​i-D stands with chechnya’s gay community

As the situation in Russia develops, what can we do to help? It's easy to feel powerless, but we’ve compiled advice from charities, activists and politicians as to what we can do effect change.

by Greg French
14 April 2017, 9:30pm

This week, it has been reported that Chechen authorities have begun rounding up dozens of gay men in the Russian republic -- brutally abusing and killing them in newly opened concentration camps. Whilst first hand reports are still surfacing due to the anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda laws in Russia, on Tuesday it was confirmed that three men had been killed in relation to these horrific attacks.

The region's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has openly denied the claims through his spokespersons -- referring to the reports as "an April fools joke" to Interfax news. It's clear there is a governmental attempt to cover these attacks up -- denying altogether that there are any LGBTQ+ communities living in Chechnya. "You cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn't need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning."

As a gay man reading those words, it's hard to contemplate just how difficult it must be fighting such an oppressive regime. Here in London it's light-years away from anything we can begin to imagine -- and it's easy to feel helpless so far removed from the crisis zone.

But it's not the time to remain ignorant -- and it's so necessary for the lives of those men who have been taken from their homes to take what action that we can. In times of unrest such as these, unity will always win over division -- and as such, here are a handful of sources that have offered advice on what we can do to help.

Hit the streets
London has never been a city to shy away from solidarity. It, and the rest of the UK can stand together in defence of the LGBTQ+ community -- setting an example to those not fortunate enough to live in such relatively liberal societies. To start, we can attend the protests and vigils that have begun to appear across the city in response to Russia. City Hall and London Mayor Sadiq Khan agree. "Reports coming from Chechnya that gay men are being rounded up and taken to concentration camps are extremely worrying," Deputy Mayor for Social Integration Matthew Ryder explains. "Subjecting people to that form of treatment because of their sexuality is completely unacceptable and amounts to human rights abuses of the worst kind."

"London is open to all people from all backgrounds and we are immensely proud of the contribution that the LGBT+ community makes to life in this great city. Last night's protest outside the Russian Embassy sends a clear message to the world that Londoners stand in solidarity with those being persecuted, and serves as a sober reminder of the freedoms we can sometimes take for granted."

If like many, access to London is not possible, connecting with local, on the ground forces to offer support is an alternative response -- particularly in relation to events, such as these, that are well outside the UK's sphere of political influence. "In the first instance, Russian LGBT rights organisation is accepting donations to help those who are in immediate danger," offers London Assembly Member Tom Copley. "This money can help get LGBT people to safe houses outside of Chechnya. It is important that we ask local LGBT organisations in Russia what sort of response they would like to see. It is these groups that have the knowledge and experience of the situation on the ground in Chechnya and who are best placed to tell us what sort of response would be helpful. However, gay rights are human rights not just Western values, and the UK government has a moral responsibility to act. Such action should include ensuring that those whose lives are threatened can be granted asylum in Britain, as well as using diplomatic levers to place pressure on Russia to act to stop these atrocities."

Speak to your MP
Calling on the government is an instant action we can all take to encourage them to use what influence they have on Russian authorities to intervene. Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall notes "the grave situation" currently occurring -- with the charity advising people to join forces with Amnesty International to back their recently launched campaign by signing the online petition. "We, along with many other LGBT groups and human rights organisations, are calling for an immediate halt to the violence, and for those who are detained to be released immediately."

Stay informed
The media play a hugely important role in rallying people to sign petitions such as these and also educating people on the situation and how they can help. Particularly with media blackouts on LGBTQ+ issues in Russia, it's necessary to read as much as we can to stay informed, particularly when governments are actively denying events. Junior Fashion Editor of Attitude Nick Byam suggests, "If we didn't have publications like Attitude and websites like Pink News there wouldn't be as many influential sources that highlight exactly how damaging what's happening in Russia is. Allowing gay journalists to have their say and be heard is crucial and the LGBT+ media have these issues at the forefront of their agenda."

Assistant Audience Editor at The Independent Max Benwell mentions that "having an independent voice online that people respect and trust can be incredibly useful when it comes to tackling social injustice around the world. But it is only the starting point. On an individual level, you may have thousands of followers -- even tens of thousands -- but it takes much more to change an oppressive government's mind. If you're lucky enough to wield some influence, the best thing you can do is use it to point people towards organisations like Amnesty, which are incredibly adept when it comes to harnessing social media to put pressure on regimes around the world."

Spread information
Of utilising social media, Max adds "There are exceptions but generally social media activism can only work if it catalyses activism offline. With its potentially huge reach harnessed, change can happen, but it means persuading people to write letters, make calls, go to protests and tell their friends. If it's a country like Chechnya it's probably best as a journalist to amplify the voices of those affected, and let them tell their stories. If you can donate to any grassroots campaigns taking place in the country, or have any skills you can lend protestors or opposition groups, like legal expertise, then definitely do that if you can too."

Whatever we can do to help stop atrocities such as those in Chechnya, we must. Gay rights are human rights and no one should ever suffer because of the person they chose to love. Let's send a clear message that together, #LoveWins.


Text Greg French
Image via Twitter

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