For Fred Erick, a gay man in New York, the life threatening crisis facing gay men in Chechnya was personal.
"I was born in the Ukraine," he said in a telephone interview. "My family were Jewish refugees in 1987, so what's happening in Chechnya hits close to home--that could have been me."
According to numerous news reports gay men in Chechnya are being thrown into concentrations camps where many are beaten, tortured and murdered. On May 26 Huffington Post reported on the passage of House Resolution 351, a bipartisan action by US lawmakers which calls upon Russia to step in and put an end to these anti-gay abuses. Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation.
Russia's Foreign Minister has claimed that the reports of the anti-gay purges are "not based on fact", according to a story published the UK Independent. Many photographs and witness testimony tell a different story.
"I couldn't stop thinking about it," Erick, a 33 year old attorney, said. "It was frustrating and scary--it makes you angry because you can't do anything."
Part of Erick's frustration came from the silence of President Donald Trump. "Our envoy to the UN denounced the purges but that was about it," Erick said.
Erick took it upon himself to help. On April 22 he launched Helping Gay Men Flee Chechnya, a Facebook fundraising page. Erick said that he was astonished by the response he got. "I did not expect to hit one thousand dollars," he said. "I hit over $250,00, all because of the Facebook donate button."
Erick added that he was astonished by the attention he attracted. Almost 6,000 people donated, while 7,300 thousand shared the campaign's page. "I saw that George Takei posted about it and that helped a lot," Erick said. "I was also covered by the Gay Times in London--even friends with whom I had a falling out posted about the campaign."
The monies raised were sent to Rainbow Railroad, a small non-profit which offers help to LGBT people around the world who are facing persecution. Rainbow Railroad is actively involved in the movement to help gay men flee Chechnya, though for some, its too late.
"The gay death toll in Chechnya is around 100," Erick said. "You have to focus on those you can save. Silence equals death."
Erick has since ended his campaign, citing a full time career and a boyfriend he needed to get back to, but he hopes others will launch campaigns of their own. Though the U.S. is declining to accept Chechnyan refugees, many European countries, as well as Canada, are opening their doors.
"My dad said that I should feel real good about this," Erick said. "What I'm most proud of is bringing our community together."
You can help by visiting Rainbow Railroad: www.RainbowRailroad.ca