In May, Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court’s struck down a three-month old national law titled “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development.”
This infamous law, modeled on Russia’s repressive “anti-LGBT propaganda” law, called for a wide-ranging ban on sharing information about LGBT people in settings where children might come across them. The attempt to enshrine existing social discrimination and hatred of LGBT people into law was invalidated amid signs that it was damaging the country’s bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released last month, harassment, discrimination and violence are part of everyday life for LGBT people in Kazakhstan.
A climate of “intense homophobia” prevails in the country and hostility towards LGBT people is increasing. LGBT people live under constant fear of their identities being exposed, which would impede their access to education, employment and health care. Intense homophobia also leads to social isolation and violence from relatives and the public.
Soviet-era laws entrenched homophobia in Kazakhstan and sexuality remains a sensitive topic, despite the decriminalization of same-sex sexual activity in 1998.
Under President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has been at the helm for almost two and a half decades, Kazakhstan is failing in its duty to protect LGBT citizens. There are no laws protecting LGBT people from violence and discrimination and LGBT people are reluctant to report abuses for fear of further abuse or indifference from the police.
The report notes that media portrayals of LGBT people are consistently hateful and sensationalized, thus distorting public perceptions. Attempts to portray LGBT people in a neutral or positive manner often invite social backlash and official legal action. Forced cases of “conversion therapy,” which the United Nations described as tantamount to torture, have also been reported.
In order to gain legal gender recognition on official documents, transgender people are required to undergo invasive, abusive and humiliating procedures. This has made it hard for transgender people to obtain jobs, as official identity documents are required for employment. Those whose identity documents do not match their physical appearance face accusations of fraud.
Hostile social attitudes have prevented LGBT human rights groups in Kazakhstan from organizing openly or seeking publicity. These attitudes, combined with punitive government policies, have prevented gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), from accessing HIV prevention and care programs.
The report ends with recommendations for the government of Kazakhstan, the U.S. government, European inter-governmental bodies, European states and the United Nation’s human rights body to take measures to improve the legal and social environment so LGBT Kazakh people can live without fear.