Conversion Therapy Camps

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Survivors are speaking out about their horrifying ordeals.

Parents in Russia are hiring gangs of men to abduct their LGBTQ+ children and take them to conversion therapy centers, where they are held for extended periods and subjected to chemical and psychological practices banned in Western countries, according to a report from The Washington Post.

Survivors who escaped to the West said they were imprisoned inside expensive and isolated treatment centers, often amidst drug addicts and the mentally ill. They spoke of being given debilitating drugs, forced to perform hours of exercise and labor, beaten down emotionally and psychologically regarding their sexual and gender identity, and enduring regular beatings by staff.

The ordeals stretched indefinitely and under extreme conditions. One confinement lasted 20 months, while another stretched over 10 months during the harsh Siberian winter.

Transgender nonbinary activist and journalist Ada Blakewell, 23, said her mother aided in her abduction to the Freedom Rehabilitation Center in Siberia. Blakewell, who uses she/they pronouns, said she was forced to swim every morning in an ice-cold river and endure a brutal physical regimen that left her vision blurred and seeing only white. Blakewell said she was also forced to perform “manly” tasks such as chopping wood and slaughtering chicken, pigs, and turkeys, as well as once being asked to castrate a pig.

“I was given a surgical knife and given instructions how to do it, but I couldn’t finish it,” Blakewell told the Post. “I had a severe panic attack and from then on, I was getting more and more suicidal.”

A 28-year-old transgender woman who comes from a wealthy family said she spent 20 months in clinics outside Moscow, amongst hardcore drug addicts. Alexandra, who used only her first name for security purposes, said she was given medication that left her feeling “like a zombie.”

She said other residents repeatedly issued death threats against her and that guards administered harsh and abusive punishment.

The experience left her feeling isolated and questioning her value as a person.

“I felt alone because people around me were from another world,” she said. “People were very distant. I was feeling like I’m canceled. I felt invalid.”

While such extreme practices are illegal in the U.S. and Western European countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has led an attack on the LGBTQ+ community in his country.

In November, the Russian Supreme Court granted a petition to label the “international LGBT social movement” as “extremist,” and ban its activities, advocacy, and support within the country.

In July Putin directed sexologists to help gay people overcome what he called the “mental disorder” of same-sex sexual attraction. A month earlier he ordered the Ministry of Health to create an institute to study queer people at the Serbsky Center for Psychiatry and Narcology.

In June, Russia passed a bill that banned gender-affirming surgery and treatment and outlawed changing official documents to align with a person’s true gender.

Last December, Putin signed a law strengthening a ban on LGBTQ “propaganda” in Russia and making it illegal to promote same-sex sexual relations or suggest non-heterosexual attractions are “normal.” Individuals can be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,370) for “LGBT propaganda” and up to 200,000 rubles ($3,185) for “demonstrations of LGBT and information that encourages a change of gender among teenagers.” The fines increase to 5 million rubles ($80,000) and 4 million rubles ($64,000) respectively for legal entities.

It is illegal under current Russian law to participate in or finance an extremist group or organization, punishable by up to 12 years in prison. Displaying symbols of an extremist group is punishable with up to 15 days in custody for first-time offenders and repeat violations are punishable by up to four years in prison. Those found violating the law can also have their assets frozen and are forbidden from other aspects of public life.

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