By Peter Tatchell
Russian gays have won an important moral and political victory. Yuri Luzhkov said a gay pride parade would never happen while he was Mayor of Moscow. But Moscow Pride did happen, on 27 May, despite the Mayor’s ban, police arrests, and violence from neo-fascists, right-wing nationalists and Orthodox Christian fundamentalists.
Moscow Pride has been a milestone in Russian lesbian and gay history. By insisting on the right to protest, they were defending more than gay rights. They were defending the democratic freedoms of all Russians, gay and straight.
Some gay people say Moscow Pride has stirred up trouble and provoked a backlash. But 20 years of quiet lobbying has achieved very little for Russia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The holding of Moscow Pride has been a catalyst for cultural change; generating more media coverage and debate about gay issues than the whole of the last decade combined.
Mayor Luzhkov’s overt and unapologetic homophobia has given a tacit green light to the homo hatred of the political and religious far right. The bigoted atmosphere he helped create fuelled the homophobic violence on the streets of Moscow last weekend.
Moscow Pride was due to start by the Kremlin Wall in Alexander Gardens on the edge of Manezhnaya Square, at the Tomb to the Unknown Soldier, which commemorates Russians who died in the war against Nazi fascism from 1941-45. The Moscow Pride organisers wanted to lay flowers to highlight their opposition to the revival of fascism in Russia, including the violent homophobia of neo-Nazis and right-wing nationalists.
When we arrived, the square was ringed by police and militia, and dotted with nearly 300 homophobic counter-protesters, including neo-fascist thugs, extreme nationalists and Russian Orthodox fanatics waving religious icons.
As we approached the locked gates [of the Tomb], a dozen of us were set upon by 100 anti-gay protesters. They began shoving, punching, kicking and pelting us with eggs.
They abused us with chants of “No sodomy in Moscow,” “Death to fags,” “Russia is not Sodom” and “Put the pederasts on the iron” (a reference to an ancient Russian method of executing gay men by forcing an iron rod up their anus). Initially, the police did nothing to protect us.
A phalanx of police and militia eventually broke up the melee, arresting the march organiser, Nikolai Alekseev. The rest of us were forced further up Manezhnaya Square by advancing lines of militia and police... We attempted to follow the planned Moscow Pride route up Tverskaya Street to the Yuri Dolgoruky monument...
Meanwhile, some of the right-wing thugs, many of them masked, stormed up Tverskaya Street looking for gay and lesbian people to attack; lashing out indiscriminately at shoppers, including non-white passers-by. None of the assailants were detained by the police.
Our group made its way through the backstreets to the Yuri Dolgoruky monument on Tverskaya Street, opposite City Hall, to join the picket against the Mayor’s ban on Moscow Pride. At the monument there were another 20 gay pride marchers. They had been attacked earlier by neo-fascists chanting “Gays and lesbians to Kolmya”, a reference to the gruesome gulag camp where dissidents were incarcerated and abused during the Soviet area.
Having contained the right-wing bullies, the riot police turned on the gay pride marchers; driving us away from the monument, straight into an oncoming posse of about 20 fascists and skinheads.
Fortunately, we were strung out in ones and twos — and they didn’t seem to recognise us. We managed to escape down a side street, only narrowly avoiding another of the many gangs of homophobic thugs who seemed to be marauding around the city all afternoon with apparent impunity. Eventually, we found refuge at the nearby Bar Gogol.
• Full text at www.petertatchell.net