Sunday, October 15, 2017

“They are queer! Bring them here! We will never live in fear!”: Voices 4 Chechnya - A March from Stonewall to Trump Tower UN

In recent months, the US has moved to restrict asylum seekers from coming to the United States, restricting immigration.  In one of the countless ongoing reverberations of our new administration, the US is no longer seen as a place that offers sanctuary or supports human rights.  So, our policy fuels persecution.  There are less and less places for people to go.  

On April 1st, Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper with a long and distinguished track record of reporting from Chechnya, published an article claiming that it had been able to confirm more than a hundred arrests and three deaths resulting from this sweep. A report by Human Rights Watch, issued in late May, suggests that the raids began in the last week of February, when a young man was arrested for using drugs. The police found photographs of men on his phone, along with social-media posts and messages that led them to identify him as gay.

Under torture, the man reportedly gave up the names of others, and the police began arresting them. Some media reports have claimed that Chechnya has confined gay men to “concentration camps,” but survivors’ testimony points to the existence of half a dozen detention facilities, where men are held for as long as a couple of weeks. In many cases, they are tortured. Some have been released, but others have been handed over to their relatives, who, according to survivors, are expected to kill gay family members. 

In response, queer activists have rallied and converged at the UN pleading with the world to pay attention. 

On Saturday, Voices for Chechnya, held a speak-out and march at Sheridan Square.
WE MARCH, declared the group, in the invitation for the action:

Voices 4 Chechnya believes that non-violent, direct action activism is integral to the fight for human dignity and equality for all. And everyone, no matter who they are or whom they love, is entitled to live without fear. We will not stand by as the Chechen Republic orders and encourages the capture, torture, and death of its own LGBTQ+ people.  On October 14th, hundreds of New Yorkers will march from the Stonewall National Monument, the birthplace of the modern gay liberation movement, to Trump Tower (United Nations Plaza). We will demand humanitarian visas for those who’ve escaped from Chechnya, and are now hiding in safe houses in mainland Russia. 

Young queers filled Sheridan Square outside the Stonewall. RUSA LGBT - Russian-Speaking American LGBT Association, a support network for Russian-speaking LGBTQ+ individuals in America, was there, as well others from Gays Against Guns, which sponsored the action. 

Walking around the action, I only knew a few activists I knew. So I snapped a few photos.  Everyone was super young.  One man wore a pink yamaka.  Another woman passed me a sign from HRC. 
No thanks, I said. I don’t like that group. 

You know they are sponsoring this action.  What’s wrong with HRC?
Marriage and military service are not my idea of queer life.  You’ll never hear HRC stand up for a kid stuck in a sting over public sex or a bath house.
They helped me, noted the young man.
Look it’s a long debate.  No need to be defensive. It’s a good thing to check out. 

At the rally, young activists from Voices for Chechnya called for queers to support each other across borders, to expand queer solidarity to our Muslim brothers and sisters and remember the lessons of history. Its time to borrow from the lessons of act up and gays against guns to organize around this issue, they declared.  

Queer kids around the world dream about being here explained Masha Gessen, who has written for the New Yorker about this issue.   There are kids out there depending on us, looking for the queer communities to stand up. One boy told her about a dream he had of laying on the floor without a shirt on, being beaten, leaving the to find  a car of queer kids waiting for him, flipping his tormenters off as they drive him away. It was a chilling reminder of persecution and hope. 

Never again, screamed another speaker.  We have to stand up now, before this gets beyond reach. The US closed its borders from 1928 to 52.  And the world suffered as result. Never again. 

“They are queer! Bring them here!  We will never live in fear!”

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