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Last month, the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan made the news as it competed with Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Kazakhstan lost its bid, but the effort drew attention to the problems faced by the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports.
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COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: A couple of thousand people gathered last month in Almaty, the city that Kazakhstan's Olympic boosters hoped would host the Winter Games in seven years' time. They were waiting for the International Olympic Committee's announcement, and there was a palpable air of disappointment in the crowd when their city lost. For many people in the city's LGBT community, the disappointment went further. They were hoping that if Kazakhstan were chosen, the country would face international pressure to improve conditions for people with different sexual and gender orientations.
TATIANA CHERNOBYL: But now that we don't have the Olympics, we are afraid that there won't be that pressure that we could use to get some changes here.
FLINTOFF: That's Tatiana Chernobyl, a lawyer and consultant for Amnesty International. The changes that she wants include better enforcement of the country's laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination and violence. Human Rights Watch recently completed a report on the issues in Kazakhstan, compiled by researcher Kyle Knight.
KYLE KNIGHT: There's a significant gap between the standards set in the Olympic charter and the situation for LGBT people in Kazakhstan. When we were there, LGBT people in Kazakhstan told me about the constant state of fear they live in.
FLINTOFF: Many people in the LGBT community say that it's not that Kazakhstan's laws don't promise protection, but that the laws aren't fairly enforced. Arman Bima is a dance teacher and choreographer in Almaty. He says fear keeps many gay men in the closet and in denial about discrimination.
ARMAN BIMA: So as they repeat the things that they say no, why should say everyone I am gay? So if you do this secretly, everything is good. That is not true. Everyone has the problem.
FLINTOFF: The problems, Bima says, include police who won't investigate gangs that attack and rob gay men and doctors who won't treat LGBT people. Transgender people say they have problems as well because Kazakhstan's laws make it extremely difficult to change their gender marker in official documents. Tim Shenker, a transgender man, says the law won't allow him to change his documents until he's undergone full sex reassignment surgery.
TIM SHENKER: I started my transition six years ago. And I still have my old documents in which I have my old name and old photo. So it's quite a problem, you know, to go travel somewhere.
FLINTOFF: Shenker says the document problem means that transgender people are exposed or outed in every situation where they need to provide identification.
SHENKER: The first question they ask is is it really your documents? And you just have to say, well, of course they are mine. Like, will I just take, I don't know, documents from some stranger girl and take them and show as mine?
FLINTOFF: Tatiana Chernobyl says one major problem is the way the public views LGBT people.
CHERNOBYL: Public attitudes in Kazakhstan are - is very much negative among young people, among older people, so you can't say who is the average hater.
FLINTOFF: She says the LGBT community fears that the government may now accept the passage of a law that would restrict gay rights by banning so-called propaganda about nontraditional sexual relationships to minors. Kazakhstan's parliament passed such a law earlier this year, but it was rejected by the country's constitutional court. Tim Shenker says the biggest problem for his country is that many citizens have no concept of human rights.
SHENKER: They don't care for their own rights. They don't know that they have rights, so of course they don't think about the rights of other groups of people.
FLINTOFF: Conservative lawmakers in Kazakhstan's parliament have indicated they may try to pass another version of the anti-gay propaganda law in the near future. Corey Flintoff, NPR News.
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