LGBTI+ in the region of Central Asia: repressions, discrimination, exclusion

Human rights report ADC Memorial with the participation: Кyrgyz Indigo, Human & Art, Kok.Team, Uzbekistan LGBTIQ IG «Equality», IG OAT Kurtuluş and with the support: IG Safe Space, Trans*Coalition in the Post-Soviet Space.

ADC Memorial thanks Human Right defenders, activists, initiative groups, LGBTI+ individuals who, despite the risks, shared their experience and told their stories. Without your participation, this publication would not be possible.

Members of the LGBTI+ community in Central Asia regularly endure numerous violations of their rights, homophobia, and discrimination in all areas of life, including employment, education, family life, personal interactions, and commercial and state services. LGBTI+ people do not feel safe in any country in the region. Governments largely ignore recommendations concerning the situation of LGBTI+ people made by international bodies. In the majority of these countries, NGOs are not able to register or work openly. Despite numerous problems and difficulties, human rights defenders and activists still find opportunities to cooperate with and support LGBTI+ people. They have dialogues with members of the government where possible, organize public events to protect LGBTI+ rights, and help with court cases against homophobes and try to ensure that they are punished. Sensing this support, members of the community gain the courage to demand protection of their rights. An increasing number of lawyers and attorneys are prepared to protect the rights of the LGBTI+ community. High-quality materials about LGBTI+ issues are appearing, and journalists are trying to report on SOGI issues in a politically-correct manner. Even in the most closed countries, like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, in the past year activists have started advocating for the decriminalization of MSM in spite of risks to their own safety.

Groups that make up the LGBTI+ community must endure specific forms of multiple discrimination and feel even more vulnerable as a result.

Patriarchal stereotypes and traditional practices have a negative impact on lesbian and bisexual women, significantly worsening their situation by depriving them of the freedom to manage their own lives and obligating them to conform to gender-specific models of behavior. Under the constant control of their relatives, women often cannot make decisions on their own, move around freely, or interact with people in real life or online and do not have secure access to information. LB women are most afraid of being outed to their families. Their relatives can reject them or use any form of violence against them. Dependence on family ties forces women to act against their own wishes, in particular, to agree to forced marriage if they cannot find a partner for a fictitious marriage. The negative attitude towards LB women is instrumental in the retention of the term “lesbianism” in the criminal codes of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Not enough is known about the difficulties lesbian and bisexual women face because women in traditional societies are under constant control. But there is also a bias within the LGBTI+ community that women’s problems are not as significant as men’s problems.

Transgender people in Central Asian countries are often subjected to discrimination and a heightened risk of violence both because of their appearance and the fact that their documents do not match their appearance and because the people close to them are unwilling to accept their gender identity. Transgender women suffer from patriarchal stereotypes and face double discrimination. Their transitions are often more traumatic than they are for transgender men, including for the reason that women occupy a more oppressed position in traditional societies. Unable to find opportunities for employment, transgender women are often doomed to work in the sex business.

Many transgender people suffer from internal transphobia, which is compounded by various factors ranging from discrimination within the community to pressure from religious figures who are critical of gender transition. Rejection by their families and society, which is quite common for transgender people, forces them to move, not just to escape condemnation and discrimination, but also for their own safety. The high risk of being attacked and threatened intertwines with lack of access to protection of their own rights.

The gender transition procedures in all the countries in the region create a barrier for transgender people. Lacking the ability to complete the transition process, many are forced to live out of line with their identity. Faced with a high level of transphobia among both law enforcement bodies and regular citizens, transgender people are forced to make a choice: hide their identity or put their safety and lives at risk.