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November 02, 2015

LGBT Voices for Equality: Kyrgyzstan

Most Americans would have a hard time finding Kyrgyzstan on a map, let alone telling you about its geopolitical environment. But those who care about human rights should take note of what’s happening there. A sweeping homophobic bill is on the verge of becoming law.

Last year members of the Kyrgyz Parliament, the Jogorku Kenesh, introduced legislation that would criminalize any public expression that could "create a positive attitude to unconventional sexual orientation." The bill emulates Russia's 2013 propaganda law, but goes even further.

People could go to jail for expressing the most basic sentiments about their own identities.

The bill has received overwhelming support from lawmakers, easily passing two of the three required legislative readings. It is unclear when the final reading will take place, but there is little chance of serious opposition. It appears that only President Almazbek Atambayev will be able stop the bill from becoming law. 

The bill is already having a chilling effect on LGBT life in Kyrgyzstan. Bias-motivated violence has increased, attacks on NGOs have been documented, and incidents of police enforcing the bill, even though it is not yet law, have been reported. If President Atambayev signs the bill, there is little doubt that the situation will get much worse.

Earlier this year Kyrgyzstan's neighbor to the north, Kazakhstan, considered a similar propaganda bill. Although tabled during an Olympic bid this summer, the Kazakh LGBT community fears that a victory for homophobia in Kyrgyzstan would pave the way for lawmakers to reintroduce the bill at home.

Russia’s influence is on the rise in many Central Asian states. The export of homophobia, on both legislative and cultural levels, should be a concern for the global human rights community. What happens next in Kyrgyzstan may be a bellwether for the region.

While we don’t know how President Atambayev will act, the human rights community should not stand silently by.  

What the U.S. Government can do:  

  • Speak directly to the Kyrgyzstan government about the negative impact a propaganda law would have on the U.S.–Kyrgyzstan bilateral relationship.  
  • Work with NGOs on the ground, as well as supportive political leadership in the country, on a countrywide strategy to prevent this law from moving forward and to discourage the introduction of other legislation that would negatively impact the rights of the LGBT community.  
  • Communicate with and support groups such as Labrys and Kyrgyz Indigo who are the most effective voices for change in their country, including through material support.  
  • Partner with the Council of Europe to promote its leverage, particularly given Kyrgyzstan’s status as a “Partner in Democracy,” to move Kyrgyzstan towards compliance with agreed upon commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for LGBT people.