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A Concentration Camp By Any Other Name

Cracking down on LGBT rights, here and abroad

Apr. 18, 2017
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Chechnya, that charming republic of the Russian Federation, is back in the news. You may recall Chechnya’s recent brutal decade of civil wars with 350,000 casualties (Russia “won” and Vladimir Putin solidified his role as the guy who could fix things). Well, that restive home of Cossacks and khingalsh pumpkin bread now boasts a concentration camp for gays.

The news evoked the requisite appalled response. Lesbian talk show host Ellen DeGeneres decried it, of course, and former Vice President Joe Biden called on the White House to condemn it. Yes, I know…calling upon the morally bankrupt to exercise a compassionate, human reaction to inherent evil is a fool’s errand.

Anyway, the news reminded me of Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) insidious retort to those who protested Indiana’s Religious Freedom law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTs. His infamous rationale went “it’s important we have a sense of perspective … In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay.”

Aside from implying gays are criminals, Cotton’s dismissal of LGBT rights and his count-your-blessings attitude should make one thing clear: Before we address concentration camps in Chechnya, we need to finally close our own. And yes, we have them. Given our enlightened Western ways, our incarceration takes less odious forms. It’s all relative. Denying human dignity doesn’t require barbed wire and watch towers. Overt or subliminal discrimination, creating obstacles for LGBT families to adopt, conversion therapy, driving children to suicide (or threatening to kill them if they’re gay), trauma induced by fear of physical or psychological terrorism from trans- or gay-bashing whether in the streets or from a pulpit all have the same effect. Think of those, who, even today, stay in the closet out of fear; think of out but aging LGBTs who return to the closet when they find themselves in hostile senior living facilities. 

Meanwhile, while the smoke-and-mirror manner of our current administration distracts us with $100 million dollar fireworks shows, Tennessee Sen. Mark Green, well known for his anti-LGBT agenda, has been nominated for U.S. Army Secretary. Ironically, but not surprisingly, he would replace a gay man. Members of North Carolina’s relentlessly homophobic legislature attempted to overturn marriage equality. A similar movement is underway in Texas. Laws eroding our rights can be stealthily enacted, ostensibly in the name of religious freedom. The revived conservative tilt of the Supreme Court will encourage anti-LGBT legal challenges. And while immigration crackdowns are claimed to protect the rest of us, their rationale could easily be reformulated to crack down on LGBTs, in the name of some concocted threat to Christian values.

Locally, we have the machinations of Wisconsin Family Action to contend with. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is already under attack with her opposition playing the lesbian card to incite the Republican base. A local beer magnate has already promised millions to take her senate seat.

I know I’m repeating myself. But now with “immigration detention centers,” “deportation force” and “Muslim ban” part of our political vocabulary, it’s time to act. We can’t expect those who offered mock remorse over last year’s Orlando massacre and exploited our tragedy for their devices to stop at those others who are perceived as different.


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