In early 2013, shortly after the Russian Duma approved a bill outlawing what Russian officials described as "homosexual propaganda," I spent several weeks in Bishkek interviewing local LGBT and human rights activists. The aim was to discern how Kyrgyzstan had emerged as a bright spot for LGBT activism in a region well-known for intolerance of homosexuality and gender variance.
At that time, no one could claim that Kyrgyzstan was even marginally gay-friendly. But several NGOs and initiative groups were able to work openly to provide services to LGBT people and advocate for their rights. And there was optimism that, little by little, the situation was improving thanks to sustained advocacy work. Indeed, even some officials had actively engaged with LGBT issues in recent years: in 2012, for example, then Human Rights Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun mentioned LGBT rights in his annual report.
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Cai Wilkinson is a lecturer in International Relations at Deakin University, Australia. Wilkinson’s research in Central Asia has focused on the LGBT community.