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Originally posted June 12, 2017

Cover photo credit: Dave Frenkel. The following is a transcript for a speech delivered at MDPAN's "Love is Love" March in Ferndale, MI on May 7: 

I’d like to thank everyone for coming out today to celebrate the right to love! It took a long time for marriage to get legalized, and now the current regime threatens to roll that progress back. Bathroom bills threaten the trans community and this latest executive order is making all the wrong people happy. Worse still, the pogrom in Chechnya presents a grim potential future should this hate continue unchecked.

The pogrom began with GayRussia, an LGBT rights group, trying to obtain permits for pride marches, much like we’re doing right here. What followed was the Chechen security service enacting, what they termed, a “prophylactic sweep” on homosexuals.

Maksim, an alias used by a citizen of Chechnya, was one such victim. He told the New York Times he received a message from an old friend, inviting him over for a drink at his apartment. Upon arrival, his friend was nowhere to be found. Instead, security agents hiding in the residence jumped him. Later, he was taken to an abandoned building, strapped to a chair, hooked up to wires and electrocuted while an interrogator shouted at him to reveal the names of gay friends and lovers. But Maksim was tough, he thwarted the torture and revealed nothing.

Chechen authorities released him to his family, urging them to commit murder. His father initially relented, and Maksim escaped thanks to the Russian LGBT Network. Others were not so lucky. Just two days ago, a boy of 17, after coming out, was thrown for a 9-story window by his uncle to “wash the shame away” from their family.

The Human Rights Watch has estimated over 100 people have suffered similar fates, being detained for days to even several weeks. Four have been confirmed dead, including the boy. This violates a right much deeper than any in the Constitution, the right to be our true selves.

When confronted, Alvi Karimov, spokesman for the Chechen President, dismissed these claims by stating that gay people did not exist in the Republic, thus they cannot be persecuted. According to him, if they do exist, there would be no need for law enforcement as their families would “send them somewhere from which there is no return.”

Prior to the pogrom, gay people needed to marry and have children to hide their true life. Sometimes adopting aliases when with their partners to protect themselves, as they could not turn to their families. How many here remember a time where they had to wear a mask over their true selves, for fear of alienation, persecution and violence?

For those fellow allies here today, it is time to put ourselves on the line. To get active, to call out bigotry both in our personal lives and social media, and ensure this horror never reaches our shores. Do not allow the complacent to tell you it cannot happen here. Our Vice President already approves of electric shock for the insidious conversion therapy. Our census was to have provisions for those of all genders and sexualities, but this administration cut them immediately. Much like Karimov, they attempt to deny existence itself.

Do not allow the hateful to tell you that love is a sin, as no loving deity will condone this violence. If we are not all free to love, then no one is. The organizations with us today make an excellent starting point, whether it’s through education, direct action or fundraising. Waves of hate are crashing over this country, attempting to divide us, to turn us on our friends, family and neighbors. But, together, we can resist. Together, we will preserve our right to love and be our true selves. Together, we will prevail!

UPDATE: Roughly forty Gay Chechens are being denied Visas to enter the US, fleeing the pogrom. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not directly confront Russian officials on the torture and killings, but the State Department did release a brief statement condemning it in his April vist.

Places to help with Chechen Pogrom:
- Russian LGBT Network
- Moscow Community Center
- Human Rights Watch

Local LGBT rights groups in Michigan:
- Fair Michigan
- Equality Michigan


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