This Tuesday, New York-based activist group Voices 4 Chechnya held a nonviolent protest outside NYC’s Russian Consulate, demanding the Russian government open an investigation about the disappearance of 26-year-old gay pop star Zelimkhan Bakaev.
Bakaev went missing on August 8th when he left his Moscow home to visit the capital Grozny for his sister’s wedding. According to the Sun, his friends and family haven’t heard from him since, and all his social media accounts have been deactivated. They say Bakaev arrived in Grozny, where he “was picked up by police within three hours,” and murdered 10 hours later.
Adam Eli, an activist and founding member of Voices 4 Chechnya, hopes the group’s action will create a shift in today’s global LGBTQ crisis. “There has been tremendous discourse around Zelim’s disappearance, but very little about the global response,” he says. “When one country, in this case Chechnya, detains, tortures and murders their LGBTQ+ citizens without any ramfications, other countries follow suit. I want this action to inform these violent governments and their LGBTQ+ victims that we are taking action and will not allow this to continue.”
Approximately 50 Voices 4 Chechnya protestors gathered around the Russian consulate, holding signs with portraits of Bakaev and a giant banner asking, “Where is Zelimkhan Bakaev?” They worked through chants, including “No Murder, No Hate, Russia Investigate, Gays in Chechnya Cannot Wait” and “When Gay Chechens Are Under Attack, What Do We Do, Stand Up Fight Back.”
Andy Lopez, a Voices 4 Chechnya member, said the activist group has been following Bakaev’s case since they first formed. “After our last march, we realized that no action had been taken except the unanswered cries of [Zelimkhan’s] grieving mother,” he says. “As a person of the LGBTQ+ community, it’s my responsibility to stand up for my queer family everywhere.”
Every day, queer Chechens are being rounded up, abducted, tortured and killed by the Russian government, all while Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, has completely denied the existence of LGBTQ people. Several people have escaped from Chechnya, but the actual number of LGBTQ Chechens in captivity is still unknown.
Voices 4 Chechnya’s central mission is demanding the U.S. government issue humanitarian parole visas to LGBTQ Chechens. Tourist visas are no longer an option because many Chechen individuals are hiding from their relatives and the Russian government, making the application process entirely impossible. The activist group urges the Trump administration to recognize these people as victims of genocide and a humanitarian catastrophe.
“I felt an immediate connection with Zelimkhan and his story,” says Voices 4 Chechnya member J.D. Moran. “I grew up being taught that homosexuality was wrong and something to be ashamed of. Zelimkhan was around my age and grew up in a country that is much harsher towards the LGBTQ community. He and other Chechen LGBTQ people that have been killed because of who they are feels like a personal attack on myself. He was a thread in the fabric of our LGBTQ family, and he and all the others in Chechnya need to be found, heard, loved, and given justice.”