There’s an old chestnut, attribution unknown, that says “When America coughs, the world gets a cold.” For nationalists who hate gay people, perhaps the parallel should be “When Russia scratches, the world gets scabies.”
Case in point: Far-right nationalists in Kazakhstan this week have proposed not only a more stringent version of Russia’s “Anti-Propaganda Law” but—wait for it—genetic testing to identify gay people.
To be sure, it’s unlikely that this bizarre DNA proposal will ever become law. It was put forth by an ultra-nationalist organization that, like its counterparts in Russia, mingles anti-gay and anti-foreigner positions, often seeing the former as representative of the latter.
As to whether Kazakhstan will pass a Russia-style Anti-Propaganda Law, that is a different matter. Kazakhstan voted for, essentially, a “traditional marriage” amendment at a recent U.N. Human Rights Council meeting, and legislators from multiple parties have called for a law similar to Russia’s. One deputy from the ruling Nur Otan party said that gays are “criminals against humanity.” Anti-gay amendments to Kazakhstan’s “Code on Marriage and Family” are being debated.
This ominous legal developments come in the context of Kazakhstan’s appalling human-rights record, which includes widespread torture, restrictions on free speech, and oppression of non-Muslim religious minorities.
The deeper significance of this outburst, however, is the light it shines on the intense social stigmas against Kazakhstan’s LGBT community—pressures that often result in violence.
Last May, Radio Free Europe reported that anti-gay activists built a brick wall in front of one of the capital city Almaty’s gay nightclubs. That came 10 days after the gruesome murder of a woman who had publicly married another woman in Kazakhstan’s first “gay marriage.” Attacks against gay people are common, and are rarely prosecuted.
These social mores, rather than legal provisions, stand behind the satirical-sounding comments by Dauren Babamuratov, the 30-year-old leader of the Boloshak nationalist movement:
“We have stooped so low that LGBTs no longer hide their orientation. One can see a lot of people in the city’s malls and other public places—these are young people in colored pants. This means they no longer hide their orientation. I think it is very easy to identify a gay person by his or her DNA. A blood test can show the presence of degeneratism in a person.”
Not to be outdone, the Kazakh news website Tengri News reported that “Nagashybay Yesmyrza, a journalist known for calling Hitler a war hero, tagged representatives of LGBT ‘degenerates’ and returned to his favorite rhetoric: ‘To preserve the Aryan race it was important that be blood was not mixed. Hitler was against all those gay people.’”
In a nice aside, the report added “when asked by the journalists how a same-sex union could possibly ‘mix blood’ and produce a child, he had no adequate answer.”
Ironically, here in the United States, the notion that there is a “gay gene” is normally only put forward by LGBT advocates who make the case that sexual orientation is a trait, rather than a choice. If there really were a gene for “degeneratism,” that would bolster advocates’ claims that discrimination against LGBT people is wrong.
Perhaps a deeper irony, though, is how alike Eastern and Central Asian nationalists sound—even though they can’t stand one another—and how much they resemble anti-Western nationalisms elsewhere in the world, and other scapegoating movements across history.
First, Kazakh nationalist rhetoric about purity of blood and nation closely resembles that of Russian nationalists who, of course, hate the dark-skinned Muslim Kazakhs and complain that they are polluting the Russian nation. Each “race” is convinced it is being undermined by some foreign outsider-within, represented by homosexuality.
Second, these essentially eugenic claims belie the more palatable “protect the children” rationales of Russia’s and Kazakhstan’s anti-gay politicians. As in the United States, but in different registers and with different vocabularies, the homophobes of Russia and Kazakhstan are motivated by fear, disgust, and hatred—not prudential concern regarding the education of minors.
Third, the scapegoating of LGBT people comes in the contexts of the destruction of civil society on the one hand, and economic chaos on the other. It’s not the ruling elites responsible for widespread economic collapse; it’s the degenerate outsiders within. Sound familiar?
It should. All three of these factors have precedents in anti-Semitism, another scapegoating movement that posited outsiders within, and American racism. Like Jews and African Americans, gays are “not us.” Yet like Jews and African Americans, gays are “among us,” polluting our race, corrupting our values.
These are not political concerns, exactly. They’re not even debates about sexuality and gender. They are fundamental, non-rational, and primal obsessions about in-groups and out-groups, purity and danger, attraction and disgust. Which is perhaps why they look so familiar.