The author, waving the flag of Kazakhstan, at a pride march in Prague (Image credit: Esquire Kazakhstan and author’s own)
Issues pertaining to LGBT community have gained increasing traction in Kazakhstan, with LGBT-related articles, interviews, and news getting more attention than most local and global events – a trend that stems from the taboo status of sex and sexuality in the region, and forces that seek to either preserve or disrupt this status quo (see links below). Yet very few LGBT individuals dare to open up to their own families, let alone through the media. In addition, discrimination is faced directly or indirectly on almost any level both in the professional and personal life of an individual. In this sense, LGBT visibility in Kazakhstan exists as somewhat a paradox – as prominent on the global stage and yet invisible as a social group in the country itself.
Few studies have pertained to LGBT issues in Kazakhstan, with existing research reflecting high levels of homophobia in society. A study organized by the Friedrech Eberett Founation highlighted that homosexuals remain the third least favoured neighbours (16,6%) among Kazakh youth, after alcoholics (25,7%) and drug abusers (17,8%). In addition, Human Rights Watch has also reported that LGBT individuals are not only forced to hide their identity, but are also vulnerable to physical and sexual abuses. Many are afraid to address such cases to police fearing outing, or further abuse or blackmail from the police. In many cases LGBT people would face disapproval and disowning by their families, and could even face corrective rapes or murder.
The state has sponsored LGBT friendly service, such as local HIV prevention offices that provide free testing and free condoms to mainly MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender people. Yet there are still laws that discriminate against LGBT people directly: marriage is not allowed between individuals of the same sex; no surrogacy or children adoption is permitted to homosexual; and homosexuals cannot serve in the military or police force. In addition, although transgender people are officially recognized, they are only allowed to change their ID after they have gone through a mandatory psychiatric 30-day evaluation and sex-reassignment surgery. This not only forces individuals who fail to comply to these regulations into illegal work, but also limits their access to education and travel. Furthermore, although the Constitution forbids discrimination on any basis including gender, nationality or other grounds, this is not seen to extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. As a result, courts often ignore this statute when cases involve LGBT individuals.
In recent years however there has been an increasing anti-LGBT stance by authorities in Kazakhstan. This has been informed in part by Russian influence, that resonates strongly in Central Asia. Politicians in Kazakhstan have adopted homophobic rhetoric on many occasions, which is also prevalent in Russian politics to advance anti-LGBT laws. These include the infamous anti-propaganda bill that has sought to mute LGBT-related discourse in public spaces. The Constitutional court however recently turned down the latest initiative of the law, sending it back for further development.
At the moment, because of strong public backlash and social pressures, t. Issues of safety have also prevented prospective activists from coming to the fore. There are, however, several civil initiatives such as Kok Team that advocate for LGBT rights, as well as provide psychological and juridical support to in the community. There are also online resources – including Feminita and Alma-TQ that are dedicated to LGBT issues and various other communities in Kazakhstan. International and local human rights defending institutions and healthcare funds have also organized activities and support for the LGBT community. In addition, active local communities have been formed in the two major cities of Almaty and Astana. These hold regular meet-ups, activities, flash mobs and other modes of socializing. These movements however have yet to develop objectives that go beyond social activities. This is likely to result from internalized homophobia, misogyny and transphobia within the community, as well as the increase in an anti-LGBT social environment, that has prevented the development of any coherent organized
Amir Shaikezhanov is an LGBT activist based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. He is also a contributor to an LGBT dedicated web-portal kok.team that aims to both strengthen the LBTQ+ community and increase visibility of LGBT in society.
News, Interviews, and articles:
In this series:
- Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements across Asia – Singapore by Cassandra Thng
- Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements across Asia – Lebanon by Ismail Shogo
- Resistance and Subversion: Queer Movements across Asia Concluding Remarks – A Comparative Outlook of Singapore, Kazakhstan and Lebanon by Ismail Shogo