‘We will continue to work’ Known for evacuating queer people from repressive Chechnya, the Russian LGBT Network is now considered a ‘foreign agent’
Russia’s Justice Ministry is responsible for maintaining separate registries for the many types of “foreign agents.” The list of “unregistered public associations performing the functions of a foreign agent” is by far the shortest one — it gained its third entry on Monday, November 8, when the Justice Ministry designated the Russian LGBT Network as a “foreign agent.”
Operating in Russia since 2006, the Russian LGBT Network offers support to LGBTQ+ Russians and fights against all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Headquartered in St. Petersburg, the network has 17 regional offices across the country, located everywhere from Moscow to the far-eastern Primorsky Krai.
The Russian LGBT Network’s operator, the charitable foundation Sfera, was added to Russia’s registry of “foreign-agent NGOs” in March 2016.
The Russian LGBT Network is engaged in both information gathering — for example, collating reports on discrimination and information about training workshops — and providing emergency assistance. The network runs a hotline that people can turn to for support, and provides psychological and legal assistance to victims of discrimination and hate crimes.
But the Russian LGBT Network is best known, both in Russia and abroad, for its many years of work evacuating LGBTQ+ people from the repressive Chechen Republic, where they face unprecedented persecution — even by Russian standards. According to numerous testimonies, people suspected of being queer have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed Chechnya. The Russian LGBT Network’s emergency evacuation efforts have been covered by the likes of CNN, The New York Times, the New Yorker, and many other prominent international outlets.
The Russian LGBT Network has also helped many victims of Chechnya’s purges leave Russia altogether. Such as Aminat Lorsanova, a Chechen woman who was beaten with sticks (at the request of her family) to “cure” her of homosexuality, and Maxim Lapunov — the first gay man to come forward about experiencing persecution at the hands of police in Chechnya.
That said, not all evacuations are successful. For example, earlier this year, activists from the Russian LGBT Network were unable to evacuate 23-year-old Khalimat Taramova. She fled Chechnya in June, after her family forced her to undergo “conversion therapy.” Taramova made it to a women’s shelter in Dagestan, but law enforcement officials tracked her down and returned her to her family in Grozny. Taramova’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
The Russian LGBT Network is determined to continue operating, despite its newly acquired “foreign agent” status. “We will continue to work for you, for the LGBT people of Russia,” the group said in a statement released on Monday.
“At the moment, we do not know why we were recognized as a foreign agent. The Russian LGBT Network does not accept this status. We aren’t engaged in political activity, we provide legal [and] psychological assistance, and protect the rights of the LGBT+ community,” the statement reads. “The Russian LGBT Network will appeal this decision in court.”
Translation by Eilish Hart