Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Canada sets example by welcoming Chechen LGBTs


Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad in Toronto, Canada. Photo: Courtesy CBC News
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Canada welcomed 31 LGBT Chechens this month as a part of the country's effort to get them out of harm's way in Russia.

These individuals are the first of 35 expected to arrive this week through the Rainbow Railroad, which is working with the Canadian government and the Russian LGBT Network.

Reports of a queer cleansing in Chechnya emerged in April. Russia has been hostile to the LGBT community for years, banning so-called homosexual propaganda in 2013 and taking other actions.

In recent years, Russia has cracked down on freedom of expression, particularly online, targeting the LGBT community, people speaking out against religion, human rights, and other issues, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch in a September 3 news release.

A report by the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination published August 25 determined that Russia's "anti-extremism legislation" is too much and must be modified to focus on criminal acts, not mere opinion, according to HRW.


Canada's rapid response

Rainbow Railroad was able to quickly intervene because the Canadian government responded positively to the organization's experience and focus "on moving LGBTQ people out of immediate danger to safety," Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, said in a news release.

Rainbow Railroad has already assisted 140 LGBT individuals escape harmful situations in their home countries this year, according to the release. Previously, Canada welcomed and helped resettle LGBT refugees from the Middle East.

"The situation in Chechnya is part of a global pattern of ongoing state-enabled or state-sanctioned violence against LGBTQ people," said Powell, citing Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Kenya as three recent examples. "This is why the number of people who reach out to us each year is growing and we should do more to ensure persecuted LGBTQ people can enter safe countries like Canada."

The move makes Canada the first country to implement a strategic plan to actively resettle LGBT refugees without going through a host country.

Currently, France and Germany have each accepted at least one LGBT Chechen refugee and Lithuania has accepted two gay individuals.

Once the leader in accepting refugees, the U.S. has shut its borders – except for a limited few who have family or some other relationship in America – since President Donald Trump took office.

Only one individual from Chechnya has been granted asylum in the U.S.

According to the Washington Post, a federal judge in Chicago granted asylum August 31 to a trans Chechen woman identified as Leyla.

She had fled from Moscow with a friend more than a year ago.

Leyla, who only used her first name to protect her safety, burst into tears when the judge made his ruling, reported the paper. Her unidentified friend is still awaiting a decision on her case.

Trump's policies and tensions between Russia and the U.S. have essentially closed the door for Chechen LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, according to experts.

"It's a very narrow set of biological relationships, or through marriage," said Wade Meyer, who, with Amy Weiss, runs the only official LGBT refugee resettlement program in the San Francisco Bay Area through Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay. "LGBT people are often escaping their families, so they're very unlikely to have a family member in the U.S. to sponsor them. It essentially stops LGBT refugees from arriving."

The organization has assisted between 10 and 15 LGBT refugees out of 170 coming to the Bay Area since 2012, when the program was founded.

Trump signed new sanctions against Russia, and last week ordered the closure of consulates and embassies in San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and New York. Leading up to the latest move, the U.S. Embassy suspended issuance of non-immigrant visas, August 23, reported the East Bay Express. The visa is essentially the only travel document that allows LGBT asylees to escape Russia to the U.S.

Canada is receiving praise for being the new leader in accepting asylum seekers and refugees, including LGBTs.

Tanya Lokshina, Russian program director for HRW, called the move "wonderful."

"The Canadian government deserves much praise for showing such openness and goodwill to provide sanctuary for these people. They did the right thing," Lokshina told the Globe and Mail.

For three months, Rainbow Railroad worked with the Canadian government with the support of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, and LGBTQ2 Special Adviser Randy Boissonnault in a clandestine operation that sent Powell to Russia to coordinate with the Russian LGBT Network.

Other LGBT organizations involved in the program also guarded the operation. The secret operation could have harmed Canada's relationship with Russia, but government officials didn't express concern.

The operation and the need for LGBT individuals to get to safety "underscores the need for Canada to develop a robust LGBTQ asylum policy to facilitate resettlement in Canada," Powell noted in the statement.

The operation finally was made public after a majority of the people arrived in Canada and now need services.

"They're struggling," Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Egale Canada told the Globe.

The crisis counseling service is adapting to help 16 of the refugees who are now in Toronto.

"The trauma that these folks have endured, the amount of violence – we hear a lot of awful things, but this is off the charts," said Kennedy.

Hamzat, a 20-something gay man who recently arrived in Canada, told the Globe he's glad to be in the country.

"All my life I have pretended to be someone else," he said. "Now I have come to a place where I can be myself."


Ups and downs for marriage equality

It was a week of ups and downs for marriage equality around the world.



The anti-LGBT group Coalition for Marriage released its ad campaign for the national vote on same-sex marriage, asking parents to think about their children, using schools as an issue rather than attacking same-sex marriage head on, reported the Star Observer.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten blasted the ad and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for allowing the vote in the first place.

"This is exactly what was predicted when Malcolm Turnbull decided to waste $122 million on a postal survey," he said. "He gave the green light to this rubbish."

Tiernan Brady, executive director of the Equality Campaign, called the ad "disgraceful and dishonest."



Chilean President Michelle Bachelet fulfilled her pledge to present a bill to legalize same-sex marriage before the end of the year with swift action last week. She introduced the bill August 28 and signed it into law August 30, according to media reports.

The bill redefines the definition of marriage and allows same-sex couples to adopt.

"We can't let old prejudices be stronger than love," Bachelet said.

The bill still has to be reviewed and approved by Chile's congress. Experts are skeptical that Bachelet will be able to successfully push the bill through before her term ends in March 2018, reported the Independent.

Chilean LGBT rights advocates celebrated the decision as progress.



Israel's Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Association to legalize same-sex marriage.

The organization's representatives claimed current marriage laws are unconstitutional, citing the country's Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty.

The High Court of Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Neal Hendel, and Anat Baron rejected it, claiming that there was no "contradiction in the state's current position" regarding the issue, reported the Jerusalem Post.

The court didn't see that it was its place to rule on same-sex marriage as a civil court due to rabbinical courts being the authority of Jewish marriage in Israel.



Maltese same-sex couples officially started getting married September 1.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in the Mediterranean country in July.



Romanian LGBT advocates were dealt a blow when the ruling Social Democratic Party announced plans September 3 to introduce a referendum that will rule out hopes for same-sex marriage in the southeastern European country.

The party plans to include language that would restrict the definition of marriage, reported Gay Star News.

In 2016, an initiative to ban same-sex marriage was given the go-ahead by the Romanian Constitutional Court to move to Parliament.

The ban was supported by the Romanian Orthodox Church, American-led neo-Protestant groups, and a coalition of organizations under the umbrella the Coalition for the Family that heavily influence anti-LGBT attitudes in Romania, according to Vlad Viski, president of MozaiQ Association, an activist group.

No known laws protecting LGBT Romanians have been passed since homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001, said Viski.

"LGBTI people in Romania are going through difficult times," he told the media outlet.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or




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