- an occasional column from Sister Polly -
Welcome to the first of my occasional columns on LGBT* politics, and today we’re looking at an issue close to the Manchester Sisters’ hearts – Chechnya.
On 1st April 2017, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that in recent weeks over 100 gay men had been rounded up, incarcerated and tortured in the Russian North Caucasus region of Chechnya. Some men were returned to their families on the understanding that they are to carry out an ‘honour killing’ on their gay member – at least three men are believed to have been murdered this way.
These reports were confirmed by men escaping from the camps and reported on further by organisations such as the Russian LGBT* Network and Amnesty International. Religious leaders vowed to persecute any journalists covering the story and the author of the original article is now in hiding. Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, denied the charges saying,
“You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law enforcers wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there was no returning.”
Condemnation of the atrocities grew in the late spring with rallies held across Europe, Canada and America calling for intervention by the Russian authorities. In July 2017 the Moscow Times reported Kadyrov as saying that gay men should be removed from Chechnya ‘to purify the nation’s blood’, whilst continuing to deny that there are any gay men in the region, and in the same month the Novaya Gazeta published the names of 27 detainees – gay men aged from 18-32 – who they believe were murdered by Chechen forces. On 1st November 2017, the Moscow Times reported that gay man, Maxim Lapunov, publicly charged his local police with detaining and torture. Formal investigations have begun. In Jan 2019 a new wave of incarcerations started with lesbians and transgender people reportedly targeted alongside gay men.
These reports are deeply chilling. Europe has not witnessed the systematic incarceration of homosexuals since the 1930s and 1940s under Nazi Germany. There is no place for this in C21st Europe. The Manchester Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are campaigning to keep this issue at the forefront of the public mind and are raising money to support Rainbow Railroad – a Canadian-based organisation set up to help evacuate LGBT* people at risk of incarceration, torture and death in the region.
Shortly after the news broke, many Sisters across the world voiced concern and participated in the many rallies held to condemn the persecution. The Cyrillic Che Pink Triangle logo design shown above was designed by Sr Petra Pyper Pictapekhov (Pickled Peppers), Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA in April 2017 to recall the Holocaust and to remind people of what these concentration camps lead to. I was quick to embrace the logo and add it to our banners – big thank you to Sr Petra for this. Shortly after, the Manchester Sisters launched a campaign to raise awareness of what’s happening in Chechnya. We have produced a fact sheet and ideas list, and carry a placard at all major Prides to keep this issue alive. It’s still happening!
We urge you to help anyway you can. Here are some contacts to keep up with the news!
Russian LGBT* Network – www.lgbtnet.org/en
Rainbow Railroad – www.rainbowrailroad.ca
ILGA Europe– www.ilga-europe.org
Amnesty International – www.amnesty.org
Facebook: Chechnya100, or Twitter #chechnya100
Blessings, love, sparkle and solidarity to you all.