There are disturbing reports cropping up on various news sites concerning a pogrom against gay men in Chechnya carried out under the auspices of the Chechen government. Initial reports from Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed scores of men under suspicion of being gay were detained by Chechen authorities and 3 reported killed. Details are sketchy and the Chechen government denied these reports calling them “absolute lies and disinformation.” (as cited in the Guardian) As yet it is hard to know what is really going on, but as Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director for the International Crisis Group, noted:

I have heard about it happening in Grozny [the Chechen capital], outside Grozny, and among people of very different ages and professions. […] The extreme taboo nature of the subject meant that much of the information was arriving second or third hand, and as yet there are no fully verifiable cases. […] It’s next to impossible to get information from the victims or their families, but the number of signals I’m receiving from different people makes it hard not to believe detentions and violence are indeed happening. (as cited in the Guardian)

For me, these reports coming from Chechnya come as a troubling reminder that despite the gains of gay rights movements in the Western World, notably the decriminalization and destigmatization of male homosexuality, gay men remain a population reviled by various cultural and religious elements in societies across the world.

It was not that long ago that male homosexuality was decriminalized in the Western World. In fact, it remained a crime in my lifetime. Police and the courts actively enforced the law as gay men were typically viewed as perverts and sexual predators preying on boys as this delightful public service advertisement from the 1950s demonstrates:

In the latter half of the 20th century public attitudes changed and the decriminalization of male homosexuality in England and Wales was brought about in 1967. This was accomplished with the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (48 & 49 Vict. c.69). Section 11 of the Act, in particular the clause known as the Labouchere Amendment, applied to male homosexuality. In short, the clause provided for a term of imprisonment “not exceeding two years”, with or without hard labour, for any man found guilty of “gross indecency” with another male, whether “in public or in private”. In Canada the Liberal government of Prime Minister Lester Pearson passed, in 1969, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69 (S.C. 1968-69, c. 38), which, among other things, decriminalized homosexuality. The Minister of Justice, Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously observed in defending this provision of the legislation, “obviously, the state’s responsibility should be to legislate rules for a well-ordered society. It has no right or duty to creep into the bedrooms of the nation.” (as cited in Wikipedia)

Sodomy laws were repealed across the United States as of 2003 when U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision in Lawrence v. Texas Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, ruled that the state could not single out gay people for harassment and discriminatory treatment simply “because of ‘moral disapproval’ of homosexuality. He wrote of ‘respect’ for same-sex couples and warned that ‘the state cannot demean their existence,’ describing same-sex relationships as a ‘personal bond’ involving much more than just sex. Kennedy also wrote that reducing same-sex couples to ‘sex partners,’ as anti-gay organizations often do, is offensive in the same way that describing a husband and wife as nothing more than sex partners would be offensive.” (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force)

Despite the gains brought forth by the gay rights movement the fact remains memories linger for those who continue to revile male homosexuality. The late Justice Antonin Scalia viewed male homosexuality in a negative light, lamenting the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, noting:

Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. […] They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. (as cited in Mother Jones)

This is something I am reminded of as an openly gay man and blogger. I received the following comment, albeit a troll comment left anonymously, on a post I published concerning my own experience of religion and my homosexuality in a positive light:

There is no Odour so bad— as when 2 men are fucking each other up the Ass.
It it even worse when you use your perversion to attack Christians.
You Sodomites , pretty much have gained everything you want over the years.
You just can’t leave it alone.
I have no problem with You.
I do have a problem when you won’t shut to fuck up.
Did you even read your own silly little narrative?
It is both factitious and stupid.

May the Gods of Zion slowly roast you on a spit over camel dung.

While negative attitudes toward gay men prevail among elements of Western societies, I remain optimistic. For me the glass is half full. The bad old days are behind us. In the present gay men participate fully in society and are free to marry. I cannot stop anyone from forming negative thoughts about gay men and expressing them. In my opinion, the best way to respond is just to be happy, true to yourself and get on with your life with pride, doing the best you can. Yes, news reports of the pogrom underway in Chechnya against gay men are troubling. The best I can do is hope is these men are able to flee and find asylum in the West where they can live out their lives free from persecution for no other reason than being who they are.