Things are tough enough for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Kyrgyzstan, who suffer daily from stigma and discrimination.
Now it looks like things may get even tougher.
Today, the human rights committee of the Kyrgyz parliament, in a 4 – 3 majority vote, approved a bill, taking it a step closer to becoming law, which makes it illegal to spread information about “non-traditional sexual relations.” This bill would make it a crime for anyone to discuss anything related to LGBT people in public space either through the media, or by organizing public events to discuss LGBT issues.
I have lived, studied, and worked in Kyrgyzstan, so I know that homophobia is pervasive there. But the country has made democratic strides in recent years, which is why it is so surprising to see such a blatantly discriminatory bill that violates core human rights obligations make its way through parliament, almost unchallenged. Why didn’t the members of the human rights committee take a principled stance against a bill that violates basic rights and freedoms? Is it because the majority of committee members is catering to populist homophobia and transphobia in Kyrgyz society?
In recent months, various MPs have publicly denounced LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan, one calling them a “tragedy” that should be “prevented”; another said LGBT people should be “shunned.” LGBT activists have had no success engaging with MPs over the bill, and while they did meet with the human rights committee, a majority still ended up voting in favor of the bill. Not surprisingly, the activists now feel helpless to counter the wave of misinformation about LGBT people.
Human rights groups in Kyrgyzstan and internationally have criticized the content of this bill. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which recently granted Kyrgyzstan’s parliament “partner for democracy” status, explicitly urged Kyrgyzstan not to proceed with the adoption of this bill. The Kyrgyz parliament has taken the initiative to seek this status with the Council of Europe: it remains to be seen whether they will do what it takes to be worthy of such status by rejecting an assault on basic fundamental rights and equality.