Homophobia, often violent, is a problem in Russia and five nearby countries that have enacted or considered imposing anti-“gay propaganda” laws.
None of these countries has a specific law against same-sex intimacy, with the exception of the internationally unrecognized Moldovan break-away territory of Transnistria. But each of them has prohibited or considered imposing prohibitions on positive depictions of LGBTI people.
Two (Russia and Lithuania) have enacted anti-“gay propaganda” laws; two (Kazakhstan and Ukraine) seriously considered but ultimately rejected proposals for such laws; one (Moldava) enacted such a law but then repealed it, and one (Kygyzstan) is currently considering enacting such a law.
LGBTI rights in those six countries are the focus of the following excerpts from the 2015 edition of the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The complete reports cover a variety of human-rights issues beyond those excerpted here, including workers’ rights; discrimination against women, children, minorities, indigenous people and others; torture; and civil liberties.
They’re all written from the perspective of the United States, although the U.S. is far from blameless with regard to human rights. Among many current examples, at least 14 U.S. states keep unenforceable anti-gay laws on the books; the United Kingdom has just issued a travel advisory warning about the discriminatory new laws imposed in North Carolina and Mississippi; and the U.S. still struggles to end its historic mistreatment of indigenous people and of racial, ethnic and other minorities.
This blog is reprinting LGBTI-focused excerpts about human rights in:
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- Middle East and North Africa
- The Americas (Caribbean nations only)
- Oceania, with a separate post about Indonesia, because of the length of the report.
- Russia and nearby countries that have considered or adopted anti-“gay propaganda” laws.
Excerpts from the recently published U.S. State Department reports from 2015 begin here:
While the law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, the government did not effectively enforce the law. There were reports of violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons.
According to the constitution, no one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin; occupational, social, or property status; sex; race; nationality; language; religion or belief; place of residence; or any other circumstances. The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. During the year a law on “protecting the child” that included a provision that would have prohibited “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was discussed in the parliament. The Senate chairman sent the law to the Constitutional Council, which declared it unconstitutional.
Although gender-reassignment documentation exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill three steps before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender: 1) a month of inpatient psychiatric evaluation, 2) a course of hormone replacement therapy, and 3) approval and completion of gender-reassignment surgery. Those who receive gender-reassignment surgery outside of the country fall outside this process. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care.
According to a survey conducted during the year, half of transgender persons indicated that they experienced physical abuse due to prejudice against transgender individuals or did not experience such abuse because their gender identity was unknown. The KIBHR [Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law] noted in a 2015 report, “To this date we have no knowledge of any court cases regarding discrimination [against] sexual minorities.”
Although there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity, there were reports of such actions. According to representatives of international and local organizations, negative social attitudes towards members of marginalized groups, including LGBTI persons, impeded the willingness of the latter to come forward, organize, or seek access to HIV/AIDS programs. Hate crime legislation or other legal mechanisms do not exist to aid prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTI community. There were no prosecutions of anti-LGBTI violence.
NGOs reported members of the LGBTI community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and occasionally violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted, because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially with regard to employment.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, ethnic origin, creed, age, political or other beliefs, education, background, property, or other status. The government did not effectively enforce these prohibitions. Although women were active in government, education, civil society, the media, and small business, they encountered gender-based discrimination. Rights activists claimed authorities failed to investigate or punish perpetrators of crimes of discrimination during the year. Members of the LGBTI community reported systematic-police led harassment and beatings. NGOs reported ethnic Uzbeks were attacked by ethnic Kyrgyz because of their ethnicity.
LGBTI persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known risked physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of jobs, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Inmates and officials often openly victimized incarcerated gay men. Doctors sometimes refused to treat LGBTI individuals. Members of the LGBTI community said their families ostracized them when they learned of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Forced marriages of lesbians and bisexual women to men also occurred. The Labrys Public Foundation noted the practice of “corrective rape” of lesbians to “cure” their homosexuality. The practice was underreported, and its extent was difficult to estimate.
Labrys, Kyrgyz Indigo, and Grace–three established LGBTI support NGOs–reported numerous acts of violence against members of the LGBTI community. For example, on April 3, unknown assailants threw three Molotov cocktails into the offices of the LGBTI rights organization Labrys. Two of the explosives ignited in the courtyard, while another that landed on the roof did not ignite. No one was injured in the attack.
On May 17, 25 anti-gay protesters forcibly entered an event in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, and assaulted and photographed attendees. Police arrested 20 of the attendees and five of the protesters. Police held the LGBTI attendees in the same cell as the protesters, who made offensive, anti-gay comments towards the LGBTI men and women in detention. All were released the same day. In the week following the attack, the newspaper Delo Nomer published an article with photographs of the event attendees.
Members of the LGBTI community reported an increase in attempts to forcibly “out” gays and lesbians on social media. In one widespread incident, police forced a transgender woman to undress on camera. The video was posted on the social media site Odnaklassniki.ru with the title “woman with a surprise.”
In 2014, HRW [Human Rights Watch] released They Told Us We Deserved This: Police Violence against Gay and Bisexual Men in Kyrgyzstan, a 65-page report based on interviews with 40 LGBTI persons chronicling instances of extortion, beatings, and sexual assault on them. The report described in detail how police patrolling parks and bars frequented by gay men would threaten them with violence and arrest or threaten to reveal their homosexuality to their families if they did not pay bribes. These practices, according to representatives of the LGBTI community, continued. NGO leaders in the southern part of the country reported an even greater threat.
High-level members of the government made public statements that dehumanized and degraded the LGBTI community.
Among the forms of discrimination prohibited by the law are race, sex, gender, social status, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, and disability.
The antidiscrimination laws apply to LGBTI persons. Society’s attitude toward LGBTI persons remained largely negative, and LGBTI groups claimed that official bodies that govern publishing and broadcast media took prejudicial action against certain works with LGBT themes. The few NGOs focusing on LGBTI problems did not face legal impediments. The Lithuanian Gay League and Tolerant Youth Association continued to promote an inclusive social environment for LGBTI persons.
The media reported acts of violence against LGBTI persons. The Lithuanian Gay League reported that in the first eight months of the year, 18 persons claimed they experienced physical attacks because of their sexual orientation.
An antipropaganda law enacted in 2009 served as a rationale for limiting LGBTI awareness-raising efforts. In July the European Commission’s Directorate General for Communication Networks, Content, and Technology began a formal investigation of a 2014 ruling by the Office of the Inspector of Journalistic Ethics that blocked television broadcast during regular broadcast hours of an LGBTI awareness video produced by the Lithuanian Gay League. The office cited the law on protection of minors to block the broadcast.
In June, when a prominent disk jockey posted homophobic messages on social media, President Dalia Grybauskaite stated, “the sooner Lithuania becomes more open and tolerant, the better it will be for the country.”
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, language, religion, belief, age, opinion, political affiliation, or social status, but the government did not always enforce these prohibitions effectively.
The law prohibits discrimination on 11 characteristics, including gender, race, and disability, as well as employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Societal discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continued during the year.
As of October the NGO Genderdoc-M reported nine cases of violations of the rights of the LGBTI persons examined in court, including three hate crimes, three cases of discrimination, two cases of instigation to hatred, and one case regarding the change of identity documents for transsexual persons. Three other cases were under investigation.
Most crimes were perpetrated against gay men, but verbal and physical abuse against lesbians was also reported. In most cases police officers were reluctant to open cases against the perpetrators. In one instance Genderdoc-M reported that it required intervention by its lawyer before police acted.
In June a lesbian, who a neighbor had continually harassed, was beaten and insulted. The perpetrator allegedly stated that persons like her did not deserve to live and claimed that, even if he beat her up, authorities would not hold him accountable. The victim filed a complaint with police, who refused to accept it. According to Genderdoc-M, the intervention of their lawyer compelled police to accept the complaint. When the victim returned home, she was assaulted again. Police were alerted and detained the perpetrator. The case continued at year’s end.
Civil society organizations reported that transgender individuals were unable to change identity documents during or following gender reassignment, and they experienced employment discrimination.
On May 17, more than 150 individuals attended the third officially sanctioned march for the rights of LGBTI persons in central Chisinau. There were no reports of significant incidents, but Orthodox Christian groups and Occupy Pedophilia members held a counterdemonstration close to the march’s perimeter. Heavy police presence prevented altercations.
Counterdemonstrators, among them young men covering their faces, threw eggs at the marchers and set off firecrackers. Police detained at least six persons. Following the march a group from Occupy Pedophilia walked towards the Genderdoc-M premises, but police stopped them before they reached the building.
While authorities allowed individuals to change their names (for example, from a male to a female name), the government did not allow persons to change the gender listed on their identity cards or passports. In 2012 the Supreme Court of Justice issued a nonbinding recommendation to lower courts that transgender individuals be permitted to change the gender on their civil documents. In 2012 the Ministry of Health established a commission to determine gender identity and issue certificates that can be used to apply for new documents.
In Transnistria consensual same-sex activity is illegal, and authorities subjected LGBTI persons to governmental and societal discrimination.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on sex, race, nationality, language, origin, property and official status, place of residence, religion, beliefs, membership of public associations, or other circumstances. The law also protects various rights of persons with disabilities. Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, and HIV-status or other communicable diseases is not explicitly protected, although these categories could be construed as falling under “other circumstances.” The government did not universally enforce prohibitions on discrimination.
During the year hostile rhetoric and propaganda against some groups disseminated through state-run media outlets contributed to discrimination and xenophobia.
A 2013 law criminalizes the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. The law effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wish to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships.” Antidiscrimination laws exist but do not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
During the year there were reports of killings motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim. In one case two men confessed to killing a gay man in the Vsevolozhskiy district outside St. Petersburg on February 23. The two attackers reportedly stabbed the man repeatedly after he allegedly sexually harassed them. No information was available regarding any official action taken against the attackers.
Human rights groups reported continuing violence against LGBTI individuals. Openly gay men were particular targets of attacks, and police often failed to respond. In July several young men conducted a social experiment in which they secretly videotaped themselves walking around Moscow while holding hands. The publicly available video of the experiment showed the men being verbally and physically assaulted multiple times by passersby.
LGBTI activists experienced threats and attacks in public. Police were often unwilling to assist, and victims sometimes chose not to report crimes for this reason as well as due to concerns about retaliation. On August 18, unknown assailants attacked LGBTI activist Irina Fedotova-Fet near her home in Moscow. The attackers shouted epithets referring to her sexuality during the attack, which left her cut and bruised.
On April 13, assailants sprayed an odorous gas into the Maximum Center for Social, Psychological, and Legal Assistance to Victims of Homophobia and Discrimination in Murmansk, causing choking and vomiting among those in the office. Police refused to open a criminal investigation. In July a lawyer for one of the victims filed a legal complaint of police inaction.
There were reports that authorities targeted NGOs and activists representing the LGBTI community for retaliation. LGBTI rights activist Aleksandr Ermoshkin suffered a head injury during an assault in May at a LGBTI rights demonstration in Khabarovsk. According to HRW, Ermoshkin was also forced to resign from his position as a schoolteacher shortly after the country enacted the 2013 law banning propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. In June a nationally televised story on the state-owned Russia-1 channel accused him of collaborating with foreign intelligence services during a meeting arranged by the television station with reporters posing as representatives of a foreign embassy in Moscow.
LGBTI persons reported heightened societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to increasing official promotion of intolerance and homophobia. Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. There were reports that employment discrimination against LGBTI persons increased and that LGBTI persons were increasingly seeking asylum abroad due to the domestic environment.
There were reports that authorities harassed venues frequented by LGBTI persons. On February 26, police raided the lesbian nightclub Infinity in St. Petersburg, purportedly due to reports of drug use and minors being present. Earlier in the month, Kseniya Infinity, one of the owners of the club, had intentionally taken a picture of herself kissing her partner with antigay St. Petersburg assemblyman
in the background. After the picture was posted online, Milonov threatened to close the club.
In Moscow authorities refused to allow a gay pride parade for the 10th consecutive year, despite a 2010 ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination, and otherwise violated free expression, association, and assembly rights of LGBTI persons.
On October 2, the LGBT Sports Federation, a nationwide network of organizations promoting athletic engagement for LGBTI individuals, held the opening of the fifth annual athletic event, Together in Sport, outside Moscow. In September, St. Petersburg’s seventh annual Queer Festival of Russia drew more than 2,500 live and online spectators. Despite last-minute venue cancellations prior to both of these events, they were allowed to proceed with far less outside interference than in 2014. Activists noted the government’s strategy involved limiting such events’ exposure to the broader public rather than banning or severely interfering with them.
Although the law allows transgender individuals to change their names and gender classifications on government documents, they faced difficulties because the government had not established standard procedures and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When their documents failed to reflect their gender accurately, transgender persons often faced discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, and employment.
A homophobic campaign continued in the state-controlled media, in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal,” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.
While the constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, age, language, HIV-positive status, or other communicable diseases, the government lacked effective legal instruments to enforce the prohibitions, and both governmental and societal discrimination persisted. The law covers discrimination, although experts raised concerns the definition of discrimination was too narrow and the law lacked meaningful enforcement mechanisms.
During the year the country updated its labor code to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. No law, however, prohibits discrimination on this basis in other areas. LGBTI groups, along with international and domestic human rights organizations, criticized the lack of such language in the National Human Rights Strategy.
According to the LGBTI group Nash Mir (Our World), there were both positive and negative developments in the situation of the LGBTI community in the country. The group reported an improvement in social attitudes towards homosexuality and a decline in homophobic rhetoric from churches and leading political figures, and some members of the Verkhovna Rada [parliament] voiced their support for LGBTI rights. The group reported, however, that the level of homophobic aggression from right-wing nationalist groups increased, and government agencies consistently avoided any discussion of problems facing the LGBTI community.
On June 6, several dozen men, including members of Right Sector, attacked the Equality March in Kyiv, beating protesters and police and throwing firecrackers laced with shrapnel. The attackers injured nine participants and 10 officers. While law enforcement authorities protected the march, the Kyiv City State Administration had initially discouraged march organizers from holding the event. Law enforcement authorities arrested more than a dozen persons on charges of hooliganism. In July several men attacked two LGBTI activists holding hands in central Kyiv.
On August 13, the district administrative court in Odesa prohibited a march supporting LGBTI rights at the request of the Odesa City Council.
Our World stated that violence against LGBTI persons was underreported. During the year the group recorded 16 assaults and four killings related to the victims’ sexual orientation. Our World indicated that victims and families were reluctant to pursue hate crime charges in these cases due to homophobia. They reported an additional 52 cases of discrimination and abuse, mostly in the cities of Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Odesa, and Zhytomir.
According to the Ukrainian Gay Alliance, an assailant killed a man in Odesa on December 12 due to his sexual orientation. The accused killer reportedly confessed to police that he killed his acquaintance due to his hatred for persons of a “nontraditional sexual orientation.”
LGBTI victims also suffered from discrimination in court proceedings. On November 11, a Kharkiv court handed down a sentence of only eight years to a man who murdered another person solely due to his homosexuality.
According to HRW [Human Rights Watch], transgender persons in the country faced discrimination. They must undergo mandatory psychiatric treatment and an examination before a state medical board prior to receiving treatment for sexual reassignment. Transgender persons found the process humiliating and claimed to have difficulty obtaining official documents reflecting their gender.
According to Our World, the situation of LGBTI persons continued to deteriorate in Russia-occupied Crimea and the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Russia-backed separatists..
Crimea (Ukraine / Russia)
Occupying Russian forces created an atmosphere of impunity, creating a hostile environment for members of ethnic and religious minorities, and fostering discrimination and hostility against LGBTI persons.
Human rights groups and local gay rights activists reported most of the LGBTI community fled Crimea after the Russian occupation began. LGBTI individuals were verbally and physically assaulted for their sexual orientation, and members of the LGBTI community reported that they were “completely underground.” Russian occupation authorities prohibited any LGBTI groups from holding public events in Crimea. LGBTI individuals faced increasing restrictions on their right to peaceful assembly as occupation authorities enforced a Russian law that criminalizes the so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.