FAQ on Russian LGBT Network and gays in Chechnya

rainbow flag—photo by Benson Kua
Photo by Benson Kua on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.


The FAQ below is a revised version of a post I wrote in April about the persecution and killing of gay men in Chechnya and efforts to help them. Since I originally posted about this, news agencies continue to report that at least 100 men have been arrested or kidnapped by Chechen authorities. At least three men have been victims of state-sanctioned murders, but the number could be far higher.

Through Readers & Writers for LGBT Chechens, I’ve spent much of the past two months encouraging people to donate to the Russian LGBT Network, the primary organization helping vulnerable Chechens escape—first to safer parts of the Russian Federation, and eventually to asylum in other nations.

A message I received today reminded me that there’s still a lot of education to be done.

The message was from someone who saw the need to help, but had concerns about the trustworthiness of the Russian LGBT Network and its online donation forms. The person’s argument was along the lines of “Russia is full of hackers and scammers, so we can’t trust things based in Russia. Therefore Westerners should only support Western charities.”

If everyone followed that reasoning, we’d have 40 more dead gay Chechens on our hands right now.

That’s the number of people that the Russian LGBT Network has helped rescue in the past two months. Most are currently in undisclosed locations in the Russian Federation, waiting for visas to other nations so they can find asylum. A handful have already left the Russian Federation. At least one has been welcomed to France, and two are headed for Lituania. Another is in Germany.

These men are alive because the Russian LGBT Network answered the phone when they called. The Russian LGBT Network helped them figure out how to leave Chechnya, bought them bus tickets, helped find them housing in their new locations, and arranged medical care for their injuries (many were tortured).  It is also working with the LGBTQ refugee organization Rainbow Railroad to get them on planes to safer parts of the world.

Many Westerners are understandably wary of Russia and all things Russian. We get a lot of news about the Russian oligarchy and the people, both in and outside of Russia, who bend to its will. Most if it isn’t flattering.

But the oligarchy is not Russia. And I’m pretty sure Putin is not a fan of the Russian LGBT Network.

Quick Facts

Why would the Russian LGBT Network be working in Chechnya? Doesn’t Russia have problems enough on its own?

Chechnya is part of the North Caucasus federal district of the Russian Federation. Although there have been Chechen efforts to secede from Russia, they have failed. Chechnya continues to be part of Russia just as Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

What is the overall state of LGBT rights in Chechnya?

Abysmal. You can read more at the frequently updated Wikipedia article LGBT rights in Chechnya. You can also browse the articles on the Chechen Rainbow blog or the Chechen Rainbow newsfeed, which updates daily.

What is the overall state of LGBT right in Russia?

Bad and getting worse. The situation in Chechnya, and the Russian government’s response, is part of that. You can read more at the frequently updated Wikipedia article LGBT rights in Russia. I also include some general Russian and Caucasus LGBTQIA news in the Chechen Rainbow newsfeed.

I’ve never heard of the Russian LGBT Network. Is it an established organization?

The Russian LGBT Network was founded in 2006 is the only inter-regional LGBT rights organization in the Russian Federation. It is a network of 11 local LGBT organizations that cooperate on issues affecting LGBT nationwide. In addition to its 11 member organizations, it has branches in 13 cities. They are in the perfect position to help LGBT Chechens and have already rescued 40 lives. We have partial verification of these figures through Human Rights Watch, which has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and interviewed eight Chechen escapees at a Russian safe house for its report “They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me”: Anti-Gay Purge by Local Authorities in Russia’s Chechen Republic. They have also been confirmed by the many journalists who have interviewed escapees, including Elena Milachina, the journalist who broke the story of Chechnya’s prison camps for gays.

I looked for a rating of the Russian LGBT Network on Charity Navigator but didn’t find anything. Is this a scam?

Sites like Charity Navigator only rate charities that are registered in the United States. The Russian LGBT Network is not registered in the U.S. However, like many other charitable organizations that operate outside the U.S., it’s a real organization doing real work to save real lives.

Is the Russian LGBT Network trustworthy? They’re Russian, after all.

The Russian LGBT Network opposes Russian laws that impinge on human rights and seeks to actively protect the rights and lives of LGBT people in the Russian Federation. The Russian people should not be held responsible for the actions of their government. Please don’t conflate the oppressed with the oppressor.

Moreover, the Russian LGBT Network has proved its reliability and trustworthiness time and again. Its organizers have risked their lives and freedom to do this work. Mainstream and alternative journalistic organizations like The IndependentBBC News, The Washington Blade, NBC, and The Guardian turn to the Russian LGBT Network for reliable information on what’s actually happening in the Russian Federation.They are also a member organization of the

They are also a member organization of ILGA, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. All members of ILGA must pledge to support all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and non-discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

But why the evacuation? Isn’t Russia is just as bad as Chechnya?

It’s easy for me to sit here in the United States and think that all crappy situations are equally crappy. But they aren’t.

England wasn’t perfect for gay men in World War II. In fact, it was pretty awful. But it was a hell of a lot better than Germany.

LGBT Chechens are begging the Russian LGBT Network to get them out of Chechnya, and the Network has already helped evacuate some of them. While the Network is not disclosing the new homes of these Chechens for obvious reasons, I will trust that if a Chechen LGBT person would rather be in St. Petersburg than Grozny, they are smart enough to make that decision for themselves.

For some, permanent resettlement inside Russia might be an acceptable solution. Many are applying for refugee status outside of the Russian Federation. But they can’t do that from inside Chechnya, where they are at immediate risk of arrest and murder.

Please don’t look askance at “good” because it’s not “perfect.”

OK. I’m convinced. How can I donate?

Donate directly to the Russian LGBT Network via a secure credit or debit card transaction. They’ve recently updated their site to make it much easier to accept international donations. You may need to call your credit card company first to let them know you authorize the transaction.

Are there other organizations I can give money to? I still feel weird about sending money to Russia.

You can donate instead to ILGA—Europe (The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association), and they’ll get the money to groups working on the ground to evacuate vulnerable Chechens—in other words, to the Russian LGBT Network. Be sure to specify that you want your donation to go to the Chechnya evacuation. 

Can you give me a complete list of organizations providing aid to gay Chechens, and those perceived as gay?

No list is exhaustive, but here are some of the organizations I’ve trusted with my money:

  • Russian LGBT Network works directly with LGBT Chechens (the most direct option)
  • ILGA-Europe provides funds to organizations in the Russian Federation helping vulnerable Chechens get to safety
  • Rainbow Railroad is a Canadian refugee organization working with the Russian LGBT Network to get fleeing Chechens to asylum.
  • American Friends of Rainbow Railroad raises funds for Rainbow Railroad. Donations are tax-deductible in the U.S.

Organizations providing indirect aid through publicizing what’s going on and pressuring authorities to make changes include:

Are there other ways to get involved?

Yes. You can sign petitions, write letters to officials, and tell your friends. Check out our resources at Readers & Writers for LGBT Chechens. Thank you!

This article has been crossposted on Medium.

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