Comrades, the year is 2017. Hundreds of gay men have been abducted and tortured in concentration camps in Chechnya, and some reports say over 100 have been murdered — by the police or by their own families. The government is calling it a cleansing. An unidentified gay man told France 24 News, “They tell the parents to kill their child. They say ‘Either you do it, or we will.'”
Chechnya is a republic of Russia in Eastern Europe. The Kremlin is unlikely to do much to address these horrors since Vladimir Putin is waging his own war against LGBTQ people in Russia by outlawing all visible representations of homosexuality in the country. This is to “protect children from recruitment” — the oldest and most unfounded accusation made against us.
The Russian government has denied reports of these concentration camps, while the Chechen president has publicly stated that all gay men in the country will be eliminated by the end of the month, the start of Ramadan. Putin, who has orchestrated perhaps the greatest feat of international espionage in recent history by meddling in the 2016 American election, has also denied the existence of these camps, even though various European news sources have confirmed them after Novaya Gazeta broke the story last month.
Meanwhile, things are bleak here in the U.S. Today, May 4, 2017, President Trump is expected to sign a sweeping “religious freedom bill,” which will open the floodgates of religious-based anti-LGBTQ discrimination across the country.
On the morning of June 26, 2015, the day Obergefell v. Hodges ruled in our favor, the day we won marriage equality, I thought we had a road of victory paved ahead of us. I was living with a man I loved. The world seemed erupted in love, poised on an unstoppable trajectory. We had won.
A year later, Pulse happened. 49 people, most of them queer, were murdered, gunned down in a gay club in Orlando. It was the bloodiest LGBTQ hate crime in history. A few months later, the United States elected Donald Trump as President of the United States.
When all is said and done, when the decades roll on and new stories and big events fill the public sphere for future generations to consume and be driven mad by, one name will echo through history. An oafish, cartoonish name, one that marked the most absurd and darkest period of American history: Donald Trump. Donald Trump.
It feels as though we have failed. I think of the AIDS activists behind me. Their antagonism and fury succumbed to the apathy and generational bewilderment of young people today — of my generation, bored, distracted, numb. What about tomorrow? I know we have to fight, but already it feels we have little muster left to fight with. We are consumed by flashy new toys and digital clutter so severely that we no longer see the great battles. Where is clarity? What is the truth? The world is increasingly full of noise. And in that noise, despots rise.
I take my little HIV pill every day. I go to work. I try to pay my bills. My virus, which killed off so many of my brothers and sisters — which continues to kill so many — is a manageable disease for me, something I rarely think about. In many ways, we’ve come so far. But where are we now? We are in this strange and terrifying place and slowly realizing that our notions about the long arc of history — which presumably bends toward justice — is very, very long, and within that arc are recessive dips back into dark and dangerous narratives in which the rest of our lives (and our children’s lives) may be lived. And somehow we understand this was always possible, that progress was never guaranteed.
Depending on who you ask, liberalism is dead. Some think the idyllic image of a global village was an unrealistic fantasy. It would have its drawbacks: a monolithic culture, histories slowly eroded by gentrification, staggering income inequality. But it would have continued the liberal trajectories of LGBTQ rights and environmentalism and all our leaders would have been good and noble. They would have duked it out over healthcare and varying degrees of feminism. Instead, we’ve run aground in what increasingly — although, tenuously — appears to be an ugly truth. Populism is sweeping the world. Hate crimes are increasing. The rights of women are being called into question. Abortion laws are being reexamined. Immigration is causing rampant anxieties across the United States and Europe. Darkness is spreading across the land.
I hope things have changed for the better by the time you read this. I hope, to your young, sweet ears, the concept of a massacre like the one happening in Chechnya sounds impossible. I hope that in your world, you can say, “We would never let that happen!” I hope you have the clarity to know what’s going on. I hope you’ve put down the shiny toys. I hope truth has regained a sense of, well, truthfulness. I hope you never consider yourself second-class citizens. I hope women are in charge and AIDS is vanquished. I hope, I hope, I hope.
But I must issue you a warning. No matter how good things get, there will always be people scheming in the night to destroy you. They’re lurking in little churches across the country, praying for your extinction. They will always find a way to crawl into political office, garner support, and push nasty bits of legislation through the cracks. Because they hate you, just as they have hated me, without knowing my name, all my life.
They will round us up into camps if given the chance. They will murder us one by one. Never let them get a foothold. Vote them out. Protest. Fight. Do what you have to do.
And never, under any circumstances, go back in the closet. Being out is the greatest power you have. Your visibility terrifies and angers them. It threatens their god, their marriages, their cosmology, their governments, their children. Keep threatening them. You have had targets on your backs since you first said the revolutionary words — since you first claimed yourself as one of us. You, my darlings, are instruments of war.