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Gay Uzbekistan: Unknown Singer Stands for an Alternative Lifestyle

Homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan, where government officials and the bulk of society hold negative attitudes towards LGBT groups. But a mysterious musician has recently hit YouTube with a song about the sweetness of forbidden tea, reminding the world that Uzbeks, too, can be gay.

During Soviet times, homosexuality was criminalized under article 121 of the USSR's criminal code, yet only two of the fifteen states that emerged from the collapse of the Union in 1991 retained this clause – Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Nowadays Uzbekistan punishes homosexual practice with three years imprisonment and Islam Karimov, the country's leader for over two decades has said [ru] that homosexuality is “disgusting” for Uzbeks.

Seemingly, it depends on which Uzbeks. Last month, a previously unheard of musician caused a splash [uz] with a provocative video on YouTube. In the video a nameless male soloist from a group called ‘Asal Choi’ [Honey Tea] appears in drag, singing an unpretentious song of passion in Uzbek to a male colleague working in the same office. The clip caused heated exchanges among users of the service and commenters on blogs featuring the video. Some Uzbeks accused the Asal Choi frontman of ‘shaming the nation’ while others gave the group credit for raising a taboo topic.

In the video, the Asal Choi singer sings [ru]:

Асал чойингдек ичгин мени, новвот чойинг деб билгин мени.

Drink me as your honey tea, know me as your sweet tea.

One YouTuber, Gulia Gaparova [Гуля Гаппароваarticulated [Uz] a dominant view of LGBT in Uzbek society:

Узбек халкини кулгуга,лаънатга,куйишдан бошка нарса эмас бу, шу энди бизга биз узбек халкига етишмас эди,шармандалик!

This is nothing but the reason of a derision and curse of the Uzbek nation, the last thing [homosexuality] that we Uzbek people were free of. What disgrace!

Another user Arnal Toktomamatov said [ar]:

Astagfirullah!

God forgive!

In other comments religious resentment gave way to overt sarcasm. TheKirbangaspoke [ru] of the incompatibility of Uzbek identity and homosexuality:

Есть ли чтонибудь более жалкое чем узбекский пидорас? Только ебаный румын.

Is there anything more pathetic than an Uzbek [expletive for homosexuals]? Only a sodomized Romanian.

Another user dexterio8says [ru]:

Судя по комментам менталитет в Узбекистане не изменился с 15 века.

Judging by the comments the mentality in Uzbekistan hasn't changed since the 15th century.

The country's perma-president Islam Karimov is not alone in disliking the idea of ‘men marrying men'. The leader of the opposition party ‘Erk’ [Freedom], political refugee Muhammad Salih, adheres to a similar viewpoint. Salih has even traded barbs with Galima Bukharbaeva, editor of the independent diaspora-run website Uznews over the issue of Islam and homosexuality. The Central Asia news digest quotes [ru] him as saying in May last year:

 Я сторонник цивилизованной формы изоляции геев и прочих больных людей от общества, чтобы те не заразили своей болезнью здоровых людей.

I am a supporter of civilized forms of exclusion of gays and other sick people from the community, so that they will not infect healthy people.

Over on Uznews, a user called Renat opposed [ru] this view:

Узбекистан должен признать право своих граждан на неприкосновенность личной жизни. Кто и с кем спит после работы – не дело узбекской госбезопасности и милиции. В любом обществе 2 – 5 % граждан придерживаются гомосексуальной ориентации (вместе с бисексуалами получится ещё больше!). И никакая, даже самая жестокая уголовная статья, никакие “священные” писания законов природы отменить никогда не смогут. Ну, а то, что внимание узбекского общества к этой проблеме стали приковывать артисты эстрады, можно только приветствовать. Фальшивая средневековая мораль должна быть низвергнута навсегда!

Uzbekistan must recognize the right of its citizens to privacy. Who sleeps with whom after work should not be a matter of concern to Uzbek security services and police. 2-5% of the population in any society adheres to homosexuality (even more if including bisexuals!) And not any even the most brutal criminal article, nor ‘holy’ scriptures can reject the laws of nature. The fact that pop-stars are drawing the attention of Uzbek society to this problem can only be welcomed. Fake medieval morality should be overthrown forever!

Another user Некто says [ru]:

Я против геев? Нет. Я могу слушать Элтона Джона или Чайковского. Фреди Меркури. Но я против их вызывающего отношения к другим. И чтобы кто-то диктовал коу-то что норма, а что нет. Есть устои, в котором выросло общество. И самому обществу решать, что норма, а что нет. А не законам, которые гей-лоббисты проталкивают во многих странах.

I am not against homosexuals, no. I can listen to Elton John or Chaikovsky, Freddie Mercury. But I am against their defiant attitude towards others, against somebody dictating to others what is a norm and what is not. There are some foundations on which society has risen. And it is up to society itself to decide what is normal and what is not. And not to the laws which gay lobbyists are pushing through in many countries.

Another user, Ash then noted with sarcasm [ru]:

Не читал коментарии уважаемых, ну разве что по диагонали, обе команды хороши – гомофобы vs “любители прикинуться женщинами”.Одно очевидно – нашим детям достанется худший мир, чем он есть сейчас. Спасибо! Спасибо! Не надо аплодисментов!

I haven't read all the comments of the honorable people, but having skipped through them it seems both teams are good – the homophobes vs ‘admirers of pretending to be women'. One thing is clear – our children will inherit a world even worse than it is now. Thank you! Thank you! No need for applause!

N.B For opponents of homosexuality in Uzbekistan the fact that the singer sang in Uzbek, rather than Russian may be especially galling. For more on the Uzbek government's attempts to control “un-Uzbek” elements of the internet read Sarah Kendzior's Registan article Why Did Uzbekistan Ban Wikipedia?

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

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