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Brothers returned to Chechnya begin hunger strike

Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev fled anti-LGBTQ crackdown

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(Bigstock photo)

Two brothers from Chechnya who Russia returned to their homeland from which they had fled have reportedly begun a hunger strike.

The Russian LGBT Network in a press release notes lawyers from the Crisis Group “North Caucasus SOS” who represent Salekh Magamadov and Ismail Isaev on Tuesday “declared the beginning of a hunger strike” after a judge denied their request to move their case from Achknoy-Martan, a locality in Chechnya’s Achkhoy-Martanovsky District, to another court in the semi-autonomous Russian republic.

Chechen authorities in April 2020 arrested Magamadov and Isaev after they made a series of posts on Osal Nakh 95, a Telegram channel used by opponents of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chechen authorities reportedly forced the brothers to make “apology videos” after they were tortured.

The Russian LGBT Network helped Magamadov and Isaev flee Chechnya after their release. Police in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod on Feb. 4 arrested the brothers and transferred them to the custody of Chechen authorities.

The Russian LGBT Network says Magamadov and Isaev have been held in a prison in Grozny, the Chechen capital, for “more than 10 months.” The brothers’ lawyer has said Magmadov and Isaev have been tortured.

The anti-LGBTQ crackdown in Chechnya has sparked worldwide outrage.

The U.S. in 2017 sanctioned Kadyrov under the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of Russian citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price after Russian authorities arrested Magamadov and Isaev said the U.S. is “profoundly concerned” over their case.

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South America

Argentina’s former special envoy for LGBTQ rights criticizes new government

Alba Rueda resigned before President Javier Milei took office

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Alba Rueda (Photo courtesy of Alba Rueda)

Argentina’s former Special Representative on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade discussed recent setbacks in LGBTQ rights in the country. 

Alba Rueda, a transgender woman who held the position in former President Alberto Fernández’s administration, revealed the challenges and risks faced by the queer community in the South American country in which 57.4 percent of the population lives in poverty, which is the highest rate in 20 years. The Catholic University of Argentina’s Observatory of Social Debt also notes Argentina began 2024 with a 20.6 percent inflation rate; this figure is 254.2 percent from year-to-year.

President Javier Milei took office in December.

“We received a request from our president at the time, Alberto Fernández, that we submit our resignation as part of the team that integrates the presidency,” Rueda told the Washington Blade.

Rueda explained she “resigned on Nov. 28, a few days before, to make it effective on Dec. 10 with the new government and since then, since Milei, the presidency and the chancellor, Daniela Elena Mondino, took office, (her post) was eliminated. It was already foreseeable according to Milei’s statements about closing the offices on gender perspective.”

“Our special representation was closed. My colleagues were redirected to other areas,” Rueda explained. “The person who accompanied me in political terms resigned with me, so the two of us left on Dec. 10, and the rest of the technical staff was relocated within the Foreign Ministry.” 

The former ambassador described how the closure of her position and the elimination of the Women, Gender and Diversity Ministry represent a significant setback in the protection of LGBTQ rights in Argentina. She stressed that while the country was a pioneer in passing progressive laws for the LGBTQ community, the lack of effective implementation and declining government commitment are jeopardizing these advances. 

“We argued that it had been a long time since very significant laws were passed in our country and that they had to be translated into national and local public policies,” she explained. “LGBTIQ+ people not only have to be protected formally in the law, but we have to change and modify the living conditions of our community that has experienced discrimination, violence and persecution for many years.”

She added “to change that culture, there needs to be not only a formal framework, but functioning democratic institutions” 

“This elimination has a direct affectation to the rights of LGBTIQ+ people,” said Rueda.

The interview revealed how Milei’s government has dismantled institutions and policies designed to protect queer people. 

“We created, for example, a program that was the first program at the national level that was an assistance program for trans people,” Rueda said. “This program of accompaniment for the protection of their rights was in the sub-secretariat and provided economic support and was working on solving all the procedures related to access to education, health, employment, issues related to substantive issues.”

Rueda highlighted that recent political decisions are not only curtailing LGBTQ rights, but are also directly affecting the community, especially those who are economically vulnerable. The elimination of assistance programs and lack of legal protections are leaving many LGBTQ people in a vulnerable position.

“Economic rights have been affected, as is the inflationary process and the inflationary decisions of this last month are directly affecting the middle class, lower middle class and the most impoverished sectors,” said Rueda. “It directly affects not only economic rights of the LGBTIQ+ population that belongs to these classes, but also affects rights that are not being worked within the framework or promoted within public policies.”

Rueda also raised concerns about a possible increase in violence towards LGBTQ people in Argentina, comparable to what has been observed in other countries under hostile political leadership. Rueda stated incidents of violence have already been recorded and that the current political climate is fueling discrimination and hatred towards the LGBTQ community.

“It started during the campaign, and I think that during the whole last year we saw how effectively, punctually in social networks and in the public space there was a whole attack on LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “Let’s not forget during the campaign that the main candidates who are the president, the vice president and the chancellor expressed themselves in the wrong way, generating with their ignorance a completely wrong message in the media, amplifying these messages that directly affect the rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Rueda recalled the vice president “expressed in her campaign that for her it was not necessary to call marriage a union of people of the same sex … that was the civil union and saying that marriage was a figure associated with religious aspects.”

While Milei “in an interview also during the presidential campaign, said that he did not care if people want to have sex with other people of the same sex or with animals, such as elephants, equating and putting on the same level the consensual relations of people of the same sex over 18 as zoophilia.”

The situation has reached the point that different WhatsApp groups created to seek help during the COVID-19 pandemic became active again because of the interruption of the National Social Protection Plan and changes to an employment program that made vulnerable trans people in Argentina more at-risk.

“We are in a bad moment for the rights and quality of life of LGBTQ+ people,” Rueda said.

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Africa

Kenyan advocacy groups join fight against femicide

30 women have been murdered in the country this year

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Kenyan flag (Photo by rarrarorro/Bigstock)

Some LGBTQ rights groups in Kenya have devised new security strategies to protect female community members from the risk of femicide that has been on the rise in the country in recent years. 

The strategies employed include hiring trained security response teams, emergency toll-free numbers for swift intervention and training queer women on safety as they go about their daily lives in homophobic societies.  

The LGBTQ rights organizations’ move to come up with their safety measures is driven by laxity by security agencies that they accuse of “personal bias, discrimination and victimization” of the complainants based on their sexual orientation whenever they seek help.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are outlawed in Kenya under Sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code and the queer rights groups the Washington Blade interviewed said the authorities exploit this criminalization. 

“We have contracted two security response focal persons in our organization to respond to violations of LBQ womxn in Kenya,” noted Elly Doe, the executive director of KISLEB, a Kisumu-based organization that champions the rights of lesbian, bisexual and queer women.

Doe, whose organization also advocates against femicide, said KISLEB is part of a special security situation room formed to explore ways of tackling rising cases of insecurity among the LGBTQ community in the country. 

The Initiative for Equality and Non-Discrimination, an LGBTQ rights organization also contacted by the Blade, stated it has been conducting advocacy programs that include creating safer spaces forums to address femicide and violence against women both physical and online.   

One of the forums convened last September in Mombasa, for instance, explored how communities and institutions can work together to prevent violence against marginalized women, effective support for survivors, mentorship and awareness campaigns. The participants included lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender women, women in politics, sports, media, women living with disabilities and sex workers.    

INEND Communications Officer Melody Njuki, who expressed her organization’s concern over growing cases of femicide, oppression and violence against women, including those who identify as queer that go unchecked is caused by several social factors that include economic exclusion. 

“The intersectional issues faced by marginalized communities and structurally silenced women particularly sex workers and LBQT+ individuals adds complexity to the challenges experienced by victims of femicide due to discrimination, stigma and systemic inequalities exacerbating the vulnerability of women to violence,” Njuki said. 

Both INEND and KISLEB last month joined other LGBTQ rights groups, feminists and dozens of human rights organizations in Kenya in a nationwide street protest against rising cases of femicide and violence against women. 

The Jan. 27 protests were in response to the brutal killing of 16 women across the country since the beginning of the year. Hundreds of women, including those who identify as queer, during a Valentine’s Day vigil donned black outfits and held lit candles and red roses in honor of this year’s femicide victims, whose number had risen to more than 30.

“KISLEB as an organization that champions the rights of the LBQ womxn could not sit back and watch as women are being intentionally violated and killed yet in recent years the number has been rising rapidly and so many culprits go unpunished,” Doe said over her organization’s participation in the protest. “Participating in the protest was our way of expressing our solidarity with other women’s rights organizations in condemning femicide.”

Doe raised a concern over a rise in the number of homophobic threats against queer women, particularly on social media and residential areas, and called for police officers to be sensitized on LGBTQ issues to deal with this menace without discrimination. 

“We have also seen the cases of the murders of the LGBTQ community rising such as a trans woman activist Erica Chandra in August in Nairobi and a nonbinary lesbian woman Sheila Lumumba in April 2022,” she said. 

INEND, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Galck+ which participated in Lumumba’s murder case last December, were disappointed with the court after sentencing the suspect Billington Mwathi to 30 years in jail. The three LGBTQ rights groups described the sentence as “lenient” and said it didn’t meet the justice Lumumba deserved — the suspect raped her before killing her.

The organizations said they wanted Mwathi to receive a life sentence because Lumumba’s killing was not just an act of violence on an individual, but an attack on the dignity and safety of the LGBTQ community.  

INEND, nonetheless, attributes the rise in femicide to victim blaming on the part of the public and some leaders, which leads to a disconnect on the protection of the victims’ rights and its subsequent erosion as witnessed in the LGBTQ community.  

“The road to genocide starts with the dehumanization of the most marginalized, then continues to devour its way up the hierarchy of patriarchal systems,” Njuki said.  

She disclosed INEND was organizing a collective movement dubbed “#EndFemicideKe” to enlighten policymakers on the dire need to enforce strict measures on the killing of women. Njuki, however, commended jurists who are members of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association for their partnership with INEND and willingness to show a deeper understanding of human rights particularly the protection of LGBTQ rights.

She cited last year’s launch of a judicial guidebook to help judges better protect queer people’s rights and the High Court’s ruling that allowed the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as a non-governmental organization in promoting freedom of association.

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Eastern Europe

LGBTQ Ukrainians bear brunt of psychological toll amid ongoing war

Saturday marks two years since Russia invaded country

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A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women's Association)

As Ukraine weathers Russian missile attacks and endures a harsh winter, the psychological consequences on its LGBTQ community are emerging as a distressing and often overlooked aspect of the conflict.

Recent reports from Human Rights First, based on their visits to the northeastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, shed light on the profound emotional impact experienced by LGBTQ individuals amid the sustained Russian aggression.

Saturday marks two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Throughout this time, Human Rights First has sought to bring human rights into the heart of the discussion surrounding the conflict, offering support to human rights defenders, activist organizations, and individuals profoundly affected by the war.

Human Rights First last November initially surveyed Kharkiv to understand how communities were preparing for the harsh winter. Returning last month they found the LGBTQ community faced not only the physical challenges of extreme temperatures but also the hidden harm of severe psychological distress.

Human rights defenders on the forefront were documenting war crimes and supporting marginalized communities, including LGBTQ individuals. They emphasized the critical need for specialized psychological support within this community.

Vasyl Malikov, a key figure in Kharkiv-based LGBTQ NGOs Alliance.Global and Spectrum Women’s Association in Kharkiv, spoke about the increasing requests for psychological assistance and counseling. 

Malikov highlighted the urgent need for both psychologists and a more comprehensive education about mental health and trauma issues.

“Some counseling can be done online, and it’s better than nothing, but what’s really needed is face-to-face time with a psychologist. Of course, that’s resource-intensive,” Malikov said, underscoring the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ community.

Associate Professor Taras Zhvaniia, collaborating with Alliance.Global, shared insights into the growing demand for psychological support within the LGBTQ community. Initially addressing trauma in children, the scope expanded to include adults grappling with anxiety, depression and other emotional challenges related to the ongoing conflict.

Zhvaniia detailed the psychological struggles unique to the LGBTQ community, ranging from anxiety and panic attacks to specific fears such as reluctance to sleep in beds at home, avoiding bomb shelters and apprehension about routine activities during shelling.

Efforts to increase psychological knowledge for the general population are underway, yet the escalating demand for LGBTQ-focused support outpaces available resources. Human rights defenders have proposed measures, including funding for online counseling and visits by foreign psychologists, specifically tailored to address the psychological impact on the LGBTQ community.

The silent struggle faced by the LGBTQ community in Kharkiv and beyond necessitates international attention, according to Human Rights First. The organization added the lack of adequately trained psychologists raises concerns about the unaddressed psychological impact, underscoring the urgency for U.S. officials and the international community to comprehend and respond to the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals in the midst of the ongoing conflict.

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