Leeds rallies against homophobia in Chechnya

Leeds students organise rally to protest against the persecution of LGBTQ+ in Chechnya, after claims over a hundred gay men have been placed into concentration camps.

A rally against the homophobic abuse and discrimination faced by LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya took place outside Leeds Town Hall on Saturday.

The event, which was organised by Leeds University students and other local activists, featured speakers from Leeds City Council, LUU, West Yorkshire Police, Yorkshire MESMAC and Angels of Youth.

LUU’s Equality and Diversity Officer, Emma Healey, said in her speech: “It makes me so angry and sad to see that this can still happen in 2017 {…] It is vital that we do not relent, and we do not stop calling people out for their homophobia and their transphobia – whoever and wherever they might be. We must fight for those who can’t, for those who have lost.”

Reports by a Russian newspaper and human rights activists have claimed that police in Chechnya have detained over 100 men in concentration camps on suspicion of being gay, and subjected them to violence, torture and even murder.

Chechnyan officials have denied the reports, with an official spokesperson claiming that gay people ‘do not exist in the country’.

There was a strong turn out at the Leeds rally and a diverse set of attendees, with members of the crowd carrying rainbow flags and others handing out pink flowers as a symbol of LGBTQ+ solidarity.

However, the event faced some criticism for being too political and for showing a bias towards Labour, while the Socialist Workers Party were handing out leaflets from a stall they set up.

Incoming Leeds Labour Chair and event instigator Antony Riley told The Gryphon: “With it being my first ever rally there was a lot I could have improved on to make it more accessible and inclusive but we did have a broad spectrum of speakers from across the LGBTQ+ community, gender and racial balance.

“I think it’s important for those who attended to contact and lobby their representatives to pressure the government to change their policy on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and donate to Russian LGBT+ networks to help those in Chechnya

“Attendees who claimed the issue was ‘too political’ need to remember that our rights weren’t handed to us, our existence is political and it’s impossible to separate the issue in Chechnya from politics.

“I understand there may have been a heavy Labour presence but I would disagree in saying there was bias toward Labour when every speaker raised awareness of community unity and how important it is that we come together to take action.”

Jessica Murray

(Image: Rupert Lloyd)

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