Up until recent years Kyrgyzstan was seen as one of the most progressive countries in Central Asia in regards to LGBT rights. This is not to say that everyday life previously was without the threat of violence, but that in comparison to its neighbors there were some spaces that were safe; especially in the country’s capital, Bishkek, they were able to find a sense of community and safety in the anonymity of city. This has however changed over the last years, after several anti-LGBT moves by the state.
Public vs private space
Space, and the freedom to be yourself and safe within a space, is one of the most important aspects of the LGBT battles in Kyrgyzstan today. Up until recent years the LGBT community were left alone by the state. The state used to have the opinion that as long as people kept their ‘non-traditional’ relationships to the private sphere they were free to do as they chose themselves (Wilkinson et al, 2010). This has however changed as the Kyrgyz government in 2014 introduced a propaganda bill that makes it illegal to show ‘non-traditional’ relationships in a positive light. The law has passed the two out of the three readings in needs, and if it goes through people will risk one year in prison.
This law is directly influenced by the law Russia introduced in 2013 which prohibited ‘propaganda’ to children regarding speaking about ‘non-traditional’ relationships in a positive light. Russia’s closest allies and other former Soviet Union countries has been heavily affected by the attitudes and actions of Russia, which shows just how big of an influence Russia still have. However whereas Russia’s law only pertains to ‘propaganda’ against children, the proposed law by the Kyrgyz government will prohibit showing these relationships to people of any age. It was also voted on whether to make same-sex marriage legal in 2016, and this is now constitutionally banned.
Since 2014 there has been an increase in violence that makes it harder for people both in private and public spaces. Kyrgyz Indigo, a LGBT organization, found while doing a survey that 84% of the people who responded had been experienced physical violence, while 35% has been victims of sexual violence. This is exemplified by the statement made by a Kyrgyz woman the guardian spoke to “All of us will be a victim of rape or attack at some point.” This violence can come from multiple types of spaces in society, some of which I will go through now.
One area that can be a particularly sensitive place where violence and prejudice is a person’s home. If a LGBT person lives alone this rarely poses a threat and their home can be a form of sanctuary. However, if it is a family home where multiple members live people are uniquely vulnerable (Wilkinson et al., 2010). There can be pressure to conform to societal norms of being in a opposite-sex relationship, experiencing abuse from the family, and they can bring ‘shame’ on the family (Wilkinson et al., 2010). Many therefore choose to leave their home, especially if it is in a rural town, and move to Bishkek (Wilkinson et al., 2010). Youth is especially exposed in this context as they are often economically dependent on their family, in addition to the emotional ties that all people can experience (Wilkinson et al., 2010).
Public spaces (including semipublic spaces, such as events or nightclubs for the LGBT community, through organizations such as Labrys) are also increasingly unsafe due to an organ supposed to protect its citizens, the police. Police harassment is not something new in Kyrgyzstan, but following the trend of increasing homophobia, this harassment has increased. Often police demand money or sexual bribery (or rape them) threating with ‘outing’ them to their communities or the wider public if they do not comply. If an LGBT person wants to report a crime they will often either be harassed or ‘outed’, as in the case where police brought a tv crew to expose them instead of helping them (Arnold, 2018). A ‘tool’ the police uses is the lack of knowledge about LGBT rights for people who identify as LGBT; the police will claim that there is a law against same-sex sexual relations, even though this has been removed since the 90’s (Kirey, 2007).
The issue of safety does not only pertain to physical space. As Kyrgyz LGBT individuals are gaining more access to modern technology, the trend of using networking apps are rising, though this is not without risk (Arnold, 2017). It cannot be known for certain who is on the other side of the phone, and anti-LGBT gangs and members of police has taken advantage of this. According to the Guardian, there is already several videos out on YouTube of this happening (Arnold, 2017).
In this blog I have tried to show several things. One of them is how homophobic abuse is on the rise and how much Russia still influence the attitudes of the post-soviet countries and their citizens; I also wanted to show how Kyrgyzstan has also transcended Russia in the new proposed ‘propaganda’ bill. The danger for LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan is on the increase and getting out of hand, which is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that transgender youth are fleering to Russia because Russia is (rather disturbingly) for once seen as a safer place to live.
Arnold, K. (2017). ‘All of us will be victims at some point’: why Bishkek’s only gay club closed’. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/oct/19/victims-closure-bishkek-only-lgbt-club-kyrgyzstan, (Accessed 27 July 2018).
Arnold, K. (2018). Transgender Kyrgyz seek unlikely refuge in Russia. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41437866, (Accessed: 27 July 2018).
Kirey, A. (2007). ‘Kyrgyzstan: Dangerous attraction’, Transitions Online, 10 (22), pp. 1-4.
Wilkinson, C. and Kirey, A. (2010). ‘What’s in a name? The personal and political meanings of ‘LGBT’ for non-heterosexual and transgender youth in Kyrgyzstan’, Central Asian Survey, 29 (4), pp. 485-499.