Inside 'London' - The secret gay club for Kyrgyzstan's persecuted LGBT community

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Current Affairs May 18 @ 8:58am

A car wash is the last place you would expect to find a nightclub. Which is why it is the perfect venue for Alesya and Evgenia's secret gay night in Kyrgyzstan’s capital city Bishkek. Kyrgyzstan’s LGBT community have been forced to live in the shadows since 2014, when the government drafted a discriminatory anti-gay propaganda law. The proposals unleashed a campaign of violence and intimidation against the LGBT community, with a near 300% increase in reported attacks. The violence has not let up. A recent report by Kyrgyz Indigo found that 85% of the LGBT community have been a victim of physical violence, while 35% have endured sexual violence.

Partners Alesya and Evgenia have run their club night for over two years, determined to offer a space where the LGBT community can meet and socialise without fear of attack. The club night is called LONDON (nothing to do with Soho, Alesya just likes the Union Jack) and is now in its third venue in the two years that it has been running. They had to vacate the original venue after a mob of 30 homophobic men attacked the club, injuring the bar staff. Next week it will be closing its doors again, evicted by the landlord who just discovered that LONDON is an LGBT event.

I spent a night at LONDON, hanging out with Alesya, Evgenia and other members of the LGBT community. The fate of LONDON and the stories of those who frequent the club, are reflective of the current situation for LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan. Take Sogdiana for example, an 18-year-old trans woman who was savagely beaten by her father and classmates because of her gender. Before discovering LONDON three weeks ago, Sogdiana barely left the house for fear of being abused. What will she do while Alesya and Jeyna search for their next venue? Many LGBT people have been attacked, bribed or unlawfully detained by the police if found socialising together at normal bars and cafes.

The story of LONDON offers a colourful and engaging perspective on LGBT rights in Kyrgyzstan. This is a pressing issue - the anti-gay propaganda law is currently sitting in parliament, awaiting its third and final reading before being passed into law. As well as depriving the LGBT community of their rights, this discriminatory legislative proposal will erode the democratic process in Kyrgyzstan and is another example of the deteriorating situation for LGBT people across Eurasia.
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