LGBT Violence Cannot Go Unanswered

Mark Leno, Rafael Mandelman, and Scott Wiener call to action regarding the violence towards LGBTQ people in Chechnya routed in lessons they’ve learned as LGBT Jews

(Left to Right:) Mark Leno previously represented District 11 in the California State Senate and District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Scott Wiener represents District 11 in the California State Senate and previously represented District 8 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Rafael Mandelman sits on the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.

In the 1920s, Germany was one of the most accepting places for LGBT people in the modern world. LGBT Germans in Berlin were an open part of society, with theaters, nightclubs, professional societies and more than 30 periodicals devoted to LGBT life. Transgender Germans were successfully advocating for their civil rights, and in 1931, the first gender confirmation surgery took place in Berlin. By 1933, the Nazis had come to power, and all known homosexuals were rounded up, tortured and placed in camps with 6 million Jews and other minorities — most died there.

The last 10 years have brought us unprecedented gains in civil rights for LGBT people. Gay marriage is now legal in 22 countries including the United States — something many of us thought we would never see in our life times.

We believe the arc of history bends toward justice — but as Jewish gay men, we also know the arc twists and sometime bends back on itself before finally moving forward. Our families and community still carry the weight of the Holocaust. We grew up hearing the stories from relatives who witnessed firsthand the horrors of a state determined to exterminate its people.

By now, you have heard reports of the brutal persecution of queer men in the Russian republic of Chechnya. In the last month, hundreds of Chechen men have been arrested by authorities, tortured and in some cases killed.

Totalitarianism and nationalism, those twin scourges of the last century, are again on the march, and Chechnya is plainly in their path. Dictators have always thrived by pitting the fearful against the weak. In 2013, the Russian parliament unanimously passed a series of anti-gay laws, launching a campaign of harassment against LGBT people to distract the Russian people from their weakened economy.

And its not just Russia: In many parts of Africa and the Middle East, LGBT men and women are routinely executed for their sexual orientation or gender identity. While the methods vary — in Iran they are hanged, in Somalia they are shot, in the lands controlled by ISIS they are thrown off buildings — the horrific results are the same.

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