It’s not getting much attention worldwide that hundreds of gay men in the Russian Republic of Chechnya are disappearing and being tortured in what are essentially modern-day gay concentration camps. But a group of roughly a hundred LGBT and human rights activists spoke up at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco Tuesday night, holding vigil candles, wearing pink triangle armbands, and standing up in solidarity against the state-sponsored torture and murder of Chechen gay men.
“These crimes by these religious fanatics in Chechnya are no different than the crimes against humanity by the religious fanatics known as ISIS,” former state senator Mark Leno said, addressing the crowd. “Our new president has spoken up repeatedly about ISIS, but where is he when it comes to these crimes? Complete silence.”
District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy had just passed a resolution at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting condemning the anti-LGBT actions in the Chechen Republic. “The Chechen government has set out, really, gulags where they’re hauling LGBT folk in and torturing them,” Sheehy tells SF Weekly. “When they torture people, they torture them to get the names of other LGBT people. It looks like the beginning of a systematic roundup of LGBT folks in Chechnya, it’s so reminiscent of the 1930s.”
Sheehy sees a connection between the Trump administration’s silence on these abuses and their implicit anti-gay bias. “[Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson, when Exxon took over Mobil, the first thing they did was take domestic partner benefits away from employees,” he told the crowd. “Rex Tillerson was the CEO.”
Former state assemblyman Tom Ammiano urged the gay community to be more vocal against the Chechen brutality. “There’s been a lack of attention to this issue, even from people who would ordinarily be sympathetic,” Ammiano said. “I like the Russian people, I’ve been to Russia, I’ve had Russian boyfriends. But we’ve all lived through decades of laissez faire homophobia.”
“We can’t get comfortable,” he continued. “We can’t say if it’s happening miles and miles away, it’s not happening here. It is happening here. Vice President — what’s his name, the moralistic simpleton? — Pence, he can’t even say LGBT. He says he’s Christian, he says he’s moral. But why is he ignoring this issue?”
City College board trustee and Virgil’s Sea Room owner Tom Temprano co-organized and also addressed the vigil. “In this country today, we’re facing challenges,” Temprano said. “Trans women of color are murdered. We’re facing anti-LGBT bills in statehouses across the country. But we are not facing the sort of state violence that we’re seeing in Chechnya, Uganda, and other places.”