We Are Dying

Gay men are being tortured in Nazi-like prisons and no one cares


Red light shines through a large glass window in New York’s East Village, where people in coats spill into the street smelling of liquor and heavy perfume. Inside, people at the bar laugh and toss slightly sexual banter back and forth — always on the cusp of going in for the kill. A group of lesbians take shots in the corner, while drag queens perform upstairs to a small but decent crowd. At the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the American Gay Rights Movement, the celebration of queer identity has been going strong since June 28, 1969.

Within the historic walls it is easy to forget where queer people once stood. The global attitude towards queer people has changed drastically in decades that followed the Stonewall Riots. Though the fortune of American queer people is just that: fortune. On the other side of the world, in the small town of Tsotsi-Yurt in Chechnya, sits a building meant to house prisoners away from the prying eyes of the world. This is not new. This is 2017, and there is nothing people can do about it.

In what many people on social media believed to be an April Fools joke, a Russian news site, the Novaya Gazeta, published an article alleging that the Chechen Federal Subject of Russia was imprisoning and torturing gay men. It would be surprising if not for the Russian attitude towards gay men, which to some is still a surprise.

In honor of the National Day of Silence, the Mt. San Antonio College Pride Center held an even to bring awareness towards countries that are not accepting of queer people. Of the 20 people in attendance, only two people were aware of the situation taking place in Russia. This, said Arnold Figueroa, a sociology student at Cal State L.A., is why people didn’t believe the initial report of “gay concentration camps.”

“When I saw it on my wall I thought it was some sick joke, maybe from a conservative outlet. But when I realized the truth I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it was true.”

According to the Novaya Gazeta, and confirmed by numerous credible sources, gay men and men suspected of being gay are being picked up and sent to Nazi-like prisons. To back these claims, the Gazeta published a witness account in which a former prisoner describes the situation in lockup. He writes that one gay man was brought back to the village beaten and bloody.

“I don’t want to believe this is happening, but the more I learn about it and the situation in Russia the more I am forced to accept that this is really happening,” said Figueroa. “It makes me rethink the relative safety we have here in the U.S.”

But what can be done?

In a statement released on April 17 by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley to the United Nations, the United State declared:

We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association. If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored — Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.

We are against all forms of discrimination, including against people based on sexual orientation. When left unchecked, discrimination and human rights abuses can lead to destabilization and conflict.

Tomorrow, the United States will lead a first-ever meeting on human rights in international conflicts in the UN Security Council to underscore our commitment to addressing human rights abuses wherever they threaten international peace and security.

Equally, other nations and organizations are reaching out to those who may be victims of persecution and face imprisonment and death. Canadian LGBT advocacy group, Rainbow Railroad, issued a statement saying that they would begin focusing on aiding gays in escaping Chechnya.

“To assist in this effort, Rainbow Railroad is working closely with the Russian LGBT Network, a non-governmental organization currently leading the campaign to rescue those facing danger in Chechnya. The two organizations will work together to identify individuals who need to be evacuated — with Rainbow Railroad providing direct travel assistance.”

This, however takes time. Although “official” reports only three deaths have occurred and only 100 men have “officially” been taken into custody. The Gazeta, however, said their sources reveal the number to be much higher. “We received information about the arrest of more than a hundred men. Novaya Gazeta has already known the names of three victims, but our sources claim that the victims much more,” reported the Gazeta.

Some one is smoking in the bathroom now, probably hoping to mask the smell of weed with urine. The bartender shouts “last call” and encourages those left to place their orders. Upstairs the queens have taken off their shoes and now take shots with their fans. Out on the street the red neon spelling out “Stonewall Inn” flickers in the cool New York night. Arnold Figueroa takes a drag of his cigarette and opens Grindr to confirm a hook-up. He doesn’t know that on the other side of the world, in the Chechen town of Tsotsi-Yurt, in a building meant to keep away the world, gay men are dying.