Gay men sent to ‘concentration camps’ in Chechnya

The city of Grozny in the Russian republic of Chechnya. Authorities have sent gay men in the semi-autonomous Russian republic to secret prisons that have been described as “concentration camps. (Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Michael K. Lavers | Washington Blade
Courtesy of National Gay Media Association

A Russian LGBT advocacy group on Monday confirmed a report that gay men in Chechnya have been sent to secret prisons.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, on April 4 reported gay men have been sent to the prisons — which reports have described as “concentration camps” — in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. It said one of them is located near Argun, a town that is roughly 12 miles east of the Chechen capital of Grozny.

Novaya Gazeta said authorities beat the men and tortured them with electric shocks.

The newspaper published pictures of two men who had bruises on their knees and buttocks. Novaya Gazeta said at least three men died inside the prisons.

The newspaper reported the family of one of the men who was arrested “had to urgently” sell their apartment and property to “saved their loved ones.” Gay men were also reportedly forced to leave Chechnya.

“Unfortunately, we can confirm that there is kind of a prison next to one Chechen city where homosexual men are detained,” Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade on Monday in response to the Novaya Gazeta article.

Novaya Gazeta on April 1 reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men in “connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” The Russian newspaper said at least three of the men who were arrested were later killed.

The Russian LGBT Network has established a hotline that Chechens who feel threatened by the arrests can call anonymously. Zakharova told the Blade her organization has received more than 20 requests “for help.”

“The number of requests is growing,” she said. “We have already evacuated some people.”

Rex Tillerson urged to ‘speak out forcefully’ against arrests

The State Department last week described the arrests as “troubling” in a statement it sent to the Blade. It also urged the Russian government to investigate them.

A spokesperson for the Russian government has said the arrests are “a question of law enforcement agencies.” Ali Karimov, a spokesperson for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, told a Russian government news agency in a statement that it is “impossible to prosecute those who are not in the republic.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Moscow on Tuesday.

Human Rights First and the Human Rights Campaign have both urged him to publicly condemn the arrests while in the Russian capital. OutRight Action International has also called upon international institutions and foreign governments “to pressure Russian authorities to intervene to immediately stop the abuse.”

“The Kremlin has dismissed these reports, saying that those who were suffering could ‘file official complaints and go to court,’ avenues that are highly unlikely to yield positive results in a region without a strong track record in the rule of law,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a letter he sent to Tillerson on April 4. “I therefore write to urge you to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Human Rights First has launched a petition that urges Tillerson to “speak out forcibly against these horrific human rights abuses during his upcoming visit.”

“The State Department has called on Russia to investigate these abuses, but Secretary of State Tillerson can do more,” wrote Human Rights First in an email it sent to supporters on Monday. “As he travels to Russia this week, he should publicly demand that the Russian government bring the perpetrators of these horrific acts to justice.”

“The United States must remain a beacon of hope and freedom — but it cannot do so if our leaders are silent in the face of gross human rights violations,” it added.

A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to comment on the Novaya Gazeta report that Chechen authorities have sent gay men to “concentration camps.” The spokesperson instead referred the Blade to a statement that Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner released on April 7.

“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in the Republic of Chechnya, where there have been numerous credible reports indicating the detention of at least 100 men on the basis of their sexual orientation,” said Toner. “Some reports indicate many of those arrested have been tortured, in some cases leading to death. We categorically condemn the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis.”

“We are deeply disturbed by recent public statements by Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons,” he added. “We urge Russian federal authorities to speak out against such practices, take steps to ensure the release of anyone wrongfully detained, conduct an independent and credible investigation into these, reports and hold any perpetrators responsible.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade.

—  David Taffet

Another living gay Holocaust survivor identified

Gad Beck (photo from U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Last week we reported that Rudolf Brazda, the last remaining Holocaust survivor who was arrested for homosexuality, had died at 98.

Over the weekend, Alice Murray, director of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, sent a message that she got word of another gay survivor who is still alive. His name is Gad Beck, and he was profiled in the film Paragraph 175.

Beck was born in 1923 and worked for the underground during World War II.

Although Beck was half-Jewish, he managed to escape detention and deportation to a concentration camp. During the war, he used his non-Jewish gay connections to get food and supply hiding places to Jews escaping to neutral Switzerland. He was betrayed by a Jewish Gestapo spy and arrested in 1945. He was held in a Jewish transit camp in Berlin until the end of the war.

After the war, he helped Jewish survivors emigrate to Palestine. In 1947, he left Germany and moved to Palestine himself. He lived in Israel until 1979 when he moved back to Berlin, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The story of the treatment of gays during the Holocaust is told in an exhibit assembled by the USHMM and is on display at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, 211 N. Record St., through Sept. 5.

UPDATE: Steve Rothaus, a writer for the Miami Herald, interviewed Beck 10 years ago. He described their discussion as very moving. Here’s the link to the article.

—  David Taffet

Get your freak on

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VIRTUALLY NORMAL | Xavier (James McAvoy, top) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) team up to fight a common enemy in the smart, savvy prequel ‘X-Men: First Class.’

Mutants-as-metaphors? The pro-gay message is unmistakable in ‘X-Men’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

2011 is becoming the summer of supers. And it is a Marvel.

We’ve already had Thor, and before July is over, we’ll have Green Lantern and Captain America. But it will be remarkable if any manage to outdo X-Men: First Class. More than a kiddie version of an established franchise, this prequel has the scope of a Bond film and touches on serious issues like Nazi camps, nuclear annihilation and homophobia. First Class is that rarest of summer movies: A socially conscious superhero comic.

In 1944, pre-teens Erik Lensherr and Charles Xavier are leading vastly different lives. Charles lives in a castle on Long Island with his wealthy family, using his psychic powers to carve out an academic career. Meanwhile, Erik finds his ability to control metal with his mind is put to sick use by a Nazi doctor Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) while his family is butchered in a concentration camp.

Eighteen years later, Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) team up, united in their efforts to stop Shaw (himself a mutant of intimidating power) from starting WWIII, in a sophisticated good cop/bad cop routine where they recruit new young mutants to join their cause.

The X-Men have been about outsiders not fitting in since the comics debuted in the 1960s, but it has been since the film series started in 2000 that the obvious parallels between mutant and gay have been most apparent. That’s true even in First Class, set long before the gay rights movement began.

“I didn’t mean to out you,” one character says to a secret mutant, who justifies not telling his boss by saying, “You didn’t ask, I didn’t tell.” “I’m not the only one who is different,” one confesses tearfully. There’s just no way that’s a coincidence.

Especially not with Matthew Vaughn directing. The last four X-Men movies have been directed by capable but quick-to-go-commercial directors, but Vaughn is a savvy, thoughtful director who composes more than he stages. Vaughn has an artist’s ethos, as he proved with his debut feature, Layer Cake, and demonstrated subsequently with the smart, edgy actioner Kick-Ass last year. His style oozes classic craftsmanship (one scene, set in a bar, generates incredible tension as Tarantino did in a similar set piece in Inglourious Basterds, though in an abbreviated version).

There’s an efficiency of storytelling, couched within the conventions of the superhero “origins” format, that’s admirable. It took George Lucas three full films to explain what circumstances made Darth Vader who he was; Vaughn does it in two hours. Of course, Lucas was hamstrung by having to use Hayden Christensen as the conduit for telling that story; First Class benefits from Fassbender’s sexy bravado as Magneto.

For the film — for the series — to work, you need to like Magneto a little to understand how he became a villain. Fassbender is sympathetic and reckless, and when he finally begins to believe in how the cause of mutants must supersede those of humanity, it’s difficult not to detect traces of Larry Kramer and ACT UP! in his passionate, separatist radicalism. It’s enough to make you wanna hold up a sign saying “Mutant and proud.”

Bacon is an unusual but effective choice as the supervillain, though January Jones, in a sexy, Bond-Girl-with-Balls cheesecake performance, more than holds her own.

Ultimately, it’s the message of being virtually normal — that is, redefining the baseline for what normal is — that makes the entire X-Men franchise resonate so strongly with modern, enlightened audiences. That’s especially true here. First Class is just that … in every sense.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas