By Matt Crehan-Higgins
Over the past several weeks, reports have emerged of state-enacted, anti-gay violence in Chechnya. This news of inherent danger to Chechen gay men is reflective of a government that does not respect the dignity of its people and that also has a stronghold on the information dispersed by its media.
Rather than rebut the reports – which would not have done much to allay concerns – the leadership in Chechnya instead issued statements that no gay people exist there and that if they did, their own families would “eliminate” them. This indicates a blatant disregard for the dignity of Chechnya’s LGBTQ people, who most certainly do exist. And anonymous reports from people who have made it out and spoken to the media corroborate what officials say – that gay men fear their families would indeed harm them in ways similar to the state.
Throughout the world, where LGB people are treated poorly, transgender people are treated worse. At the time of this writing we have not heard specific accounts of anti-trans violence, but we must consider we are talking about a place that categorically denies the existence of gay people. It stands to reason that transgender people there are as or more severely impacted than the gay men whose stories have begun to be told.
Since 2006, Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad has worked on resettlement services for LGBTQ people seeking safe haven from situations like the one in Chechnya. During the last calendar year, the organization reported it had received 600 requests for assistance and were able to help 81 individuals reach safety. On April 18, the organization announced an emergency response plan to re-classify Europe as a priority area and work with the Russian LGBT Network to identify people in need of assistance.
It is not surprising that each case the Rainbow Railroad takes on requires a tremendous amount of resources to identify persons in need of assistance and to then provide travel and develop a safety plan toward their escape. While 50 member of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting him to work on this issue and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley issued a statement calling for an investigation, we live in a time when Americans have recently been given no hope in our country’s commitment to welcome those facing persecution in other parts of the world. As such, it seems best to fortify the efforts of the Rainbow Railroad to continue its work on these issues when time is not on the side of those currently facing danger in Chechnya.
American Friends of the Rainbow Railroad is a nonprofit organization that has been established for Americans to contribute to the efforts of the Rainbow Railroad and receive appropriate tax receipts. Information to assist (and about the work of) the Rainbow Railroad can be found at americanrainbowrailroad.org.
Additionally, as we read these reports we must commit to rejecting Islamophobia. While we condemn the actions of the people perpetuating these crimes in Chechnya, we must also remember that the views and actions of these extremists are not the views and actions of all Muslim people. Assuming otherwise does further harm to LGBTQ and Muslim people alike.