Journalist James Longman has revealed details about how he came out as gay to the head of Chechnya police, Apti Alaudinov, in a recent ABC News article.
Longman traveled to Chechnya for a special edition of Nightline in which he examined the government’s record of human rights abuses and spoke to victims of anti-LGBT+ attacks.
The journalist spoke with the head of police as they toured Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Throughout the tour, Alaudinov would stop passersby and say, “You, tell them how safe it is.” Each passerby would show agreement “before scuttling off,” as Longman wrote.
Alaudinov’s name is reported to be on a US sanctions list for human rights violations and the police force he oversees have faced accusations for the torture, murder and imprisonment of gay people. In 2019, reports confirmed the death of two people caused by extreme torture and a further 40 people have been detained since December.
Though Grozny was presented as a peaceful city to Longman, an undercurrent of police tyranny and brutality towards the LGBT+ community remained ever present.
Over dinner, Alaudinov paused conversation consisting of his love for horses and his war record to ask the journalist, “You know, there is a question I have been wanting to ask. Is one of you gay?”
At first, Longman denied his sexuality to the head of the police. One of the producers accompanying him attempted to divert the topic by speaking about his gay cousin. Alaudinov responded by saying, “For us it’s completely crazy that one of us could be gay. Seriously! Ask any Chechen, ‘Do you have any gays in your family?’ He will punch you. Why? Because to him it is an insult.”
This mindset of LGBT+ erasure was present during a meeting with the Council of Europe and Chechen officials in September. There was an insistence that, “Here men marry women and women marry men. It was like this for thousands of years and that is how it will always be, whatever the West tells us.”
Longman and Alaudinov made their way to a prison block where they were accompanied by several armed guards and other officials.
The journalist choose to tell the head of police about his sexuality in this moment: “Do you remember earlier when you asked if one of us was gay? What if I told you I was gay?” The producers would tell the journalist later that the guards were whispering among themselves and shifting around.
In front of their audience, Alaudinov said “There is no problem. Nobody has any issues with you. You are a guest. Come here as a guest and leave from here as a guest. You don’t understand something: You can say anything about us — any horror stories — but I, as [the] head of Chechen Police, I don’t have a goal to see who you are and what your sexual orientation is. I am not interested to know it. It’s your life and you should live however you want. But at the same time, don’t teach us how we have to live.”
However, at the end of their meeting and in private, the head of police made clear: “I will tell you honestly, I wouldn’t like you to be my friend.”
Over the last few years, Chechnya has received continuous external pressure to change their extreme anti-LGBT+ views. Though James Longman saying he is gay to the head of police is a powerful moment, it also serves to highlight the level of LGBT+ erasure occurring in Chechnya and how far officials will hold onto their refusal to change.
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