Religion Out of Balance: Aceh’s Latest Pogrom

By Lynnea Urania Stuart


Their eyes told a completely different story from what the sullen police chief demanded.  He attempted to present to the world the amazing “success” of his “re-education” of Acehnese Waria (transwomen,)1 to set an example of the imagined superiority of machismo in yet another abuse of religion and human rights.  Many locals in the Aceh province of Indonesia on the island of Sumatra, of course, would believe him, especially the less educated.

Much of the world, however, could see through the pretense.  So could his victims, even if they dared not admit it.  Perhaps others may follow his example of a gross degradation, authorities who back religious Dominionism in its various forms whether East or West, North or South.  But broader-minded people look upon these actions with disgust, and for more progressive Muslims, perhaps even betrayal.  This week’s round-up of transwomen to “masculinize” them has aroused the ire of multiple human rights organizations for good reason.  It’s another of the many pogroms in the name of religion that have accumulated in history’s garbage dump of backwardness.

Not that the authorities of Aceh care.  Religious fanaticism renders such people pathologically incapable of caring, replacing the genuine human interest that brings disparate peoples together into a working society with the stink of high-handed arrogance fueled by ambition.

But it’s neither an exclusively Muslim nor Indonesian trait, of course.  What happened this week in Indonesia, certain factions desire in the United States.  The actions in Aceh province weren’t examples of harmony-a-la-Sharia.  It’s an example of the kind of forcefulness that has typified every society in which religion becomes enforced upon everyone, whether its people universally believe it or not.  It’s a mockery of faith, a blasphemy against the human spirit, the work of the children of a hateful god cloaked in the garb of the Highest, and a slide in fulfillment of international human rights obligations.



On Monday, January 29, 2018, AFP reported the local police chief Ahmad Untun Surianata declaring:

“We have reports from mothers that their sons were teased by the transgender women.  Their numbers are growing here.  I don’t want that.2

That came after a raid upon 6 beauty salons in Lhoksukon and Pantonlabu.3 The police rounded up a dozen trans employees.  The round-up was accompanied by local vigilantes who tried to storm the transwomen.  Police charged the transwomen with “violating the religious laws of Aceh province”.  Police sheared the long hair of some and forced them to wear male clothing.4

Aceh province has been collectively ruled by Sharia law since 2001, sanctioned by the Jakarta government to appease separatists in the region.4 Sharia, of course, offers no universal standard of conduct, except that it’s based upon Islamic teaching as laid out by local imams.  It’s whatever the locals make of it.  Sharia could in some places make a harmonious society.  It can also be abused, teaching intolerance and bigotry, causing many to hate it and to hate the very religion that promotes it.

But the words of the police chief were tell-tale.  What exactly did he mean by “teased”?  Could “teasing” mean people somehow felt moved by the femininity of these transwomen and they felt dissonance with their Islamic upbringing?  It could.  Could this “teasing” have been a defensive measure much like what transwomen did at the Stonewall Uprising in 1969?  It could.  Were these transwomen first under attack by local vigilantes before they had a chance to do anything else? Very likely so.   It’s difficult to believe that transwomen from 6 beauty salons in 2 separate towns would somehow conspire to make trouble at the same time.  How does anyone get a singular incident of “teasing” out of 2 towns without some planned provocation in the first place?

Worse yet, the “I” in the police chief’s comment, “Their numbers are growing here” and “I don’t want that” is a very big one.  In saying this he suggess that this action was his own, not one ordered by the provincial authority.  It reeks of selfish ambition, possibly as a means of scoring religio-political points of his own.

This is clearly a pogrom instigated at the hands of an ambitious police chief representing a party of extremists.  CNN reported that the operation was part of a campaign to prevent LGBT peoples from “adversely affecting” the next generation of Indonesians.  The actions weren’t even intended to force a cosmetic makeover either.  Officers also forced their detainees to run for an extended period, chanting loudly till their “male voices came out.”6

North Aceh Police Chief Untung Sangaji addressed a crowd according to a YouTube posting, where he said:

“Our ulama [scholars] disagree with this disease. [It] is spreading.  It’s inhumane if Untung Sangaji is to tolerate these [sic] sissy garbage.”7

He also declared that he decided to work with the Sharia police after receiving complaints from local clerics.  He warned that he not only intended to prosecute the transwomen but also any visitors to their salons.8



It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what the relationship is between Sangaji and Surinata, or whether these are 2 names for the same person.  But the attitude is clearly the same.  The decision to work with Sharia police was his own.  The North Aceh police chief considers it “inhumane” to require “tolerance”, specifically “inhumane” against him personally as an affront to his authority.  It’s the same kind of “inhumanity” that religious extremists in the United States consider a violation of their own “religious liberty” if they are required to “tolerate” LGBT peoples.

 But we don’t call upon peoples of the world to tolerate us.  That’s not what we demand.  We demand liberty.  Tolerance isn’t the opposite of intolerance.  Liberty is the opposite.  Tolerance is a shifty mean.

Tolerance in societies is like tolerance in shop practices measured by inches, millimeters, or microns. A standard is set and any allowable deviation from that standard is tolerance.  In societal tolerance, that standard is one by which one uses to judge another.  As concerns actions of cruelty and meanness, we must judge.  Cruelty must not be tolerated.  But when it comes to how a person identifies, the fact of his, her, or eir existence cannot be judged this way, whether it’s a matter of ethnicity, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  We have no right whatsoever to pass judgment upon people concerning existential matters.

That’s the difference between tolerance and liberty.  Tolerance presumes the right to pass judgment upon one’s neighbor.  Liberty allows no such right.  Germany was an incredibly tolerant nation and even had a thriving gay culture prior to Hitler.  Then Germany sowed death camps across central Europe like sowing winter wheat.  Tolerance ran thin.  After all, social tolerance upon existential matters can’t be measured except perhaps through surveys.  It’s something vague, subjective, and changeable on a whim.  That shiftiness alone makes tolerance untrustworthy because “tolerance” sooner or later will end in acts of wholesale cruelty.

It’s a shift that has repeated in every society without exception including the United States.  When tolerance fails, something else happens.  Principles like liberty, humanity, and inhumanity go through redefinition to accommodate their claimants who become desperate to assert their own authority or imagined authority.  Police Chief Sangaji called any call for his tolerance “inhumane” not only because he felt that authority threatened somehow, but because he acted out of religious hatred.  In much the same way, many American parachurch organizations demand “religious liberty” to force their religious mores upon those not of their religious communities.  The 2 are essentially no different.

This kind of criminalization is essentially like what Arkansas legislators attempted in 2017 in a series of bills designed to make it impossible for transpeople to exist in that state.  They wanted to prosecute any transperson with “public indecency.”9 Their bills didn’t fly in 2017.  Few believe proponents won’t make another try.  Proponents in Arkansas attempted a pogrom of their own. 

But in Indonesia as a whole, the shift in human rights recognition isn’t just evident in Aceh.  Homosexuality is already prohibited in by Aceh’s Sharia law.  In May 2017, 2 men were caned 83 times, a punishment, not only designed to inflict serious pain, but disfigurement as well.  But now the whole nation of Indonesia could likewise outlaw homosexuality in February, with convictions resulting in 5 years in prison.10



A completely different face concerning human rights in Indonesia appears in the website for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) than what’s revealed through Amnesty International.  The ASEAN website attempts to show that the world’s largest Muslim nation honors human rights.   We find this immediate claim about the establishment of a human rights office:

“The issuance of Law No. 39 Year 1999 on Human Rights reinforced the creation of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), initially established under Presidential Decree No. 50 Year 1999. Komnas HAM is endowed with the functions to study, research, disseminate, monitor, and mediate human rights issues. Komnas HAM has completed investigations into five past human rights cases and recommended that the Attorney General’s Office establish ad hoc human rights courts for the following cases: Trisakti Case (1998), Semanggi I (1998) and Semanggi II (1999) Cases, May 1998 Case, Talangsari Case (1989), and Wasior and Wamena (2000). The establishment of such human rights courts was impeded by the unwillingness of the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute the cases.”11

It sounds impressive.  But 5 sets of human right cases represent a teaspoon of sugar in a swimming pool of rancid tea.  Besides, what has Komnas HAM done since 2000?  Did the Office of the Attorney General so thwart the activities of Komnas HAM that they only exist as a figurehead?  Amnesty International reported this concerning LGBT peoples in 2016-2017 with even greater indictments concerning freedom of expression, freedom of minority religions, prisoners of conscience, impunity given to rogue law enforcement people, torture, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment:

Discrimination increased against LGBTI people after officials made inflammatory, grossly inaccurate or misleading statements in January on the grounds of ‘defending the country’s public morality and public security’. In February, police disbanded a workshop organized by a leading LGBTI NGO in Jakarta and prevented a pro-LGBTI rally from taking place in Yogyakarta. In the same month, the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission issued a letter calling for a ban on any television or radio broadcasts promoting LGBTI activities, to ‘protect the children’.

“Also in February, amid increasing anti-LGBTI rhetoric, the Islamic school for transgender people, Al Fatah in Yogyakarta, was forced to close following intimidation and threats by the Islamic Jihadist Front. In June, the government voted against a resolution by the UN Human Rights Council, and again at the UN General Assembly in November, to appoint an independent expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”12

It’s interesting that in Indonesia, as in the United States, extremists declare similarly against LGBT peoples, declaring us “diseased”, “a threat to public morality,” a “threat to public security,” and a “threat to children.”  However, the American Psychological Association disagrees with the view that we’re “diseased” and children generally have no trouble accepting the concept of transpeople unless taught by elders to disrespect us, with examples being found in everyday trans experience.  It’s a religiously orchestrated red herring.

We also find this on the ASEAN site concerning their glowing report on Indonesia:

“Indonesia has ratified or accessed to eight of nine international human rights treaties, namely the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and two of its Optional Protocols, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Indonesia is a signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (OP-CEDAW) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (CPED).

“Indonesia was selected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (2011-2014) for the third consecutive period since 2006. As of September 2013, Indonesia has received 13 visits of the UN Special Procedures and agreed to the visits of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Health.”13

So what has happened to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)?  You’d think the actions against transpeople in Aceh would be addressed by this convention.  But Amnesty International made the following observation about Indonesia’s commitment to human rights:

Broad and vaguely worded laws were used to arbitrarily restrict the rights to freedom of expression, of peaceful assembly and of association. Despite the authorities’ commitments to resolve past cases of human rights violations, millions of victims and their families were still denied truth, justice and reparation. There were reports of human rights violations by security forces, including unlawful killings and the use of excessive or unnecessary force. At least 38 prisoners of conscience remained in detention. Four people were executed.”14

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch reported that more than 300 LGBT people were arrested across Indonesia in 2017.15  Nothing is said concerning the nature of these arrests.  But given the actions this week in Aceh, we may expect an escalation of incidents.

It appears that the desire to hold the Indonesian union together in the face of Islamist extremists has undermined the Jakarta government’s willingness to fulfill its international human rights obligations.  What’s happening in Aceh is representative of growing intolerance.  That intolerance cannot help but further fracture the Indonesian union over time.  Jakarta increasingly risks losing the goodwill of many of its diverse peoples.  Instead of preventing civil war, it has sowed the seeds for exactly that and for many, Indonesia will cease to be a country where anyone but a structured majority could possibly live.



For the Waria, Aceh is already unlivable.  Various eye expressions appear in the “thumbs-up” AFP photo of 8 of the dozen victims in male garb and close-cut hair.  They’re gathered around a stern police chief whose uniform shined with decorations reminiscent of Ugandan tyrant, Idi Amin.  We see eyes full of mockery, eyes that suggest a desire for revenge, eyes that suggest a desire to die on one’s own terms, and eyes that were just plain tired.

Islamic authorities may think they’ve won.  They haven’t.  Far from it.  Those with a genuine and persistent desire for transition can’t be kept down forever.  Perhaps some may acquiesce to detransition.  Some may choose to suffer.  Some may choose suicide once they find opportunity to carry it out.  Others would try to escape Aceh, even Indonesia entirely and then re-transition.  By sea, it’s less than 500 kilometers to Phuket, Thailand, where surgeons perform gender confirmation surgeries.  Some may flee to Jakarta or even Australia.

In fact, some Waria have fled already.  Shannon Power of Gay Star News has been kind enough to cooperate with those who seek to assist Waria seeking to escape Aceh.  She published an e-mail for anyone seeking information on how to donate to that cause:  Her help provides a buffer between genuine donors and those who seek to target such efforts and to further abridge the liberties of the Waria.16

After all, if the police chief threatens patrons of the beauty salons, one could expect to be targeted just by approaching one of the Waria or asking questions to identify them.  Facilitating escape is a dangerous activity.  One could as easily take severe risks with the law by facilitating an escape from Iran, Chechnya, or North Korea.

It’s the case when any society goes mad with NIMBYism (NIMBY being an acronym for “Not In My Back Yard”) amid a pernicious craze of religious extremism.  Today’s freedoms could evaporate in a tide of intolerance in any country.   Indonesia is sliding downward right alongside America’s current slide, both built upon fear of one’s neighbor that a majority does not want to understand.

It’s for us to help.  It’s also for us to protect what liberties remain as part of our role to heal the earth.



Featured image:  Map of the region, showing the location of events described in the article (by author, adapted from satellite image Google Earth), Enhanced details of mistreatment of transwoman by shearing and arrest of detainees during the round-up (YouTube: Current Affairs).

  1. AFP photo showing the police chief of North Aceh posing with forcibly masculinized transwomen, all giving the “thumbs up” signal, article: Megan Palin. “Transgender women released from jail on one condition: ‘Return to their nature as men’” com (Australia, January 29, 2018, accessed January 29, 2018)
  2. AFP “Indonesian police force ‘manly makeover’ on transgender beauticians in Aceh” The Straits Times (January 29, 2018, accessed January 29, 2018)
  3. Jakarta Post “Amnesty International condemns arrest of transgender women in Aceh” Jakarta Post (January 30, 2018, accessed January 30, 2018)
  4. Op. cit.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ben Wescott and Mochamad Andri. “Indonesian police shaved transgender women and made them dress as men” CNN (updated January 30, 2018, accessed January 30, 2018)
  7. Andreas Harsono. “Indonesian Police Arrest Transgender Women” Human Rights Watch (January 30, 2018, accessed January 30, 2018)
  8. Ibid.
  9. Stefanie Gerdes. “Arkansas could make it ‘illegal to be transgender’ this week” Gay Star News (March 27, 2017, accessed January 29, 2018)
  10. Josh Jackman. “Indonesia is set to ban gay sex” Pink News (January 31, 2018, accessed January 31, 2018)
  11. “Constitution, Laws & Court Decisions” Human Rights in ASEAN (ASEAN Website accessed January 30, 2018)
  12. (n.a.) “Indonesia 2016/2017” Amnesty International (accessed January 30, 2018)
  13. Op. cit.
  14. Op. cit.
  15. Andreas Harsono,
  16. Shannon Power. “Trans women are trying to flee Aceh after police raids and vigilante attacks” Gay Star News (January 30, 2018, accessed January 30, 2018)
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The Coffins: the struggle for human rights amid consolidation of power

By Lynnea Urania Stuart


People called it the “sick man of Europe” before World War I when it was still an Ottoman Empire.1  Despite revival as a constitutional republic under Kamal Atatürk, and a trend toward secular Europeanism, Turkey now has become increasingly isolated from the West, its entry into the European Union in serious doubt, with realignment of interests with the Russian Federation and a conspicuous decline of human rights.  Part of that decline might be attributed to fears of Kurdish factions and the so-called “Islamic State.”  But others have been caught up in the political melee that sloshed like a pot boiling over when its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidated power.2

That includes others deemed undesirable and that’s more than minority ethnicities.  It includes transpeople branded as “sinners”, some of which have been incarcerated in what have been called “coffins” by Turkish activists.  Today, activists fear something more:  consolidation of LGBT prisoners into a dedicated prison near İzmir, modern day Smyrna, a city named after the healing resin myrrh.3  But when it comes to the coffins, the “healing” offered more resembles worse than the “conversion therapies” of the West.



July 15, 2016 brought shocking developments and also stories of incredible herosism.  Turkish military leaders attempted to overthrow President Erdoğan.  A security detail even kidnapped Turkey’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hulusi Akar.  Social media had a major role to play in the failure of that coup d’état because it provided a means for President Erdoğan to communicate with his people and it helped to organize immediate widespread resistance against the coup.  Common people, some armed with kitchen utensils, stood with loyalist troops till the rebellion toppled in a few hours.  The last contingent of the rebellion surrendered on the Bosporus Bridge.4

The Erdoğan government blamed Fethulla Gulen of the religious movement Hizmet.  Gulen has been living in exile in the United States since 1999.  Gulenists, once allies of AKP, had staffed government positions with their own people, arousing suspicion with President Erdoğan.5

Then on July 22, the Erdoğan government declared a state of emergency to remove all elements of “terrorism” in the coup attempt.  The Turkish Justice Ministry demanded extradition of Gulen to Turkey.  But to date, U.S. authorities insist that evidence for arrest and extradition is insufficient, a position that seriously damaged Turkish-American relations.6

Recent organizations regarded as “terrorist” include Daesh (the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”),  the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.  But civilians have also been targeted by Turkish forces who directly and indirectly blame groups such as these, and carry out suspicions with impunity.7

The level of impunity enjoyed by Turkish officials under such a political climate contributes to something else:  exacerbation of human rights violations against minorities including LGBT peoples.  It also means suppression of journalists.  Human Rights Watch reported that news websites and newspapers including the daily Zaman have been blocked and seized, journalists jailed, television stations removed from the state-owned satellite distribution system, and increased requests to Twitter to censor individual accounts.8

This trend in Turkey, of course, goes against the liberties that constitutional republics are supposed to facilitate as guardians of democracy.  However, President Erdoğan himself has been quoted to say, “Democracy is a vehicle, not a goal.”  The statement implies that his goal consisted of something other than that of a democratic reformer like Atatürk.9

In the crosshairs of many who brutally seek their own power amid this climate of elevated suspicion and oppression lurk transfolk who have long struggled for survival.



The heritage of transpeople in Turkey has some of the most ancient roots anywhere.  The ruins of Pessinus, the center of the worship of Cybele and the Gallī (Gallae to our modern equivalents) can still be found there.  Cybele’s home at Mt. Ida overlooks the island of Lesbos in the northwest of Turkey as well as the ruins of the city of Troy who would also have known the ministration of the Gallae.  To the south at Ephesus, the worship of Artemis was attended by transgender Megabyzes.  Nobody really knows how far back into antiquity transgender priests have existed.10

Turkey has also been the home of the Temple and Spring of Hermaphroditus, its location now said to be isolated below sea level at a military installation near Bodrum.11

Of course, the fortunes of transpeople of antiquity reversed in the 4th Century CE with the “conversion” of Constantine and the Edict of Rome signed on August 6, 390 CE by Theodosius, with his son and co-Augustus Arcadius, and Valentinian IIThe Edict of Rome consigned “male effeminates” to death by burning, and this formed part of the Corpus Juris Civilis that set the standard for European law for centuries to come.12

While the Edict of Rome may have suppressed transpeople during the Byzantine period, transpeople did gain a measure of recovery under Ottoman rule.  Turkish culture did for many years honor the performances of köçek troupes, males who performed as women.  Homosexuality did exist among the Ottomans, though practices appear to have been covert.13



During the time transpeople in North America and Europe have asserted their right to exist, Turkish LGBT peoples have taken notice.  For a time it even appeared that transpeople would gain greater status in an enlightened country with the work of Michelle Demishevich on IMC-TV, Istanbul.  However, Michelle was fired September 19, 2014 with charges of “violation of professional ethics,” specifically addressing her “attitude and conduct” while denying that her termination had anything to do with her gender identity.  Of course “attitude and conduct” would include how she presented herself as a journalist.  It’s a pattern we commonly find among employers, even in the United States, who terminate trans workers because of their “presentation and deportment” according to gender identity while falsely claiming another cause for termination, or stating reasons for termination in a nebulous, non-specific way.14

By no means was her termination the first in what would become a series of hits against LGBT peoples.  Authorities answered Istanbul’s 10th annual LGBT Pride event in 2013 with tear gas and water canons.  The protest, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, stood in the face of expressions that followed the World Values Survey in 2011.  According to that survey, 84% of Turkish people dislike gays or lesbians living as neighbors.  The reaction by authorities in Istanbul demonstrated that liberty had not been achieved, and that intolerance ruled Turkish hearts instead.  How did Turkish attitudes slide concerning transpeople?  Very likely, Turks learned those attitudes over recent generations through its adoption of Europeanism in the early to mid 20th Century 15

Authorities’ actions would go a step further in 2016, a year before the coup.  Istanbuls governor ordered a ban of LGBT Pride events and any parade associated with it, citing security concernsand referencing Daesh and Kurdish militants.  Indeed, militants of Daesh had also determined to shut down gay rights rallies with counter-protests.  When a group of activists gathered to read a statement denouncing the ban, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and detained 19 activists.16

But anger has continued to seethe over the brutal rape and murder of trans activist Hande Kader August 12, 2016.  Hande, of course, was not the first transperson to be brutally murdered in Turkey, nor was she the first activist to meet such a fate.  We’ve recounted murders of transpeople in Turkey virtually every year at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Hande’s body was found in a forest.  She had been raped and burned to death.  The outrage sparked protest in Istanbul, demanding justice, hoping that her murder would mark a turning point.  But that didn’t happen.17

What did happen was Ankara banning all “gay functions.”  This happened on November 18, 2017, arguing that theater events, exhibitions, panels, colloquia, etc. would “provoke reactions within certain segments of society” and are at risk of being targeted by “terrorists”.18



Many LGBT peoples have simply disappeared through arrest and incarceration.  Nisan Su Aras of  Hürriyet Daily News reported a response from the Justice Ministry to Zafer Kıraç who questioned their disposition as the chair of the Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CİSST).  The Justice Ministry indicated that 79 LGBT people are being held in solitary confinement and that a “special type of institution” dedicated to housing LGBT peoples is being erected near İzmir.19

The Justice Ministry also described the detainees as “having LGBT” in a manner that suggests that Turkish authorities consider “LGBT” to be mental illness.20

“Pink prisons,” as they are often called, are those facilities which have separate housing for LGBT peoples.  Currently the only ones that exist are in Ankara, Istanbul, and Corum, though solitary confinement has also been practiced elsewhere.  You’d think that this might be a good thing in that LGBT peoples are housed separately from other malicious inmates.  In the case of Turkey, however, this has served to work in the other direction, further isolating inmates in concentrated conditions of abuse.  Reports have emerged of beatings, rape, sexually charged insults and other forms of sexual molestation by guards.21

On January 6, 2015, 18 LGBT associations issued a joint statement against the İzmir prison, asserting that it would further isolate, stigmatize, and facilitate discrimination against LGBT individuals, involving also their families and social circles.  It also complained that many would have to travel great distances to visit detainees.22



An important ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) based in Strasbourg, Germany in 2012 has offered the best hope for activists in Turkey to ameliorate the suffering of detainees.  The case pertains to a prisoner at the İzmir-Buca Prison, not to be confused with the proposed “pink prison” in İzmir.

The text of the ruling, translated by Google, indicates the following:

  1. On 5 February 2009 the prison administration decided to place the applicant in a single cell. The minutes in this issue include the following statement:

“(…) the prisoner who has been arrested for homosexual illness has been placed in a single cell instead of a war where he is staying.”

  1. The Applicant has stated that the population of his/her residence is 7 m2, half of the living area. The applicant also stated that there is a single bed and toilet, but there is no sink. There are mice in the cell, the lighting is poor and the room is dirty.  The applicant stated that there were 10 more of the same types of detainees used for detention charges or for accusation of pedophilia or rape.  On 5 February 2009, the applicant, after being placed in a single person cell, was disconnected from all other detainees and subjected to all kinds of social activities.  He is prevented from going outdoors and allowed to leave his cell only to meet with his lawyer or to attend regular meetings that are held regularly every months. [sic]

  2. The Government not only refused to acknowledge these facts but also informed that there were furniture in the cell and that the means necessary for daily living such as lighting, toilets, beds, cupboards and chairs were available. The Government stated that the applicant was alone in his cell until the arrival of another homosexual prisoner in prison.

  3. On 21 April 2009 the applicant filed a request for the removal of the decisions taken by the İzmir Prosecutor’s Office. The applicant stated that the application form is homosexual, not transvestite or transsexual. According to the applicant, the sexual orientation led to being kept in a single cell without having any contact with other detainees and without participating in any social activity.  In addition, he stated that the above conditions have caused psychiatric problems in himself for about 3 months.  The applicant stated that in the Turkish penal execution system, only prisoners convicted of aggravated life imprisonment were held on similar terms.  The applicant therefore requested that he be treated equally with the other detainees.23

The decision of the court centered upon this issue:

“Article 14 of the Convention reads as follows:

‘The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be without discrimination of sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, membership of a national minority, wealth, birth or any other circumstance.”

  1. The Government opposes this claim and suggests that the purpose of the applicant’s self-appointed single-celled cellar is to protect itself, not discrimination.”24

The court sided with the Applicant:

  1. “In the circumstances of this case, the Court notes that the applicant complained that the inconsistency of the exclusion order from the prison community was in violation of Article 3 of the Convention (paragraph 51 above) [specifically speaking of the isolation as a ‘deep attack on his spiritual and physical suffering and also in the honor of humanity-Author]. The Court recalls that the above applicant assessed that if the standard coherence was concerned, the worries of bodily integrity being exposed to the attack were not entirely unfounded (paragraph 48).  However, as noted above, these concerns are not enough to justify the measure of total isolation from prison life, even if some security measures are required to protect the applicant.

  2. On the other hand, the Court disagrees with the argument that the Government’s secrecy measures were taken at the request of the applicant. The applicant or the deputy requested the prison administration to transfer the applicant to a ward where the homosexual prisoners were held or to another appropriate ward (paragraph 8 above).  The applicant’s deputy stated that his client had been imprisoned and harassed by other detainees to support this request.  As for the applicant, he reported that he had “problems”.  In short, requests were made to transfer authorities to a ward appropriate to the applicant’s situation.”25

The ruling included awarding partial damages to the Applicant.26

You’d think this ruling should have sent shock waves through the Turkish penal system concerning solitary confinement.  However, no appreciable change appears to have taken place.  But this ruling appears to have given further impetus in the Turkish mind to erect a dedicated prison for LGBT individuals “to assure their safety.”  Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag indicated in 2014 the “necessity” of the prison and that construction was continuing.27



Of course, based upon the aforementioned joint statement by 18 LGBT organizations, scarcely anyone in the Turkish LGBT Community believes the dedicated facility would mean improvement in living conditions, precisely because Turkish officials have demonstrated open hostility, stigmatizing LGBT peoples as “diseased” in the first place.

 LGBTI News Turkey has long boldly publicized incidents of hate against transpeople in Turkey including abuse by Turkish authorities.  This month, the site has told the world about 2 transwomen who had been incarcerated in Tekirdağ No 2.  One named “Diren” in the article was described as “subject to systematic torture inside an F-type prison cell coffin for 3 years longer.  F-type prisons are those facilities geared to solitary confinement.  The article also mentions a detainee called “Buse” who was sentenced to 37 years and convicted without a defense attorney.  She only revealed her gender identity during incarceration.28

“Diren” was accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” without tangible evidence and convicted.  She is vegan, so has fed on boiled potatoes and tomatoes.  Her requests for female attire have been denied.  Doctors at the infirmary are described as “indifferent”.  Officers refer to her in the masculine.29

The case of “Buse” is being followed up by IHD (Human Rights Association) Co-Chair and attorney Eren Keskin, who has taken charge of the judicial process to clarify her demands for justice.  A statement concerning her case and “Diren’s” is expected next week.  Meantime, both prisoners are writing their histories and experience in their incarcerations.30

One thing that seems so compelling about the cases of these 2 transwomen is the liberal use of “terrorism” to justify incarceration, regardless of how quietly one may happen to live.  Exactly what is “terrorism”, especially in Turkey’s institutional paranoia after the failed coup d’état?

It’s an important question, not just for Turkey, but also for the United States whose “Alt-Right”, in close association with its Evangelical Dominionists, has infiltrated law enforcement throughout the country.31

It’s important because U.S. prisons also often place trans inmates in solitary confinement, doing so “for their protection” from abuse including rape.  Usually, solitary confinement simply consists of single cell residency, not necessarily places of extreme isolation and darkness, often referred to as “the hole.” But in our prisons, abuses have also been noted and publicized.32

What would solitary confinement mean in an American prison system dominated by Dominionists who may insist on “praying away the gay” while facilitating prison rape and beatings?  Would “conversion therapy” become the norm in penal institutions?  No doubt there are Dominionists who would prefer exactly that.  It would also contribute to international complicity with respect to LGBT detainees in prison systems like that in Turkey and other countries whose conditions are even more deplorable.

For Turkey, this mitigation is the fulcrum of what may come, especially where the Erdoğan agenda appears to have backtracked on the reforms set in motion by Kamal Atatürk in his program of Europeanization.  But it takes more than a new orthography to realize the vision of Atatürk.  His reforms should have set forth something momentous for Turkey and the world.  One cannot adopt Europeanism without becoming part of those trends in advance of human rights that has marked the European evolution. 

But some Turks actually do get what it means to rise above the miasma of bigotries and hatreds.  Continuing protests evidence the fact.  The work of attorneys in human rights organizations evidences it too.  There is hope for Turkish society, even in an age of paranoia where human rights are reversed in a period of de-democratization. The “norm” of brutality can eventually be understood as a pervasive evil.

It’s a historical “norm” that has characterized the status of human rights more often than not in systems entrusted to a lecherous species that too often has not been mitigated by deep philosophical thought, but the dogma of religiosity instead.  The status of LGBT prisoners in Turkey could easily be true for ours at any time.  Ultimately, only our vigilance and publication of facts to the world in appeal to conscience can mitigate it.



Featured Image: A monument to Kemal Ataturk as educator of Turkey’s next generations stands against an image of LGBT protest. (Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Cengiz Çandar. “No Longer ‘Sick Man,’ Turkey Is Lonely, Tired” Al Monitor (July 19, 2013, accessed January 10, 2018)
  2. Patrick Kingsley. “Turkey’s Erdogan Tries to Play Nice, After a Year of Bashing Europe” New York Times (December 28, 2017, accessed January 10, 2018)
  3. Moulton, Harold K., ed. The Analytical Greek Lexicon , Revised (Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids MI, 1981) ISBN: 0-310-20280-9, p. 371, entry: σμύρνα.
  4. (n.a.) “Turkey’s Failed Coup Attempt: All You Need to Know” Al Jazeera (accessed January 10, 2018)
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. (n.a) “Turkey 2016/2017” Amnesty International (accessed January 10, 2018)
  8. (n.a.) “Events of 2017: Turkey” Human Rights Watch (accessed January 10, 2018)
  9. Steven A. Cook. “How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again” The Atlantic (July 21, 2016, accessed January 10, 2018)
  10. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Ida’s Barren Summit” Transpire(April 14, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018)
  11. (na.a) “Hermaproditus” Revolvy (accessed January 11, 2018) The specificity of it being on a military base is a matter of belief as an oral tradition.
  12. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Alas the Charioteer” Transpire (November 25, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018)
  13. Hanna, Judith Lynne. Dance, Sex, and Gender: signs of identity, dominance, defiance, and desire (University of Chicago Press, 1988), ISBN: 978-0226315515, p. 57.
  14. John DeLamar. “Turkey: Trans journalist fired from television station” Pink News (September 19, 2014, accessed January 22, 2018)
  15. John Beck. “Turkey’s Violent Homophobia” The Daily Beast (July 1, 2013, accessed January 11, 2018)
  16. Associated Press. “Turkey uses tear gas to break up gay pride gathering” Los Angeles Times (June 26, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018)
  17. Sarah A. Harvard. “Trans rights activist Hande Kader was raped and burned to death in Turkey” Mic (August 19, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018)
  18. (n.a.) “Turkish capital Ankara bans all gay rights functions” BBC (November 19, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018)
  19. Nisan Su Aras. “Majority of imprisoned LGBT’s kept in ‘solitary confinement’” Hürriyet Daily News (July 27, 2013, accessed January 11, 2018)
  20. Ibid.
  21. Sibel Hurtas. “Turkey’s ‘pink prison’” Al Monitor (January 21, 2015, accessed January 11, 2018)
  22. Ibid.
  23. İkincidaire XV Turkey (B aşvur no. 24626/09) Karar, Strasbourg (ruling October 9, 2012, accessed January 11, 2018), sections 9-12.
  24. Ibid, Sec. 52,53.
  25. Ibid, Sec. 58, 59.
  26. Ibid, Sec. 73-75.
  27. (n.a.) “Minister Bozdag: We Homemade Private Prison” (April 12, 2014, accessed January 11, 2018)
  28. (n.a.) “Arat: 2 Trans Women or ‘Sinners’ in a Turkish Prison” LBTQI News Turkey (January 5, 2018, accessed January 10, 2018)
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Alice Speri. “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” The Intercept (January 31, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018)
  32. (n.a.) “Issues: Police, Jails & Prisons” (National Center for Transgender Equality Website accessed January 11, 2018)
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THE LGBT BELLWETHER: The world watches trans and LGBT rights in Russia and Amerika

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

I have a confession to make.  I love Russians.  Really I do.  I even lived with Russians for a month in the former Soviet Union when a group of mine were speaking in public theaters and Russian schools and my time with Russian friends remains some of my fondest memories.  I’ve met people who were more than good.  I met genuinely generous people, even if they mostly lived in grim poverty.

Of course, I entertain no illusion that all Russians are good and many who invited us to speak had ulterior motives or only had interest in the novelty of seeing an American.  After all, an American in a city where the majority consists of ethnic Russians are as much a novelty for Russians as a Russian citizen might be a novelty in places like Cleveland or Salt Lake City.  But, just as certainly, not all Americans are good either.  Some of us have ulterior motives and if we care to meet a Russian it may be for the novelty of meeting a Russian.

Russian-American relations have long been a roller coaster, not only for our respective societies, but for the world. Nations see a continuing clash of 2 societies bristling with enough nuclear weapons to blast all humanity into oblivion many times over.  Russians and Americans don’t always see eye-to-eye.  Then again, must we always?  Not really.  But human rights issues, often made a political issue on both sides, are in fact moral issues.  Both Russians and Americans have proven to be derelict in this regard too many times.  When it comes to the rights of transpeople, we’re seeing something relatively new:  entry of trans issues in the press and corresponding propaganda concerning them.



On New Years Eve, the Russian online propaganda magazine Sputnik International flashed the following headline:  “Tranny Troops: US Military to Accept Transgender Recruits Beginning 2018.” In a recent search, it was evident that Sputnik International changed the headline to read “Trans Troops,” possibly as a result of an international outcry led by the British LGBT news service PinkNews.  But the article wasn’t just disturbing for using an anti-transgender slur, it was disturbing because the article presented the presence of openly transgender people in military service should be laughable, as if the entire U.S. military has become infected with an incurable strain of  bimboism.  Nor was the headline the only slur.  Nick Duffy of PinkNews reported one person in that article referring to U.S. troops as “fags”.  Another said mockingly, “Tranny academy is coming to a cinema near you.”1

Of course, transgender troops have always existed in militaries, whether American or Russian.  We simply haven’t done so openly in the past and the real difference is our demanding human respect with full knowledge that many of us exist who can.  Likewise, Russian military society has smiled upon forcible same-sex rape, especially in subjugation of new conscripts, a legacy from Czarist practices.  Have American forces been immune from this?  We need not be so arrogant as to think so.  Of course, this kind of rape isn’t about homosexual affections.  The passive party is treated as inferior to the active one and the idea of calling another a “fag” isn’t about decrying a perceived violation of a divine command.  It’s about subjugating others.  It’s the same kind of subjugation that has been a theme of abuses associated with patriarchy and ethnic/racial dominance.2

You’d think that decades of Soviet oppression might have resolved such issues in a worker’s paradise of Communism.  You’d think men and women would have been equal.  They haven’t.  You’d think that Russians and other ethnic groups would look upon one another with the same level of respect.  They haven’t.  You’d think that Russians would accept other races who join forces with them.  In your dreams.

When I spoke to a class of Russian students in Daugavpils, Latvia, an instructor asked, “How do you Americans deal with racism?  I know I wouldn’t want to live next door to a Latvian!”  The question was admittedly shocking.  Most Americans speak of races in terms of perceived skin color.  It’s nonsense, of course.  Whites sometimes have darker skin than some Blacks and vice versa.  Asians may look more Native American than Native Americans and vice versa.  But Latvians are Teutons.  Russians are Slavs.  In the Russian mind, the 2 are different races even if the typical American couldn’t tell the difference.  Race is a social construct.

An African friend confirmed in my mind this attitude of Russian Dominionism who will remain unnamed in consideration of his political status.  He had been an instructor in the University of Moscow.  He noted the case of a Black exchange student who had remarked about the beauty of a Russian woman.  Are Russian women beautiful?  Incredibly so, and I’m sure Russian men would agree.

But word of this student’s compliments didn’t set well with local Russians, a group of which took him to the roof of a high building.  He was given a choice.  Either he could jump or he could be sent back to his home country with an official statement that he was homosexual.  That student chose to live with shame.  But when my African friend learned of it, he was reminded of a stark truth.  In his home country, being labeled “homosexual”, true or not, would be the most horrid thing that could happen.  Such could never obtain work.  Such would be rejected by family and prosecuted for any crime imaginable.  His life would be a living hell.  80% of people in my friend’s home country would prefer to jump.3

Such impositions of moral dilemmas aren’t new in Russia or elsewhere in Europe.  They’ve long been used from time to time to control whole demographics.  In Czarist Russia, they often took the form of pogroms.  We usually hear of such pogroms perpetrated upon Jews in the “Pale of Settlement.”  But they’ve occurred against other people as well including those LGBT.4



The Czars operated on one fundamental principle:  to control as much of the world’s population as possible.  It’s an echo of the Roman Empire and “Czar” is merely a Russian version of “Caesar”, ruling what Russians have long believed to be the “3rd Rome” after the empires of Rome and Constantinople.  This idea of the need to dominate to survive is ingrained in Russian society, with a prime directive of church and state united, symbolized by the double-headed eagle.5

Under the leadership of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev Russians began to seriously confront their history of oppression.  As a reformer he sought a purer, more open society characterized by perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness).5 But that meant full democratization and he became a victim of his own movement when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics broke up into the Commonwealth of Independent States.  Russians suffered horribly amid economic collapse and a weak President Boris Yeltsin.  The population of the Russian Federation entered a serious decline.  Russia was literally dying.6

In the United States many, especially those of Evangelical persuasion, many arrogantly insist that those changes came about because the United States “won the Cold War.”  This isn’t true.  The Cold War was never won by anyone.  Soviets made changes they knew they had to make.  They did so as a matter of their own interests, and ultimately they came back stronger because of it.8

But rising again meant many shifting to the Right.  Free elections ceased to be genuinely free amid electioneering.  Roving gangs equivalent to Neo-Nazis in the United States began to terrorize minorities, especially LGBT peoples.9



The collapse of the Soviet Union translated into a bonanza for Western religionists.  An evangelist could target a Russian city and often hundreds lined up to enter the waters of baptism.10 It also meant revival for something else: the traditional Russian Orthodox Church who for centuries had been the guardian of the Russian soul.

During the Soviet era, religion was deeply restricted.  Churches had to be officially registered in order for their existence to be recognized and none were permitted to proselytize.  Of course, some religious bodies proselytized anyway, holding meetings in homes.  By time American evangelists engaged Russian evangelical drives, plenty of Russians already existed who could debate issues of exegesis with the finesse of any Baptist or Pentecostal minister in Texas.

But this heady period of evangelism would not last.  The Russian Orthodox Church enjoyed its own revival, and then, thanks to the Yaroslav Law, became the dominant force in Russian religious society again with President Vladimir Putin as its most prominent member.  Minorities like Jehovah’s Witnesses once more became outlaws.11

Another law emerged in 2012 in Saint Petersburg prohibiting “gay propaganda,” resulting in Pride events being forced off the street and transpeople being forced back into the closet.  Later that law would be expanded to the entirety of the Russian Federation.12

None of this happened, however, without the work of religionists.  If one must oppress his neighbor, there has to be “moral justification” to do so, whether real or imagined.  By 2010, the principle voice for morality in most of the Russian Federation lay in the hands of the ruling Russian Orthodox Church.



Americans have no cause to waggle heads in condescending disbelief.  What’s happening in the Russian Federation has essentially had its counterpart in the United States, though with different steps than what Russians have taken:

  • Russians have their secretive but deadly Right wing gangs. So do Americans.13
  • Russians have their religious bodies condemning transpeople. So do Americans.14
  • Russians have sought to legislate against transpeople. So have Americans.15
  • Russians have made life difficult, even impossible to live for transpeople. So have Americans.16
  • Russians have exhibited ethnic and racial hatreds and these hatreds have often defined their history. Ditto for Americans.17
  • Russians wage covert wars upon other peoples in the world including cyber attacks. So do Americans.18
  • Russians have long orchestrated dezinformatsya (disinformation, what has been called “fake news”). So have Americans and this has accelerated in the age of Trump.19
  • Russians have had their internment camps. America has its detention centers.20
  • Russians have long practiced torture. So have Americans, and neither Americans nor Russians want to admit it, though Donald Trump has declared his support of torture in the presidential debates of 2016.21

In light of these things, can Americans claim any greater morality than Russians?  Hardly.  America may have taken in transgender asylum seekers from the Russian Federation, but once here, they continue to live in the shadows.22  What has been claimed as moral authority on the basis of divine command has on both sides been determined by theocratic declarations by clergy.  Everything else consists of what’s mutually regarded as useful and expedient and what results from that scarcely resembles the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

So do Americans make anti-transgender slurs?  Sure, lots of us do.  Much of America holds the same attitude toward transpeople as many Russians do.  Do all Russians hold this?  Nope.  This writer has known many open-minded Russian people and continues to correspond with Russian friends who know I happen to be trans.

Likewise, the surge of Evangelical Dominionism in American politics parallels the resurgence of Russian Dominionism.  Both have boosted the current occupant of the White House.

Given the right conditions, we could just as easily see widespread oppression of minorities in the United States as we have seen in the Russian Federation.  Transpeople can as easily be rounded up into detention centers as Russians round us up in their prison system and believe you me, Russian prisons sport a palpable aura of creepiness when approached from the outside.  But whether American or Russian, once incarcerated, there’s no guarantee of being able to communicate with a prisoner, or at least a prisoner by his/her/eir rightful name.  The disposition of such prisoners may depend upon presidential decree, commonly called an “executive order.”

Even so, this state of affairs sows the seeds of its own undoing.  It’s true whether Dominionism is the Orthodox Russian style or the American Evangelical style.  Once their enemies are thought to have been “vanquished”, they will inevitably turn upon one another.  When that happens between Russians and Americans, the world has much to fear.

Clearly, both Russians and Americans have yet to completely come to grips with Dominionist attitudes and the world will not be fully at peace till they do.  When America and Russia regard one another and their populations with suspicion, the world trembles.  When they commit to peace, the world lives securely.

In which case, the status of LGBT rights on both sides of the Arctic Ocean is a bellwether for the world, precisely because we’re so particularly vulnerable to pogroms.  When the press speaks of the impending struggle of the trans demographic, finally recognizing that we are a demographic, hope remains.  When those stories become suppressed, profound danger is afoot for other demographics of the world.

It’s kind of like working around sulphur dioxide.  As long as you smell rotten eggs, you won’t die.  If you can smell it no longer, watch out.

But the fact that Russians have published anything at all about transpeople, and adjust their stories for their world readership lends to that hope, even when done disparagingly against Americans and transpeople.  For every time a disparaging story is published, thinking people question.  They should question.  Those questionings make the difference between a population that from time to time rises up to demand liberty and one whose members passively accept what they are told.



Featured Image:  St. Basil’s Cathedral at night, the most beautiful expression of Russian piety and genius (Wikimedia Commons), the headline from Sputnik spoken of in the article, and the colors of the flag of the Russian Federation.

  1. Nick Duffy. “Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik mocks US ‘Tranny troops’” PinkNews (January 2, 2018, accessed January 3, 2018) .  The article from Sputnik International as it stands now can be accessed at:
  2. Stephanie Papas “Why Russia Is So Anti-Gay” Live Science (February 11, 2014, accessed January 4, 2018)
  3. The African friend mentioned in this article has been granted assylum in the U.S.
  4. Andrew E. Kramer. “’They Starve You.  They Shock You’: Inside the Anti-Gay Pogrom in Chechnya” New York Times (April 21, 2017, accessed January 4, 2018)  An earlier online petition addressing Putin himself appears on (accessed January 4, 2018)
  5. Anatoly Krasikov. “State, Church, and Religious Freedom” (accessed January 4, 2017)
  6. Sasha Gitomierski. “Glasnost and Perestroika” The Cold War Museum (accessed January 4, 2017)
  7. Drake Baer. “A ‘perfect demographic storm’ is crippling Russia” Business Insider (September 2, 2015, accessed January 4, 2018)
  8. Josh Clark. “Who won the Cold War?” How Stuff Works (accessed January 4, 2017)
  9. Mansur Mirovalev. “White supremacist gathering underscores Russia’s nationalist trend” Los Angeles Times (August 22, 2015, accessed January 4, 2018)
  10. Witnessed by the author who had participated as a missionary speaker.
  11. (n.a.) Russia court outlaws ‘extremist’ Jehovah’s Witnesses” BBC (April 20, 2017, accessed January 4, 2017)
  12. Sewell Chan. “Russia’s ‘Gay Propaganda’ Laws Are Illegal, European Court Rules” New York times (June 30, 2017, accessed January 4, 2018)
  13. Mirovalev article.
  14. Mark Hodges. “Russian Patriarch: LGBT agenda poses ‘significant threat for the existence of the human race’” Life Site News (November 23, 2016, accessed January 4, 2018)
  15. Stephen Ennis. “Russia’s mixed messages on LGBT” BBC (April 29, 2016, accessed January 3, 2018)
  16. Ibid.
  17. Explored in the current article. But in America, one only need look at disparities regarding race and ethnicity including that of police practice to see it.  The riots in Ferguson MO in 2016 demonstrate this rift.
  18. Nicole Perlroth, Mark Scott, and Sheera Frenkel. “Cyberattack Hits Ukraine, Then spreads Internationally” New York Times (June 27, 2017, accessed January 3, 2018)
  19. Neil MacFarquhar. “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories” New York Times (August 28, 2016, accessed January 3, 2018)
  20. Raul A. Reyes. “America’s shameful ‘prison camps’” CNN (updated July 23, 2015, accessed January 3, 2018)
  21. Anastasia Zotova. “How to hide evidence of torture inside Russia’s prison system” Open Democracy (October 17, 2017, accessed January 3, 2018); (n.a.) “Torture in U.S. prisons” American Friends Service Committee (report 2011, accessed January 3, 2018)
  22. Adam Taylor. “How a transgender Chechen escaped Russia and found asylum in the United States” Washington Post (September 1, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017) .
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The UN Vote: Is the United States Headed Toward an LGBT Holocaust?

By Lynnea Urania Stuart


Perhaps the most shocking thing about what’s come out of Washington is how little so many are shocked when it takes an unconscionable course.  On September 29, 2017 the United States voted against Agenda Item #3 from the United Nations Human Rights Council and LGBT rights organizations have decried that vote on an international scale. 

But that’s not all.  Criticism has also erupted over official statements concerning why the United States voted against a measure addressing death penalty cases including those applied to prisoners incarcerated for “same sex relations.”  Not a few countries consider transpeople as nothing different from homosexuals regardless of whom they may love so this decision really runs the gamut of LGBT.

This isn’t the first time the United States has rejected measures at the United Nations addressing the death penalty.  Administrations of both parties have done so.  The previous occurred in December 2016 when the U.S. delegation under President Barack Obama rejected a resolution that called upon states not to execute minors, pregnant women, and those with intellectual disabilities.1

The United States doesn’t oppose lawful use of the death penalty, of course.  In fact it still can be enforced during wartime against those convicted of treason on the battlefield.  Many states practice the death penalty and the constitutionality thereof remains unsettled.  But given the current trends aimed at shedding the civil rights of LGBT peoples at state, federal judiciary, and federal department levels, some may wonder if a holocaust targeting us may be in our future.  The issue falls directly upon matters of ethics concerning various demographics and most especially what they can rightly do against other demographics, and issues of secrecy play a key role.



The resolution was an “Oral Revision” labeled GE.17-16638(E), and titled, “36/… The question of the death penalty.”  A total of 61 nations including France and the United Kingdom sponsored this as a draft resolution.2 For the full text, click here.

Much of the text consists of acknowledgements concerning past resolutions by the UN and member states who abolished or established moratoriums upon the death penalty.  These acknowledgements are significant because this resolution addresses a broader scope of demographics than just LGBT peoples:


Deploring the fact that, frequently, poor and economically vulnerable persons and foreign nationals are disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, that laws carrying the death penalty are used against persons exercising their rights to freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion, and peaceful assembly and association, and that persons belonging to religious or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among those sentenced to the death penalty,

“Condemning in particular the use of the death penalty against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, and pregnant women,

“Condemning the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations, and expressing serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women,”3


The actions set forth in this resolution consist of 14 points.  Here are some of them as written that most apply to controversy in the United States:


 2. Calls upon States that have not yet acceded to or ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty to consider doing so;4

Nick Duffy of the Pink News quoted Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the State Department, to say that the United States had “broader concerns” and that the measure called for total abolition of the death penalty.5 Item 2 is the closest this document comes to total abolition.  But it only asks states who have not yet ratified abolition to consider doing so.  That isn’t the same thing as ordering abolition of the death penalty.  What the United States did was refuse to consider even addressing the matter with Congress.


5. Urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that the death penalty is not applied against persons with mental or intellectual disabilities and persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as pregnant women;6

Item 5 reiterates the same resolution rejected by the Obama Administration in December 2016.  This might also apply to people with autism who have yet to overcome their disability.  We have already observed a higher incidence of transgenderism among people with autism.7 We cannot consider transgender issues without also considering the rights of those with mental or intellectual disabilities.


6. Also urges States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not imposed as a sanction for specific forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations;8

We would be amiss to treat this item as applicable to gays and lesbians but not to transpeople.  Too many states refuse to recognize those who transition as anything other than assigned birth sex.  Too many states refuse to permit changing of birth records to reflect one’s sex post-transition.  What does that mean for those of us who marry or otherwise love another?  If a transwoman marries a man, is her heterosexual supposed to be a same sex marriage such as was asserted in Littleton v. Prange (1999)?9  If the same entered a relationship with a woman would that also be considered “same sex” if such are to marry?  Division remains in this respect because too many people have failed to think through the tyrannical nature of many societal traditions.  Worse yet, many clergy have dismissed the relationships of transpeople as “adulterous” whether within the marriage circle or not.  Do we go back to stoning people for adultery, or at least just stoning “women” while protecting “men” from prosecution?  Do we stone for transpeople for “apostasy” who had become personae non grata in their churches because of their gender identity?


8.  Also calls upon States to undertake further studies to identify the underlying factors that contribute to the substantial racial and ethnic bias in the application of the death penalty, where they exist, with a view to developing effective strategies aimed at eliminating such discriminatory practices;10

 The rights of ethnic transpeople have recently become an active area of study in the United States precisely because non-white transpeople have suffered the most.  On October 1, 2017, the National Center for Transgender Equality in conjunction with Black Transmen, Black Transwomen, Inc., and the National Black Justice Coalition released a special report titled, U.S. Transgender Survey, 2015: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents.  Statistics regarding police interactions are telltale:  twice the level of arrests and incarceration than the USTS sample and more than 4 times that of the U.S. population as a whole.11 We cannot ignore the issues of race when dealing with trans issues and that would apply also to transpeople facing the death penalty.  Nor can we afford to dismiss with disinterest cases of transpeople convicted of capital crimes.  We may find a time not far in the future in which even existing as a transperson may be treated as a capital offence as it is in certain other countries, whether or not it has been legislated and such may be covered up with practices of state-sponsored or locally sanctioned assassination.


9.  Calls upon States that have not yet abolished the death penalty to make available relevant information, disaggregated by gender, age, nationality and other applicable criteria, with regard to their use of the death penalty, inter alia, the charges, number of persons sentenced to death, the number of persons on death row, the number of executions carried out and the number of death sentences reversed, commuted on appeal or in which amnesty or pardon has been granted, as well as information on any scheduled execution, which can contribute to possible informed and transparent national and international debates, including on the obligations of States with regard to the use of the death penalty; 12

No secret execution should ever be permitted.  Even if a heinous crime may have been committed and proven, no execution should be celebrated or ignored whether it’s legal or covert. Should America’s violations be an international issue?  Definitely.

When Soviets threw religious people into gulags we considered their actions an international issue.13   When the Islamic Republic of Iran incarcerated and murdered dissidents we considered their actions an international issue.14  When the military government of Argentina committed mass murder and torture upon its people in the Dirty War including the rapes, torture, and murder of dissident youth in the La Noche de lost Lapices (The Night of the Pencils) before democracy returned to that nation we also regarded atrocities the same way.15  Should the United States be so arrogant to presume upon its own “goodness” that such cannot happen here?  We cannot and dare not be so naïve.

Worse yet, with regard to the treatment of LGBT peoples, too often arrests, incarcerations, torture, and state-sponsored murder with erasure have gone without notice.  We saw these things happen in Chechnya16 and Azerbaijan17 against “gays” this year while those governments denied anything improper existed.  Transpeople have likewise been targeted.  Could it never happen here?  It certainly could without due vigilance and action, and forces against transpeople have been amassing on state and federal levels.



Jason Mack delivered this statement on behalf of the United States:


“Thank you Mr. President.

The United States is disappointed that it must vote against this resolution.  As in previous years, we had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the position of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully.  We reaffirm our longstanding position on the legality of the death penalty, when imposed and carried out in a manner consistent with a state’s international obligations.

We are deeply troubled whenever an individual subject to the death penalty is denied the procedural and substantive protections to which he or she is entitled.  We, likewise condemn any instance in which a method of execution or treatment during confinement is applied in such a manner as to amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of a state’s international obligations.  We cannot accept the implication, however, that all methods of execution have such a result.

The United States is committed to complying with its constitution, laws, and international obligations, and we encourage other countries that employ the death penalty to do so as well.

Thank you”18


This statement raises some serious concerns.  Mack’s statement asserts that the resolution isn’t “balanced and inclusive.”  How is it not inclusive when it calls upon all states to report to the international community in such detail?  Exactly who does this exclude?  How is it not “balanced” when it did not order elimination of the death penalty but only asked those who have not signed on to simply consider doing so?

Worse yet, condemnation of torture, cruelty, inhuman, or degrading treatment is a hollow gesture when we consider the broader treatment of transpeople in prisons.  Too many of us don’t go into protective custody.  Instead, too many are placed in positions in which rape and other forms of violence are facilitated and participation of abuses by prison personnel hasn’t been unheard of.19 What about the practice of water-boarding, obviously a practice of torture, sanctioned by the Bush administration in the wars following the 9-11 AttacksDonald Trump declared in the 2016 Presidential Debates that he would support worse acts than water boarding.20

Such has the potential for wholesale violations of human rights.  We rarely hear of abuses precisely because we learn of them second-hand through visitors or a prisoner recently released who has witnessed it or has been a victim.   Too often, various authorities want to quash reports of incidents.  Some may dismiss reports of ill treatment as “exaggerations” or “inaccuracies” because authorities don’t regard cruelty as “cruel”.

We must recognize that “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” are relative terms, too easily subjected to widely disparate opinion and easily manipulated in an authoritarian milieu.  We must also recognize that if any demographic becomes subject to legalized prosecution there’s nothing to stop a nation from claiming it has used the death penalty “legally”.  Such can even call acts of cruelty “balanced” and even “compassionate” because it has taken upon itself the right to determine accepted definitions.

 We must also recognize that public governmental statements do not necessarily reflect what’s said privately.  Officials can make public condemnations of torture, cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment but what’s executed behind the scenes may differ widely from what’s claimed.  The vagueness of Mr. Mack’s statement opens the door for us to consider the U.S. may have something of its own to hide.



Despite the U.S. vote against the resolution, it did pass 27 to 13 with 7 abstaining.  Nations joining the United States were Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Nations abstaining included Cuba, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, and Tunisia.21 Many of these nations actively prosecute LGBT peoples.  Others simply followed the lead of the Americans or, like India, merely don’t want to interfere with other governments on this while entertaining its own favor toward the death penalty.  Huffington Post quoted Amnesty International to reveal they awarded 136 death sentences in 2016, up from 75 in 2015.22

Though the U.N. resolution did pass, we cannot count upon Congress to ratify it.  Too easily, what has been accepted at the level of the United Nations becomes effectively nullified at the national level if a nation doesn’t happen to agree with it.  Worse yet, citizens may not know that the whole world may be watching incidents of atrocities or mistreatment of prisoners.  Prisoners typically face restrictions concerning communications they may exchange during incarceration.  Transparency isn’t one of prison staffs’ greater virtues. This has been the case in virtually every nation.  The message of the United States and others at the U.N. really amounted to saying, “Back off, nosey.”

After all, the United States really wants a death penalty and proponents will defend it as vigorously as the National Rifle Association vigorously defends access to guns. What’s particularly disturbing about this zeal for the death penalty is the overall agenda of the Republican Party led by a theocratic Evangelical Alliance.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump not one month has passed without some action of the current administration in opposition to transpeople.  The National Center for Transgender Equality has posted a list of these actions on its website along with a list of other administrative actions that, while not directed against transpeople specifically, harm transpeople.23

Lest we dismiss these actions as “preserving religious liberty,” we should consider what’s happening right now in the United States, most specifically in Mississippi whose passage of HB 1523 has just taken effect.  This act is called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” and it’s expressly directed against LGBT peoples.  This law permits the following based solely upon one’s own stated religious beliefs:

  1. Denial of services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges related any marriage being celebrated or solemnized.
  2. Refusal to hire and permission to terminate and discipline anyone whose conduct or religious beliefs don’t square with an employer’s.
  3. Denial of lodging.
  4. Denial of adoption or foster care service.
  5. Refusal to participate in sex reassignment treatments or assessment for such treatments.
  6. Setting of sex-specific standards in dress and grooming for schools and businesses including use of “intimate facilities of settings.”24

What this means is that if you’re transgender and your community is staunchly Baptist and Church of Christ (as most are in Mississippi), then you’ll very likely have to move away, conform through enforced detransition and possible “conversion therapy”, or you will end up homeless and unemployed.  If you do become a homeless transperson, vagrancy laws will probably kick in, resulting in incarceration in which “sex-specific” grooming standards would be enforced.  Meanwhile you may be subjected to prison rape, and possibly even torture or murder by prisoners or even by prison staff.  Your death wouldn’t be noticed as an execution because you were never formally sentenced to death in the first place.  But in spirit it really is an unofficial application of the death penalty determined upon a self-appointed kangaroo court of religionists.  The truth would be swept under the rug just like so many killings of minorities have been swept under the rug during the vicious history of atrocities against unwelcome minorities in the Deep South and official disregard for civil rights over many years.25

While the U.S. vote at the United Nations wasn’t directly about such cases, consider that part of the resolution that calls for states to make available information about executions, dis-aggregated by several factors including gender and other applicable criteria.  The United Nations isn’t the only entity involved in death penalty issues and human rights violations.  Others like Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Southern Poverty Law Center are very interested in civil rights abuses and atrocities directed against minorities including transpeople.  However, their cases represent anecdotal incidents so we can’t say they have meaningful statistics for comparison with those the U.N. may have.

But facts deserve to be made known.  If that doesn’t happen, then there’s nothing to stop those inclined to harm minorities they don’t happen to like, and the more secrecy abounds, the more arrogance is licensed and greater space is given for potential atrocities.  By then, the potential for prisons and detention centers to become de facto death camps becomes very real.



Great danger lurks whenever a nation, state, municipality, or even an individual determines ethics upon the dictates of a power other than compassion and logical principle.  We’re never safe to say that something’s right or wrong because a leader says so, whether that leader is determined by election, appointment, and especially by his own self-delusion.  The dream and promise of international human rights can only be reached by nations whose hearts put compassion before dominance.  Not only must a nation do this, but its people must not pretend that committing an atrocity is a compassionate act, especially if done in the name of religion.  It isn’t.

Herein we have been repeatedly tested throughout history.  There’s a right and wrong to right and wrong.  But too often, we’ve been led either though schooling, the pulpit, or military training to subject all sense of ethics and judgment to an immediate authority and to blindly accept consequences when that authority betrays its followers.  People commit and even enforce atrocities in such a milieu and secrecy is its sustenance.

The United States will go on regardless of what the outcome of the vote of the United Nations happened to be.  An LGBT holocaust hasn’t fully arrived in America, at least not yet.  But in our continuing business we must address again and again whether our hearts collectively put compassion before dominance.  Compassion demands daring to expose atrocities.  If our hearts do not put compassion before dominance, then we risk the danger that a cancer of tyranny may choke out human rights such as we have not witnessed in generations.  If ours do not, then holocaust may lurk beneath our own horizon. 



Featured Image:  A burst of light in the clouds over the horizon, photo by the author, with the emblem of the United Nations superimposed thereon.  (Wikimedia)


  1. Alex Emmons. “The U.S. Voted Against a U.N. Resolution Condemning Death Penalty for LGBTQ People” The Intercept (October 3, 2017, accessed October 4, 2017)
  2. United Nations General Assembly, 17-16638(E), (September 28, 2017, accessed October 4, 2017) p. 1.
  3. Ibid, p. 3. (Italics if not bold are those of the document itself)
  4. Ibid.
  5. Nick Duffy. “US government defends voting against UN resolution on gay death penalty” Pink News (October 4, 2017, 12:11 pm, accessed October 4, 2017)
  6. Op cit.
  7. Byrony White. “The Link Between Autism and Trans Identity” The Atlantic (November 15, 2016, accessed October 5, 2017)
  8. Op. cit.
  9. “Littleton v. Prange” FindLaw (October 27, 1999, report accessed October 5, 2017)
  10. Op. cit.
  11. James, S. E., Brown, C., & Wilson, I. “2015 U.S. Transgender Survey: Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents” (2017, accessed October 1, 2017) Washington, DC and Dallas, TX: National Center for Transgender Equality, Black Trans Advocacy, & National Black Justice Coalition, p. 16. .
  12. Op. cit.
  13. (n.a.)” Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag” Gulag: Soviet Forced Labor Camps and the Struggle for Freedom (accessed October 5, 2017)
  1. Robert F. Worth. “Iran Arrests Dissidents, Sites Report” New York Times (December 28, 2009, accessed October 5, 2017)
  2. Vladimir Hernandez “Argentina marks ‘Night of the Pencils” BBC News (September 16, 2011, accessed October 5, 2017)
  3. Adam Taylor. “How a transgender Chechen escaped Russia and found asylum in the United States” Washington Post (September 1, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017)
  4. Teo Armus. “Dozens of LGBTQ People Reportedly Arrested in Azerbaijan” NBC News (September 26, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017)
  5. “U.S. Statement as delivered by Jason Mack, Human Rights Council, 36th Session, Geneva, September 29, 2017” (accessed October 4, 2017)
  6. Multiple resources at (n.a.) “Issues/ Police, Jails & Prisons” National Center for Transgende4er Equality (NCTE, accessed October 5, 2017)
  7. Jenna Johnson. “Trump says ‘torture works,’ backs waterboarding and ‘much worse’” Washington Post (February 17, 2016, accessed October 5, 2017)
  8. Nick Duffy. “US government defends voting against UN resolution on gay death penalty” Pink News (October 4, 2017, 12:11 pm, accessed October 4, 2017)
  9. Somak Ghoshal. “It’s Hardly Surprising That India Has No Problem With Death Penalty For LGBTQ People” Huffington Post (April 10, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017)
  10. “Trump’s record of action against transgender people” National Center for Transgender Equality (accessed October 4, 2017)
  11. Dan Avery. “Mississippi’s HB 1523 Is the Most Sweeping Anti-LGBT Law In America. And It Takes Effect Friday” NewNowNext (October 2, 2017, accessed October 5, 2017)
  12. Robert A. Gibson. “The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950” Yale Teacher’s Insitute (accessed October 5, 2017)
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