On 8 October “Labrys” presented the brochure on homosexuality in Kyrgyzstan written for the first time in Kyrgyz language. The target audience was the Kyrgyz society in general, which, we thought, needed undistorted and clear information about homo and bisexuals, homophobia and discrimination. We also addressed the situation of homo and bisexuals in the rural areas of the country, where it is much harder for LGB to simply live, let alone to express themselves freely or to do as they please. Homosexuality-unfriendly traditions and religious dogmatism are especially strong in areas outside of the “liberal” capital, which forces LGB people there to suppress themselves in fear for their safety.
The press conference lasted for about thirty minutes, during which we managed to summarize the content of the brochure and to answer questions of journalists. Majority of them were information-oriented and neutral in nature, although there were a couple of journalists that insisted upon being passively aggressive. They asserted that the right of homosexuals for free expression of their selves was an offence to them. In other words – protecting rights of homosexual minority was, according to them, an infringement upon rights of the heterosexual majority, which felt morally insulted by the very presence of homosexuals in their vicinity.
The most interesting bit about the press-conference, however, came a little later – after everything was said and done and recorded. The news items that were produced from the information presented at the press-conference were all conveniently controversial, almost edited out of their original meaning. The main broadcasting channel in the Bishkek area, NTS, for example, focused on the theoretical assumption about the possibility of presence of people with homosexual behavior in the Kyrgyz parliament. This unassuming assumption, in the version of NTS, was turned into a confident statement – possibly with an aim at riling up the audience. Afterwards, NTS editors put a news item about Muslims and the holy Ramadan – an attempt at juxtaposing two opposing social views on liberties and rights of individuals. In addition to these news items, there were reports on websites of information agencies. While the agency journalists used the information given in the press-release correctly, the responses of internet readers were more than outraging. Some anonymous readers proposed that gays and lesbians should be dismembered for being unlike them, while others limited themselves by simply insulting the homosexual community.
ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE FOR LGBT PEOPLE IN KYRGYZSTAN
In the fall of 2006, Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan and SHARP
commissioned qualitative research on the opportunities and
barriers to health care access for LGBT persons in Kyrgyzstan.
The report, "Access to Health Care for LGBT People in
Kyrgyzstan," explores possibilities for increasing LGBT access to
health services; maps current NGOs working on LGBT health and
human rights issues; highlights Kyrgyzstan's obligations to
provide health care to LGBT persons in accordance with
international standards and laws; and articulates recommendations
for the development of non-discriminatory health systems and
services to improve LGBT health access. English and Russian
versions of the report will be available in October at:
Today we had a meeting with UNFPA consultants (read: sexual and reproductive health) about youth policy in Kyrgyzstan. ‘Labrys’ works mostly with young LBT people, therefore, we match the youth policy criteria, though we are not directly involved in formulating it at an official level. It was bit tough relating our issues of concern to more general youth issues. Yet mid-way through the discussion we finally figured out that actually the issues that lesbian and bisexual women are dealing with are very similar to those of other young women. These are sexual assault, unemployment, sexist attitudes among men towards them, family pressure to get married, pressure from society to conform with the uniform model of being passed from natal family to husband’s family. The consultants had a lot of questions to ask and the meeting lasted for almost three hours.
The participants of the meeting came from very different backgrounds. From a civil servant to an activist religious Muslim woman wearing a head scarf. At first we were bit quiet and tested the grounds. But once we started speaking we felt that things that we said somehow bothered some of the participants. They listened quietly until Alex (transgender component coordinator) asked whether the new textbook on healthy lifestyles included information about homosexuality. There we got a response which gave a title to this entry. It started off from ‘I have to say this, I can’t stand it anymore’ and continued with ‘you speak about human rights but what about the rights of four million Muslims in this country for whom homosexuality is illegal and a sin. It’s a sin for me to sit next to you but I do that out of tolerance.’ Then another participant asked, ‘What’s there to learn about homosexuality for young boys and girls?’. At this point the consultants noted that Kyrgyzstan as they are looking at it is a very diverse country and it would be interesting to know how different identities are coexisting within this very complex society and that they are looking at Kyrgyz society from human rights point of view with respect to differences.
Overall, it was a good way to present our ideas and issues of concern, yet we realized that we need more preparation to fit within the local mild acceptance of violence, discrimination and certain practices as a norm. It felt as if we challenged the activists too much by our mere presence.
As the end of official summer season is approaching, we can assure you that the actual summer weather does not seem to leave Bishkek. It is still +30 degrees and sunny.
This summer turned out to be quite hectic for 'Labrys'. We continued the process of restructuring, had a change in staff and leadership. Labrys staff presented at a roundtable of key importance, attended five different types of educational activities and established new important contacts.
More detailed information will be posted in the days to come.
Translation of the letter that one FTM from 'Labrys' received in response to his query about the possibilities to change documents.
Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic
194 Moskovskaya St., Bishkek, 720010
July 17, 2007
Ms. A. XXXX (name taken out for confidentiality reasons)
Apt. 52, Bldg. 30
Having reviewed your appeal, we inform you of the following.
As a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, regardless of your sexual orientation, you have the right to acquire and to amend a passport or any other personal identity document in the interest of protecting and manifesting your rights and freedoms on the territory of the republic and beyond its borders. However, you do not have the right to change your surname or name to one of the opposite sex when acquiring or amending a passport.
There is no law in Kyrgyzstan that governs the issuing and amending of a passport for people of nontraditional sexual orientations who have evinced a desire to change their surname or name to that of the opposite sex.
The absence of an established procedure testifies that sex-change operations are not performed in Kyrgyzstan.
On the grounds mentioned above, we recommend that you first undergo a sex-change operation in a country where such operations are performed. Then, having received a corresponding medical certificate showing the change of sex, you have the right to submit an application to the authorized passport agency of the Kyrgyz Republic to acquire (amend) a new passport with an amended surname and name of the opposite sex.
In addition, according to the first clause of Article 28 of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, "Citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic have the right to work freely, to manage their own working capabilities, to choose [their] profession and line of work, and to [enjoy] security and safe and hygienic working conditions, as well as the right to compensation for labor and to social security no lower than the minimum living wage established by law."
Accordingly, as a citizen of the Kyrgyz Republic, you have the right to enjoy such constitutional rights regardless of your sexual identity or orientation.
If you encounter obstacles in obtaining work, you have the right to appeal to us for assistance.
Please, find the texts here. They are about 2 mb and will take some time to download.
This is a translation of an article from Vecherniy Bishkek published on 6 July 2007. 'Labrys' and two other organizations wrote open letters to the editor about the article. Texts in Russian coming soon.
Special thanks to K for translation.
The Joys of Gay Brotherhood and Film
Kyrgyz homosexuals will soon become the heroes of a documentary film that a Polish human rights activist intends to make in Bishkek. In her opinion, the republic's gays are able to live in peace and freedom, and she believes that our society demonstrates a high level of tolerance towards homosexual love.
A Gay Oasis in a Desert of Straight People
Gay people in Kyrgyzstan are united in an organization that boasts the romantic name Oasis and that receives financial support from a fairly large number of international organizations, including the Global Fund. For some reason, sponsors from Holland seem to be particularly concerned with the development of gay communities. Oasis maintains resource centers in Osh and in Kara-Balta, and the gay movement is growing and expanding – seed groups have also sprouted in Issyk-Kul and Jalalabad.
Homosexual men gather in the center of the Kyrgyz capital, in two nightclubs where women are not welcome. Not out of antipathy towards the female sex, but just to keep the ladies from becoming upset at the sight of a whole horde of attractive men who are, in a very particular sense, completely useless. This sometimes provokes an entirely disproportionate reaction.
Particularly despairing ladies have been known to throw themselves, fists flying, at the "traitors," causing actual physical harm, and to pull out clumps of hair from carefully styled hairdos. Male "naturals" (straight people, which is how gays refer to those who adhere to a traditional sexual orientation), incensed by a gay pair embracing, can also fly off the handle.
In order to avoid any displays of sexual extremism, our homosexuals, like those around the world, prefer to hang out with and relax in a very narrow circle.
After visiting a few such gatherings, Vecherka correspondents have reported to our readers several peculiarities of gay fiestas. At first glance, the spectacle is dumbfounding (especially when men began to passionately kiss each other), but you get used to it. Homosexuals dance well, especially those pretending to be women. I still can't forget one fellow from Osh – what a luxurious lady named Madina with a silicone chest he made! In general, everyone was very much like people everywhere, and it even began to strike me as incomprehensible that such an uproar should be made about these gays.
After each such article, the newspaper's editors were inundated with indignant phone calls. One true Muslim called down the immediate wrath of heaven upon our poor heads for purportedly propagandizing homosexuality, and we had to spend a long time explaining that there was no propaganda involved, that it was simply a statement of fact taken from real life and an entirely unambiguous study of an unorthodox phenomenon.
These are the kind of genetic jokes that Mother Nature plays on us, and no one is immune to them. An extra chromosome crawls out of left field, and it's game over. Whether you're a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, or just a nudist, you're in the same boat with everyone else: off to the gay community with you.
A Measure of Democracy
Experts maintain that up to ten percent of any ethnic group is "condemned" to being gay. Several years ago, an international group called BOS ("A Quick Evaluation of the Situation") came up with an estimate of 35,000 homosexuals in Kyrgyzstan.
"Such a figure is entirely possible," said Vladimir Tyupin, the leader of Oasis. "Although as of today only 7,950 people are registered with our organization."
When asked where all the others are, Mr. Tyupin said, "Underground. Not every gay person can openly admit their orientation, since strong social prejudice is still very much alive. Closeted gays aren't to be envied – they are obliged to enter into traditional marriages, and then they suffer with their wives while feeling intensely dissatisfied. This leads to neuroses, nervous breakdowns, illnesses, etc. Our organization is intended to provide 'our' people with social and psychological help and to supply them with informative literature, condoms, etc."
No matter which way you look at it, the civilized world considers society's attitude towards sexual minorities one of the measures of democracy. Vladimir Tyupin confirms that in our country, everything is normal so far. The police don't especially target gays for harassment, people aren't fired for showing signs of being gay, nobody throws stones on the street, and the law criminalizing homosexuality has long since disappeared. And that all shows us in a good light. In Uzbekistan, for example, such a law is still on the books, and it is occasionally applied, although mostly to intimidate political enemies. In fact, a well-known journalist in Tashkent who was attempting to criticize the Karimov regime was charged with sodomy and jailed.
And anyway, our gays don't stick out very much. Their hairstyles and outfits are remarkably modest: no leather pants, dog collars, chains, or brightly-painted lips and eyes. An untrained straight person would be hard pressed to immediately tell if they were looking at a gay person. For example, I just recently discovered that part of Bishkek's Prospekt Erkindik, from the Russian Drama Theater to Toktogul Street, is a gay cruising ground. We walked up and down the street for two hours, but we couldn't pick a single person out of the loitering crowd as being definitely gay. They themselves, however, know each other instantly: they claim it's by a particular look in the eye that only initiates pick up on.
Parades Aren't Our Style
When the whole commotion surrounding the gay parade happened in Moscow and Luzhkov said that what he considers to be a profane outrage would take place in the capital only over his dead body, correspondents from the foreign press attempted to prod Oasis into a repeat of the incident in Russia: would there be a massive gay parade in Bishkek? Why aren't Kyrgyz gays taking to the streets? In reply, the head of Oasis patiently explained that our gays don't feel the need for such demonstrations, which are always either about pursuing political goals or wasting large sums of money that somebody donated. Here, he said, there are neither such political goals waiting to be reached nor such donations waiting to be spent.
A certain balance has been achieved in Bishkek between the straight community and sexual minorities, and it is not in anyone's interest to rock the boat.
There are some problems that are more pressing than others. According to the most recent voluntary study, the number of homosexuals known to Oasis to be infected with syphilis has grown to 26 people (there used to be 9). But that's not too bad, since syphilis can now be treated with a single tablet. The worst problem is the appearance of the first case of HIV infection. Gays run a higher risk of catching AIDS than any other social group, and the appearance of even a single case is already a serious danger signal.
In general, one has to wonder just who the Polish journalist is going to find to photograph in "gay" Bishkek, much less capture on videotape.
Incidentally, "informational" literature of this sort is liable to throw any prude for a loop. The bright brochures are liberally sprinkled with photographs showing passionate gay lovers in elegant poses. With bait like that, any paragraph is an easy read, whether it's about sexually-transmitted diseases (information that straight people should memorize as well) or about safe sex (only with condoms – another universal survival law). The only thing not for a general audience is advice such as "how to find new colors in the game of love." Homosexual sex is a very specific affair that comes equipped with an entirely different class of "techniques" with names that fail to resonate in the straight ear: rimming, fisting, fellatio. But once you really try to understand it and begin to wrap your head around all information in the brochures, you finally just want to say, in a general's baritone, "well, I never – you lot are full of surprises!"
From July 2007 this blog will be slowly transferring to http://kyrgyzlabrys.wordpress.com for technical convenience. You will also be able to access more features and edit content of the blog entries as well as see some of 'Labrys' publications and videos online. We are devoted to expanding our online presence.
Alex Mamytov from 'Labrys' is on his way to a training on video advocacy organized by WITNESS (http://www.witness.org/), we hope to increase the use of more multimedia options in our work.
As we are learning new media technical things, we are adding more and more small technical things to become reader-friendly.
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