Guirgis: Why aren't we doing anything about Chechnya?

    Generally when writing an op-ed, the opinion is usually preceded by an introduction — something to “hook” the reader, or ease them into the piece. I’m not easing anyone into the following piece because, outside of my tear-fueled rage tweets at Republican senators and congressmen who were #PrayingForOrlando, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so personally affected by the responses of United States government officials to LGBTQA+ hate crimes.

    Gay men are being killed in Chechnya, a Muslim majority region in Eastern Europe and a subject of Russia. This news surfaced a little over two weeks ago, when the independent Russian publication Novaya Gazeta published a story claiming that gay men were being “detained” – in essence, that they were being kidnapped, tortured, killed or outed to families that would kill them. A week later, the publication came out with evidence of a concentration camp for gay men in Chechnya. Since the news broke, the entire publication has been subject to death threats, and the journalist who broke the story has since fled Russia. There has been no response from the same Republican senators and congressmen who were #PrayingForOrlando last June.

    The current administration’s tepid stance on gay rights is not that surprising, given the well-documented homophobia of members of the presidential cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence. After all, like all marginalized communities in the United States, LGBTQA+ discrimination is only brought to light when it can be used as a political tool. The Pulse shooting in Orlando happened to fall during election season, and both Democrats and Republicans used the shooting as an opportunity to express their political views: Democrats used Pulse to advocate for gun control, and Republicans used the identity of the shooter as a dog-whistle for anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. In that regard, Orlando wasn’t allowed to be a hate crime against gay people, because we weren’t a hot-button election issue.

    The Chechnyan government is actively committing human rights violations heavily reminiscent of the worst of World War II, and the world should have taken action the moment these actions were released in the independent Russian press. But I’ve seen nothing more than scattered coverage over the past two weeks, and since then, exactly two major United States government officials have spoken out against these actions: United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and just yesterday, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The administration itself hasn’t condemned the events, and I personally don’t expect the political asylum process to be of any help; it certainly wasn’t to the Syrian refugees seeking political asylum for being gay.

    Yesterday, The Independent published a report that stated that the Allied powers knew of the Holocaust at least two years earlier than was stated in the past. Two million Jews had already been killed, and a further five million were in danger—but it wasn’t until 1945 that concentration camps were liberated. It’s a little-known fact that the United States turned away Jewish refugees in 1939, as Nazi Germany’s anti-Semitism started taking root. The world has no excuse to let history repeat itself, and yet no actions have been taken. Outside of a written statement by Ambassador Haley and some articles acknowledging that, yes, this supremely fucked up thing is happening, there has been no action. And maybe the only reason we’re getting any response at all happens to be the same reason we got #PrayersForOrlando; they sound great and don’t actually do much of anything.

    But 100 people are missing, presumed dead, and these deaths are government-sponsored by way of secret police and a concentration camp. And until this is rectified swiftly, our collective inaction as a nation is only further proof that, unless we fit into a positive political narrative, LGBTQA+ lives don’t matter either.


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