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Photography Bex Wade

How London’s challenging Chechnya’s gay concentration camps

People gathered yesterday at the Russian Embassy to demonstrate against the abduction, torture and murder of gay men

PhotographyBex WadeTextAnna CafollaTextBex Wade

This week, the disturbing details of Chechnya’s ‘gay concentration camps’ emerged. It’s thought that hundreds of gay men from the Russian republic have been captured and brought to the prisons in the town of Argun.

Independent local publication Novaya Gazeta chronicled the horrifying reports first from the old military headquarters location, telling how hundreds of men were being abducted and detained by authorities “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such”. Reports said the detainees were being tortured with electric shock treatment and brutal beatings, as the concentration camp-style prison officials attempt to get information on the location of other gay men.

The Chechen authorities have denied these allegations, even making ludicrous claims that gay men don’t “exist” in the region. Multiple reports say that homophobic attacks and extra judicial killings are rampant in the ultra conservative area.

In times like these, when our higher authorities won’t speak up for the disempowered, vulnerable and marginalised, it’s important to do whatever we can, whether in Russia or the other side of the world. You can check out some of the things you can do to help members of the LGBT community in Chechnya here.

In London yesterday (April 12), over 400 people gathered outside the Russian embassy, from across the LGBTQ community, as well as allies showing support. Each side of the road outside the embassy gates was lined with people, chanting support and solidarity, like ‘close the camps’, and carrying colourful placards and banners. As our photographer Bex Wade noted, police took down signs and paraphernalia placed on and against the gates during the protest.

Felix from Brooklyn, New York was one of the many gathered at the embassy gates. “I’m here to support my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender brothers and sisters around the globe and I’m here to make it known that I don’t agree with what is happening in Chechnya,” they told Dazed. “And also the lack of media coverage.  The fact that people don’t believe, I mean there’s so many questions left unanswered... we don’t know anything. And I’m here to put my voice to the cause and to find out what is happening and how can we help?”

Lord Alli, the first openly gay person appointed to the House of Lords, and organiser Steve Taylor of Pride in London spoke outside the embassy, where many left pink flowers and DIY memorials at the gates in a simple but powerful and poignant message of strength.

“I’d want someone, anyone anywhere to fight for me so I’m here to show solidarity”

Speaking to the crowd, Lord Alli said to demonstrators: “Today we are speaking out for our brothers and sisters in Chechnya.  And today we are speaking out saying enough is enough.  We want action.”

Many of those who turned out to challenge the chilling reports of deadly homophobia and oppression described the idea of concentration camps as ‘defying belief’ and from another era entirely. “I’m here because they don’t understand gay people in Russia,” Yura, who’s from Russia but lives in London, related. “They think they’re evil. I read just now that they’re reporting that there’s no gay people in Chechnya, so I think they are very misguided and confused and ignoring the facts.”

Gabriele, from Italy, also told Dazed: “I’m here because it’s absolutely ridiculous what is happening because it’s just history repeating itself, and it’s ridiculous that people don’t realise what is happening. It’s just really important to be united against this.”

Several protesters pointed to the political climate that Putin and his administration encourage with its homophobic, anti-LGBT propaganda laws, like Wade. “I’m here today because they don’t have anyone to speak for them,” Wade said. “I was born in this country and I’m gay and can happily live my life however I want, but if it way the other way round and I was born there, something I would have no choice in, I’d be in the same position. I’d want someone, anyone anywhere to fight for me so I’m here to show solidarity. 

“When I first heard what was happening in Chechnya I wasn’t surprised. It’s been that way for a while when they passed the propaganda law around the same time as the Sochi Olympics.  It was the same thing then. They very clearly have got an agenda against homosexuals out there and it needs addressing, people need to be aware of it.”

The United States and the UK have confirmed their condemnation of the barbaric actions that see Russia 'purging' its gay community. Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay, a passionate LGBT ally, has called on Russia to fulfil its obligations to ensuring citizens' human rights are upheld.

LGBTQ activist Olga, from Russia, was present yesterday because she couldn’t show support in her home country. Her sign was written in Russian. “My sign literally means we demand to stop repressions against gays in Chechnya, both arrests and oppression and just discrimination. We demand a thorough investigation into what is happening at a very high level. We demand that whatever discrimination that is taking place stops right there, because it’s a violation of basic human rights.”