Forced to flee the Russian republic of Chechnya, the first openly Chechen transgender woman stepped forward to share her experience.
In a video interview with Russia’s Rain TV, the woman with the pseudonym “Leila” claimed she received death threats while in Chechnya, and was stabbed in Moscow. The publication confirmed her identity.
While in Chechnya in 2002, Leila worked for the government and even interacted with former President Ahkmad Kadyrov, father of current president Ramzan Kadyrov, before his assassination.
“He was a nice man, and there was no negative feeling towards me from him that I noticed,” Leila said. “Even though I had plucked eyebrows and it was clear that I stood out from the crowd.”
In Chechnya she presented as an “unusual man” instead of presenting as her identified gender. “I was not exactly living openly as a woman,” she said according to Gay Star News. “But I could afford to openly manifest myself as an unusual man.”
While in Moscow, Leila underwent gender confirmation surgery. There she was stabbed in 2015 by someone she claimed was Chechen, and who reportedly asked “When will you stop disgracing your people?”
She also said unidentified persons told her family to kill her.
“Either you remove this man who offends all Chechen society by their very presence, or we’ll find you and bring the body,” she said according to Pink News.
She escaped Russia in 2016. She originally wanted to move to Argentina, but after receiving messages indicating her attackers knew where she was going, she decided to enter the United States through Mexico instead. She is currently an undocumented immigrant, receiving assistance from a Russian charity.
The United States does not currently grant visas to those fleeing persecution in Chechnya, according to BuzzFeed News.
"We were informed (by the U.S. embassy) there was no political will,” a spokesperson for the Russia LGBT Network told the publication. “They’re not going to provide visas. They’re going to support us in other ways, but not with visas."
The Russian newspaper that first broke the story, Novaya Gazetta, reports that 26 gay and bisexual men have been killed so far in the republic.
Russian LGBT Network has helped over 40 gay and bisexual Chechen men escape the country.
LGBT organizations are flocking to help fleeing Chechens, including gay rights group GayRussia.ru and Grindr.
If you want to help gay men flee Chechnya, you can donate to the Rainbow Railroad at RainbowRailroad.ca.