In early spring, reports began to appear in the international press that authorities in Chechnya were rounding up and detaining gay men. Tales of torture, starvation, and murder soon emerged after some of the men were released and described their ordeals in captivity. According to one survivor, officials had instructed the families of captives to act preemptively and kill their gay sons, telling parents, “Either you do it or we will.” The Russian-backed government of this predominantly Muslim region declared the crackdown fake news, while Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov issued a flat denial. (Gathering and detaining gay men was impossible, Kadyrov insisted, because there were “no gay men in Chechnya.”)
As shocking as the Chechen campaign appears, it is nothing humans have not seen, or done, before. Ethnic groups, religious or racial minorities, and individuals who are different in some way have far too often become the objects of hatred and murderous intent. What is happening in Chechnya most immediately brings to mind the depredations of the Third Reich, which sought to rid Europe of Jews, Gypsies, gays, and others considered to be undesirables.
Even with knowledge of the human propensity to oppress fellow human beings, most readers would find the news of a violent repression of gays in 2017 particularly shocking. We in the United States, and some other countries in the West, have just experienced one of the quickest turnabouts in attitudes toward a disfavored minority in modern history. After Stonewall in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the pace of the movement for LBGTQ rights in the United States accelerated swiftly, much more swiftly than similar movements for blacks and women. The pollster Nate Silver, who is gay himself and has studied attitudes about gay rights over time, put it this way:
In the United States, gay marriage has gone from unthinkable to the law of the land in just a couple of decades. Homosexuality has gone from “the love that dare not speak its name”—something that could get you locked up, beat up, ostracized or killed, as is still the case in much of the world—into something that’s out-and-proud, so to speak.
Of course, terrible things still happen to gays in the West. Prejudices have not entirely disappeared. The specter of change, which forces people to reassess sometimes deeply held beliefs, often causes violent reactions.
Whether or not the success of the gay rights movement in Western countries provoked the barbarity in Chechnya, this social revolution has had an interesting consequence in the West itself: those who continue to maintain that same-sex activity is wrong are today subjected to the searching scrutiny—albeit without the same level of accompanying moral outrage—that was applied in previous centuries to those…
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