It has been more than two years since my last entry. I don’t follow current events as much as I would like to but at the same time I think a lot about gender perspective and what it means in Kyrgyzstan. Most recently I am looking at legal and medical regulation of (homo)sexuality and gender identity in Kyrgyzstan within the past 20 years. It is a massive amount of work with 1990s being recoverable mostly through fragments of memories and hopefully newspaper articles if I manage to find them. Some of the questions that I am looking at is who and why decided to decriminalize homosexuality in Kyrgyzstan in 1998, how the process of adopting ICD-10 went in Kyrgyzstan especially in relation to homosexuality which all of a sudden was not treatable anymore. In the 2000s I am interested in looking at how interest/civil society groups were formed around ‘queer’ identities.
Originally I thought that I would be writing a story of the small ‘LGBT’ movement in Kyrgyzstan but somehow right now I feel that this story that I am working on is more about development and international institutions.
I know, for example, that women’s organizations started to form in Kyrgyzstan closer to 1997-1998 with funding available from Counterpart Consortium, USIS and Soros Foundation – Kyrgyzstan. What kind of participation of ‘civil society’ was present before 1997, история умалчивает. I really want to know what happened between 1991 and 1997. What was the reform of psychiatry field like? How did the reform of the criminal code reflect the neoliberal blueprint that was part of ‘transition’ that attracted foreign funders and set Kyrgyzstan in an ‘island of democracy’ mode. Sometimes I think that Kyrgyzstan is a success story guinea pig. It’s small enough and flexible enough to test new models and implement them without much resistance but quickly and in a way that attracts more funds because now there is so much to build on.
I have not been writing much for the past months. The work never stops and the gendered world is always there. Today I want to touch on the issue of UN mechanisms of protection of the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There are two mechanisms that I am very familiar with because of producing quite a few reports using them recently. One is a shadow report mechanism for reporting on state implementation of the UN conventions (GenderStan focus is particularly on Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).
The other is a relatively new procedure of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is basically similar to convention reports but it includes more opportunities for NGOs to be involved and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reviews the reports which come to them and prepares a summary of all the concerns. The UPRs usually focus on specific human rights issues. The ones posted here are on sexual and reproductive rights in Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. I am posting them because, first of all, Kyrgyz NGO worked on putting them together and, second, the issues are very similar to Kyrgyzstan largely because traditional attitudes in all three countries are similar.
The revelation of the last week for me was that wordpress is banned in Turkey. I could not post anything for the week even though I planned to. Now I am back and looking at the news.
The top three news for now are:
1. Russian Orthodox Church against homosexuality and Apostolic church story continued. Today local chapter of Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) made a public statement that ROC ‘has never supported, does not support and never will support sodomites’. The press release available in Russian below accuses 5 Bishkek Channel for confusing ROC and Apostolic church and giving the viewers a wrong perception of the ROC’s position on homosexuality. The press release calles LGBT people ‘sodomites’ and compares LGBT people with necrophiles and pedophiles while the LGBT-friendly priest Maxim Bratukhin is described as a ‘disguised pervert’. Kloop posted a balanced article about this situation.
2. Gender policy in Kyrgyzstan was mixed with other ‘soft’ issues through the parliamentary committee for youth, gender policy, physical education and sports.
3. Interesting discussion on bridekidnapping is happening on Diesel forum. There is not a single person there supporting this ‘tradition’.
During these past days I have been quite focused on learning more about HIV. I knew what a common person exposed to Western information would know – ways to get it, importance of testing, so-called ‘risk groups’ and some detailed stufffrom the training on sexuality for teenagers I used to run.
HIV got closer when my 22-year-old close friend told me that he was positive. Then I started to really think more on the issue, it used to be my phobia that he’d get it because he is from one of these so-called ‘risk’ groups. At some point I got to know over 30 HIV-positive people in one day at a training, it turned out they were facing issues very similar to what LGBT people, myself including, are facing in everyday life – isolation, fear of telling about their status and lack of access to services. I was walking from the office to the center with one of staff members of a grassroots NGO and he told me that sometimes people can test positive for syphilis and HIV if they had a lot of alcohol within 18 hours before the test. He also told me about outreach work with sex workers and where in Bishkek the street sex workers stand. I was amazed by how much he knew and the outreach the organization had.
Just recently I took part in assessing NGO concepts of involving HIV-positive people in decision-making with people from mostly international organizations and medical organizations on the committee. I could sense the difference in approach. The community NGOs stressed that people need peer-to-peer support, care and somebody to talk to. The usual HIV decision-makers emphasized the need for space in the hospitals, teaching HIV-positive people ‘how to’ and making space for HIV-positive people in the hospitals or local AIDS centers. This is so similar to linking women only with family (with state bodies called ‘department on family, women and children’) and LGBT people with only HIV. People in power having no clue about what the communities need and care for and designing multi-million programs.
Right now I also know people from organizations working on HIV prevention and groups organized by HIV-positive people in Kyrgyzstan. A lot of excellent work with communities directly being involved in making decisions about programs. There are some NGOs which could not survive recent round of donor financial auditing which lead to gossips within the NGO community. Corruption in NGOs is another story to talk about on this blog at some point. Donors supporting HIV projects coming from organizations which usually work on trafficking and donor policies is another issue I want to mention one day.
Journalists in Kyrgyzstan pick up on the topics related to homosexuality or transsexuality whenever they have a chance. There were attempts to address this issue which did not have much reaction from the media.
Recent coverage of a press conference about first brochure in Kyrgyz language about realities for homosexual and bisexual people in Kyrgyzstan turned out quite diverse. It ranged from a positive BBC article in Kyrgyz language to a very negative reaction from a journalist in ‘Beliy Parohod’ newspaper which is posted below. Kyrgyz language newspaper ‘Alibi’ quotes Dzhypar Dzheksheev, Head Representative of national commission on UNESCO affairs in Kyrgyzstan saying:
The homophobic reactions did not go unnoticed, human rights organizations. LGBT activists picked up the issue and are planning to send out a number of open letters to the newspapers, UNESCO and Kyrgyz media representative urging them to address homophobia in the mass media and of their employees.
This week as the media in Bishkek is functioning in a slow motion because of summer low news season, the journalists pick up the issue of homosexuality to fill the air and paper space. Channel 5 devoted a Friday evening air time to discussing homosexuality live with lesbians and gay men talking about their lives. Discussion about taking a decision to be open publicly among lesbian and bisexual women is unfolding on Labrys forum in Russian language.
‘Vecherniy Bishkek’ published an article last Friday about gay men and how ‘bright’ their lives are in Kyrgyzstan. The author uses derogatory language when referring to women in general and gay men. She also reveals the places common for visits among gay and bisexual men for meeting which puts them at risk. The journalist acknowledges that heterosexual men and women have negative reactions when seeing somebody expressing homosexual feelings. According to the author, women get angry because ‘the [gay] men are of no use’ and men get angry and can ‘fly off handle’ when seeing two men hugging. She also refers to homosexuality as ‘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. ‘
The article is full of value judgements and the overall tone implies eccentricity and abnormality of the group of people that the journalist is describing.
Some human rights and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) organizations reacted to the article by sending letters to the journalist herself and to the editor of ‘Vecherniy ‘Bishkek’. The response is yet to follow but the LGBT crowds in Kyrgyzstan say that the letters are not effective means to hold the media accountable.
Homophobic and transphobic articles are common in Bishkek media but usually go without causing reactions. Some of the articles can be found at the blog of ‘Labrys’, an organization in Bishkek working with lesbian, bisexual women and transgender people.
The issue of homophobia, an irrational fear of homosexual or bisexual people or those who do not conform to stereotype male/female looks, is very relevant to how gender roles and gender expression are perceived in Kyrgyzstan. Cases of street violence against men with long hair, for example, are quite common. Crossing gender boundaries whether in looks, attitudes or behavior may result in social isolation and rejection. This goes not only for LGBT people but also for divorced women, peaceful men, people who are ‘over age’ for marriage.