Post submitted by former HRC Digital Media Manager Helen Parshall
Post Submitted by Helen Parshall, HRC Digital Media Manager, and Jeremy Kadden, HRC Senior International Policy Advocate
Earlier this month, HRC had the chance to sit down with AD, a survivor of the brutal crackdown on LGBTQ people in Chechnya that first made international headlines in April last year.
AD isn’t his real name; it’s a pseudonym created out of ongoing concerns for the openly gay man’s safety.
AD and Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, came to HRC’s office in Washington, D.C., to meet with White House and State Department officials to address the ongoing crimes against humanity occurring in Chechnya.
Below is AD’s story:
AD grew up in Chechnya, where he was working as a hairdresser. He certainly wasn’t “out” in any significant sense, since the climate for LGBTQ people is so dangerous in Chechnya, but a very small circle of people knew he was gay.
In March 2017, AD was at work when some men in police uniforms came in looking for him. The men called him over, took his phone and his passport, handcuffed him behind his back and threw him in the trunk of a car — all in broad daylight, in a busy area of town.
AD assumed this would be his last day alive.
The men drove him to an abandoned warehouse with other detainees including violent criminals, drug dealers, and men suspected of being gay or bisexual. They were forced into one room without any bedding or food.
The second room in the warehouse was the “torture room” where the detainees were beaten, humiliated and electrocuted. The officers did not use their hands, however, because they did not want to touch men suspected of being gay or bisexual. They demanded that the detainees give up names of other likely gay or bisexual men in their networks.
AD described hearing the screams all night long.
“They beat us because we are gay,” he says. “They believe we are supposed to die and that we shouldn’t be allowed to live. People like us shouldn’t exist.”
After two weeks, AD and other gay and bisexual detainees were brought to a hotel conference room, where the authorities had gathered their families to show how “shameful” they were and urge the families to “cleanse” their family name.
“For Chechens, being gay is the worst thing. It is worse than a crime. It is simply unacceptable,” he said.
Per the government’s instructions, many detainees were killed or tortured further by their families upon their release. The officers, however, returned AD to the warehouse to “work on” him some more because he had refused to share any names. To this day, AD does not know why he was released just a short while later.
AD quickly fled to Moscow and then made his way to St. Petersburg, where he stayed with friends in hiding. In searching for a path forward, he learned about Kimahli Powell and Rainbow Railroad.
Powell came to St. Petersburg to meet with AD and other survivors to hear their stories and make plans to get them out of Russia to safety.
“When Kimahli came to Russia, that was the first sign of hope,” he said. “After that things moved quickly, and I came to Canada.”
AD has been living in Canada since June 2017, working on learning English and studying coursework to become a hairdresser in the country.
HRC calls on the U.S. government to listen to stories of survivors like AD, to condemn anti-LGBTQ violence around the world and to support survivors seeking safe haven within its borders.