The Russian LGBT has helped secure the safety of more than 250 people in Chechnya
As the rumours of a purge of gay men rippled through Chechnya 在 2017, one organisation took the place of first responders, providing a lifeline for would-be victims. Over four years, 这 Russian LGBT Network would come to evacuate over 250 LGBT+ individuals away from danger to safe houses elsewhere in 俄罗斯 and beyond.
在星期一, the LGBT Network was labelled a foreign agent by Moscow’s Justice Ministry.
The NGO was not even the only prominent name to be published on the Ministry’s list. Joining them was Ivan Pavlov, an exiled lawyer who specialised in sensitive political cases before fleeing Russia in September, along with four of his team.
He described the designation as a “state honour for service to freedom of speech and information”.
Russian authorities have employed an expanded 2012 “foreign agent” law to eviscerating effect over recent months, designating a range of organisations and individuals it says are foreign funded and guilty of political activity.
The label brings additional accounting obligations and the obligation to preface official communication with a lengthy warning. But its main effect is to stigmatise. Several independent media resources have already gone under, with advertisers balking at association.
Founded in 2006, the Russian LGBT Network has provided psychological and legal services at a time when LGBT+ rights have come under strain. 在 2013, the Kremlin introduced a law against the “promotion of homosexuality among minors,” similar to Britain’s “Section 28,” which was rescinded in 2000.
Social attitudes towards sexual minorities have become increasingly intolerant — no less so than in Chechnya, the largely Muslim, semiautonomous republic at Russia’s southern border. Hundreds of men were rounded up and tortured. At least two were killed, and others disappeared.
The NGO’s frontline work evacuating at-risk individuals was documented in David French’s 2020 award winning film, “Welcome to Chechnya”.
The LGBT Network does appear to receive foreign funding from a parent organisation, Sfera, itself designated a foreign agent in 2016. But the Network disputes the designation, arguing the work that it does is not political. It intends to appeal.
Spokesperson Dilya Gafurovaya said the new designation would increase the “already substantial” risks facing activists and organisations operating in the network.
But their work would continue, she insisted, not least in providing crisis services. Emergency operations in the Caucasus are already being handled by a separate organisation, SKSOS, which has been operational since October.
“We were never under any illusions,” Gafurovaya said. “We always understand the rights of LGBTQ+ people — or any human — are not a priority for our authorities.”