August 30, 2012

IconMoscow Pride: a brief history


On 17 August 2012, the same day that three members of Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years behind bars, an appeal against a century-long ban on holding Pride in Moscow was refused. This lost appeal is the latest in a series of disruptions to Moscow Pride since LGBT activists started planning annual parades from 2006.

Consensual sex between men was decriminalised in Russia in 1993, with legal gender changes only permitted since 1997. Much of the population remains extremely homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the line of the military, and the law forbids disseminating ‘homosexual propaganda’ to minors – a ban supported by 86% of Russians, according to a poll earlier this year, though only 6% claim to have seen any such propaganda.

Since 2005, LGBT rights group GayRussia has campaigned for increased visibility and equality of LGBT people in Russia. They successfully removed the ban on gay and bi men donating blood in 2008, and have been campaigning for freedom of assembly (namely, the right to hold a Pride parade) and against the ‘propaganda’ law for several years. Founder and full-time campaigner, Nikolai Alekseev, has headed the fight for Pride, as well as being the first person to be arrested under the propaganda law.

Pride in Moscow has been banned every year, and activists have marched regardless. In 2006 and 2007 the demonstrators were subject to homophobic violence from nationalists as well as from the police, and several were arrested. In 2008 the organisers used a flashmob form of protest, and in 2009 the location was changed at the last minute – clashes with anti-gay protestors were avoided, though the organisers were still arrested and illegally detained overnight. In 2010, activists fed police false information and were able to hold a ten-minute march: for the first time, they avoided violence and arrests.

In late 2010, Alekseev took the Russian government to the European Court of Human Rights, regarding the banned Pride marches in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and won: Russia paid him almost 30,000 Euro in damages and legal fees. However, the next year, the parade was attacked again, and over thirty participants were arrested.

In 2012, another Pride demonstration was planned on May 27th to celebrate the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1993, and forty of the activists were detained by police. A few days later, Moscow announced they would ban Pride for the next one hundred years – activists had submitted requests for 102 Pride parades to the Mayor’s office several months earlier. On August 17th, the appeal against this ban was rejected, and Alekseev  has said he intends to once again appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Gay Russia have said their activists ‘will do everything to achieve full equality’, and prominent Gay Russia member Yuri Gavrikov has told Amnesty International “we will continue – these are actions to defend our human rights and we notice that more and more people want to join us. These actions become a platform for us to start a dialogue and call for broader recognition of our rights.”

With the world watching the Russian government’s treatment of Pussy Riot, who have also highlighted LGBT rights abuses, we can hope that international pressure calling for more support of Russia’s LGBT citizens will soon follow.

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Ludi Valentine


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