Voices for Equality: Ruslan Kim
Ruslan Kim is a dedicated researcher and human rights defender from Kyrgyzstan. He is head of advocacy and public relations for Kyrgyz Indigo, a Bishkek-based nongovernmental LGBTQIA organization working in the field of human rights protection and HIV prevention. As an Emergency Response Team member, he responds to acts taken against members of the Kyrgyz LGBTQIA community.
Through grassroots activism, Ruslan also works to create an environment for Kyrgyz communities to engage on local, national, and global politics.
In His Words:
“Here in Kyrgyzstan, members of Parliament try to hide behind a wall of family values, religion, and tradition to encourage the escalation of violence and the consolidation of discrimination against the LGBTQI community at a legislative level. Community representatives are already regularly subjected to threats, blackmail, bullying and violence; they remain invisible. This is the first time in the history of Kyrgyzstan that LGBTQI rights have been discussed at a national level. Now is our chance to raise our voices, to make ourselves heard and change national policy. We as activists don’t have the right to stop fighting or to give up. We must always remember those standing behind us, waiting to be seen and heard.”
Kyrgyzstan’s parliament is poised to take a second reading on its homophobic propaganda bill. The bill requires three readings and the president’s signature to become law. At this point the bill is expected to pass the second reading without issue.
The bill is modeled on Russia’s infamous law that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” But the Kyrgyz bill goes even further. It would outlaw all positive or neutral speech about lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender relationships—not just those directed at minors. It would also make such speech a criminal offense with one year of jail time. All civil society groups that advocate for the human rights of LGBT people would essentially be outlawed, as would any journalism or reporting on the issue.
According to Kyrgyz LGBT activist Ruslan Kim, this law’s proposal has served as a “green light” to escalate violence against LGBT people. If enacted, the law would serve as further validation of homophobic discrimination and violent crimes.
The Kyrgyz parliament is also emulating another Russian law, one that regulates the behavior of nongovernmental organizations. Under the proposed law, “foreign agents” are organizations engaged in “political activity” while receiving foreign funds. The brand is often used to punish organizations that run afoul of political elites or engage in controversial work, with “political activity” usually interpreted as loosely as possible. The proposed law would severely infringe on the ability of many NGOs to function by increasing their operational costs and decreasing access to funding sources.
Activists like Kim believe that international pressure can influence Kyrgyzstan’s government to back away from these harmful bills. Kyrgyzstan’s struggling economy is heavily dependent on international imports. Though it is currently trying to economically ally itself with Russia, the threat of sanctions and visa bans like those issued against Uganda when it passed a homophobic law would make Kyrgyz lawmakers think twice about supporting these bills. Allies everywhere can also join the #supportlgbtkg movement on Twitter to demonstrate widespread support for the Kyrgyz LGBT community.
The propaganda and foreign agents bills do not just threaten the rights of Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT community and NGOs, but the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly of all Kyrgyz citizens. The United States should clearly express that there will be specific consequences if the Kyrgyzstan government continues to advance homophobic and toxic legislation.
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 country strategy to prevent this law from moving forward and to discourage the introduction of other legislation that would impact the rights of the LGBT community.
- Communicate with and support groups such as Labrys who are the most effective voices for change in their country, including through material support.
- Partner with the Council of Europe to promote its use of 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.
- Create a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People in the State Department to coordinate continued U.S. leadership on the global stage, including in Kyrgyzstan.