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Living in Fear in Kyrgyzstan

LGBT people face intense discrimination and harassment in Kyrgyzstan. Homophobia is widespread and often violent. This is particularly true in Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city, which is intensely traditional and conservative.

Many Kyrgyz people see homosexuality and queerness as a “tragedy” and a “disease” that ought to be cured. LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan are heavily pressured to conform to gender stereotypes in their appearance and to marry and have children. Failing to do so is seen as a failure to fulfil their tranditional familial and social responsibilities. Unsurprisingly, LGBTI people live in fear of revealing their sexual orientation to their families and employers.

For those whose sexual preferences become known, the level of abuse and intimidation can be intense. In the 2014 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, "They Said We Deserved This": Police Violence Against Gay and Bisexual Men in Kyrgyzstan, gay and bisexual men described “ill-treatment in police detention, including being punched, kicked, or beaten with gun butts or other objects.” Sexual violence by police officers is also common, “including rape, gang rape, attempts to insert a stick, hammer, or electric shock device inside the victim’s anus, unwanted touching during a search, or being forced to undress in front of police.” Some of these are deemed to amount to torture by the report’s authors.

Despite the fact that Kyrgyz law prohibits torture various forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary detention and extortion by police and others are rarely prosecuted. HRW was “not aware of a single case in which a police officer has been held accountable for the arbitrary detention, torture, or ill-treatment of a gay or bisexual man.” This impunity encourages further abuse.

Those who fall victim to police brutality are often reluctant to report abuses, fearing that police officers will reveal their secret to their families and relatives. Even among gay and queer friends and partners, many keep their true identities secret in case people are forced to “out” others in police detention.

Given the homophobic climate, it is also impossible for LGBT people to access health services. Honestly disclosing sexual history with doctors is too risky and may result in more problems than assistance. Sexually transmitted diseases go unchecked because LGBT people are afraid to visit health professionals.

In 2018, an anti-LGBT bill was being considered in Kyrgyzstan parliament which would ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” It has passed two readings in parliament but is now stalled.

A European Union-commissioned “Gender Study for Kyrgyzstan” (2018) reported that “adequate measures to protect the fundamental rights of LGBT people as guaranteed by the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) do not exist.”

Despite these challenges, there are a handful of collectives to support, protect and empower LGBT people. Here, people can access emotional and psychological help for trauma caused by attacks, as well as connect with a community and experience solidarity.
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