Only Gay Club in Kyrgyzstan Closes Amid Anti-LGBT Crackdown

The problem, say organizers, "is that people don't understand what a gay club is."

The only remaining gay nightspot in Kyrgyzstan has closed amid an anti-LGBT crackdown in the former Soviet republic.

The weekly party, dubbed “London,” was held in a gas station just outside Bishkek, which has seen several LGBT-friendly venues shuttered. Attendees would knock on an old wooden door next to to the car wash to gain admittance to the Saturday night party. (Newcomers would have to be invited on the personal recommendation of regulars.) But when the garage’s owner learned his tenants were using the space for LGBT events, he shut it down.

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London was started by a lesbian couple who previously operated a queer-friendly cabaret.

“Once the cabaret closed down we decided to start a gay club as we saw the need for a space where the LGBT community felt safe and could really get to know each other,” One of the co-founders, who wished to remain anonymous, told Radio Free Europe.

The night was previously held in a restaurant. But after a mob of 30 hooligans broke in and smashed furniture and hit patrons with beer bottles, that venue’s landlord asked organizers to leave, as well.

“They always claim it’s not because they are homophobic,” the co-founder said. “But we know that’s the real reason.”

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As in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan, anti-LGBT hatred has ramped up in the Muslim-majority country: In August, model Amina Yusurova wrote on Facebook, “Round up all the people of nontraditional orientation and blow them all up on one island.”

A measure introduced in Parliament last year would make “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” illegal. It’s awaiting a final reading before being signed into law.

A survey by Kyrgyz Indigo found 84% of LGBT Kyrgyzis have been physically attacked and 35% have been victims of sexual violence. (Labyrs Kyrgyzstan reports a 300% uptick in homophobic and transphobic attacks since the law was proposed.) Both Kyrgyz Indigo and Labrys Kyrgyzstan are advocating against the measure and have created a Rapid Response Unit to help any victims of anti-LGBT violence.

London was one of the few safe spaces available to the country’s queer population. Its founders say much of the hatred stems from misconceptions about the LGBT community.

“The problem is that people don’t understand what a gay club is,” she explains. “They think we are doing something pornographic. But if they came and saw that it is just a normal club, where people dance and drink, then it would be okay.”

London may have held its last dance, but the couple say they’ll continue to provide a sanctuary for their community.

“It is tough to keep the fight going. We are always in debt, as is and we cannot pay off our loans because the business keeps getting shut down. But we will continue if we can find a safe space where we can run a sustainable business. After all, we have a responsibility. We are like mothers to the community.”

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.
@trishbendix