Insulted, intimidated, beaten by his own family: For Beksat Mukaschew, his coming-out started a nightmare. The young man tried several times to flee from his hometown Uralsk in western Kazakhstan. But then Corona came. The borders were closed, Mukashev was stuck. He was able to hide in his hometown for three months until his parents found him. Since then, his friend Arman Chassanow complains that he has been held by force. When he published his desperate video message on social media in mid-June, he hadn’t heard from Mukaschew in nine days. A whole team is now working to free it. A well-known human rights lawyer has taken on the case, which has already made international headlines.
If you openly admit in Kazakhstan that you are gay, you live dangerously because homophobia is widespread. Hostility, discrimination and violence shape the everyday life of many homosexuals, queer and transgender people (LGBTIQ). State institutions offer little protection. According to a 2018 survey by the Kazakh Ministry of Health and the Republican Center for Prevention and Control of AIDS, there are approximately 62,000 men in Kazakhstan who have sex with men – with a population of 18 million. The U.S. State Department released a report last year that 48 percent of Kazakhstan’s LGBTIQ community has had experience of hate speech and violence.
The number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher, however, Amir Sheikeshanov is certain. “Of course, the number will be much higher than stated in any report,” says the LGBTIQ activist from Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty. »Many people are not ready to talk about it.« Sheikeshanov is a co-founder of the online medium »Kok.Team«, which is aimed specifically at the LGBTIQ scene in Kazakhstan, and has launched the »Safe Space« project in Almaty. Until the beginning of the corona crisis, “Safe Space” was a safe place for LGBTIQ people, which made regular meetings and exchanges possible. »There was advice on safe sex practices, a library, board games. Now we are offering some online formats. «Although there are still clubs and bars where you can meet, there are no longer any designated locations.
Schaikeschanow sees the greatest problems in discrimination and in hate comments. “For the Ministry of the Interior, Hate Speech comes under the freedom of expression.” When a well-known Kazakh martial artist recently wrote that LGBTIQ people were “worse than dogs,” he was criticized internationally. In contrast, there was hardly any contradiction in Kazakhstan. There is also a lack of resources and support for LGBTIQ groups, said Schaikeschanow.
When LGBTIQ people become victims of violence, the police often remain inactive. It was the same with Mukaschew and Chassanow. In an interview with »Kok.Team«, they described their difficult situation in February. They told how Mukashev’s parents arranged a marriage for their son, how he decided to come out, how his father beat him for hospitalization. A few attempts to escape followed. But the father, an influential entrepreneur and local politician in Uralsk, found him every time and had him brought back to the big city near the Russian border.
It is not uncommon for families to be ashamed of a gay relative. Tradition and a strong image of masculinity continue to play an important role in Muslim Kazakhstan. The country is relatively wide compared to its Central Asian neighbors when it comes to LGBTIQ rights. Since 1998 same-sex relationships have no longer been punishable; Since 2003 it has been allowed to change the gender of the ID card. Five years ago, the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan overturned a law to ban “homosexual propaganda,” similar to that in Russia. However, in order to be able to change his gender legally, for example, gender reassignment, psychotherapy and sterilization are mandatory.
The number of LGBTIQ activists in Kazakhstan is manageable. There is also no community in itself. “There is no large organization that represents everyone,” said Schaikeschanow. “There are different groups that specialize in their subjects.” One of them is the feminist initiative Feminita, which works for the interests of lesbian, bisexual, queer and disabled women and sex workers.
Last year, the group supported a lawsuit from two women who were filmed kissing each other. The video was posted on Facebook. The comments ranged from insults to death threats. The two women were even recognized and attacked on the street. They therefore sued the man who published the video. A month-long lawsuit ensued, at the end of which the Supreme Court awarded women compensation because the video violated their personal rights. The ruling was a huge success for Kazakhstan’s LGBTIQ community.
Khassanov will continue to fight for his friend’s freedom. He has had human rights lawyer Aiman Umarowa take over Beksat’s case. She makes serious allegations against the authorities. “If he weren’t gay, the police would have been working long ago,” she says. Umarowa has now switched on the Ministry of Interior.