Most people live in close proximity with others, family or neighbors or strangers (who know each other even if not friends) so there is nowhere to hide if you are ‘different’.
People make it their business to know others’ business.
Police can stop anyone anywhere for anything whether for a real or imagined infraction–or a shakedown.One of the first things we noticed arriving in Tashkent were the numbers of policemen–on the streets, at subway entrances and down in subway stations (where photos are forbidden), in public markets, patrolling pedestrian underpasses of main roads, on major bridges over rivers, cruising the streets in cars and jeeps.They can stop and detain any driver to see their papers are in order–and mostly likely speedup the delay with a few som (money) slipped between palms.Throughout the city there are grand mansions and apartment buildings constructed or bought by the privileged to launder questionable funds.We were told that many new fashionable apartment blocks are empty and most of the high end mansions are rented out to foreigners engaged in international business.There is no visibility because there is no chance to be visible. One day as we sat at a cafe having tea and cake we were seated two tables away from a pair of policemen having coffee when suddenly they were alerted to a problem and sprang from their seats and ran off to deal with the disturbance. All policemen carry a hand gun and a phone device so if there is anything unusual a dozen policemen will be on the scene within minutes.(photo left, Tashkent: Richard and Michael by statue of Tamerlane) That said, it is rare to find a LGBT citizen serving jail time for a sex crime, first because two people have to be caught in the act by a witness and, more often, the offense is handled on the spot with a fistful of som money.What a visitor will not see in Uzbekistan is a gay community because same-sex activity if discovered is punishable with a prison sentence.They mean business here since this is essentially a police state with zero tolerance for pushing back against political suppression or taunting the authorities with a flash mob rally for gay rights.While Michael climbed the hill to the ancient Zoroastrian cemetery at Shylpyk-Kala, in the middle of a desert, I stayed behind by the car and Serge and I small-talked about California and former governor ‘Schwarznar’ and other forgettable things.Then he casually asked if we were brothers to which I said ‘no, friends’ to which he asked ‘long time? (photo left, native folk singer; friend of Serge’s) And that was it. If he were upset he did not show it and he continued to be his usual gruff yet cheerful self.