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Commentary: How the other half lives, observations from a world traveler

Despite our grief in a lagging federal government and the lack of support from our state governments, Americans in the LGBT community have it pretty good. Sure there are other places that offer more rights and freedoms, but how often do you stop and think about the places with far less rights and freedoms?

Kyrgyzstan is a country where it is still not ok to be gay, despite the fact that the government ended the law banning homosexuality over 10 years ago. In neighboring countries, such as Uzbekistan, being publicly gay still comes with the courtesy of jail time.

Kyrgyzstan was previously part of the USSR and has a dwindling population of Russian decent. The culture still frowns heavily upon homosexuality, even though it is no longer illegal. As a predominantly Islamic country, homosexuality is also considered immoral and those that partake must still do so very discretely. There are very few support groups for gay rights and the legal system incorporates no protections.

The tiny gay community in a small city outside of Bishkek, convenes in an indiscriminate location behind a pharmacy storefront. This isn’t a real pharmacy, however; it is a mock pharmacy that serves as an underground meeting place for gays across the area, including men from neighboring Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It is pretty well known among the underground community.

The men that attend the weekly meetings are mostly married, since a refusal to marry brings shame and has potential ill and dangerous side effects in their culture. There are a few younger men that attend, but these are usually prostitutes.

The meetings serve as a friendly space for attendees to talk about sex openly and be honest about themselves. With vodka flowing heavily and cigarettes blazing, toasts are raised incessantly, honoring each other and of course, the penis.

These meetings are not all just chit-chat and liquor guzzling, they are a full-on party at times. On one occasion, a leopard print dress inspired an imitation drag review that most everybody took part in by passing the dress and black wig from guy to guy. Going all the way, they stuffed their bosoms with inflated condoms and made their individual best appearance for the group.

Throughout the night, it’s not uncommon to see random acts of sex occurring in the tiny bathroom or the occasional ‘bitch’ fight breakout between friends, very much like what you might see right here at home.

When visualizing these festivities, you must remember that most of these men are huge and very masculine in appearance, they were simply just enjoying the freedom that a tiny false storefront brings in an otherwise extremely sexually-repressed nation.

As we gay Americans struggle for our own equality in a world hell bent on segregation and repression, remember that yes, it could be better, but it also could be a lot worse, and the fight doesn’t stop at home.

Joey is a graduate of Southern Illinois University, a prior Marine, and a triathlete. Originally from Illinois, he moved to San Diego in 2004 and fell in love. He writes for pleasure while traveling the world and continuing his education. He believes that experience is the spice of life and tries to find new things to see, do, and write about everywhere he goes.