Russian police disrupted the sixth-consecutive gay pride parade in Moscow, Russia on Saturday, arresting and beating more than 30 people, including American activist Dan Choi, Andy Thayer, and France’s Louis-George Tin.
Protesters — who had failed to secure a permit from the city — planned to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden, Moscow and then gather for a second action at City Hall. But the Russian ‘Melitzia’ — anticipating their arrival — shut down access to the garden in the morning and formed a human chain to squeeze out people from the area. The officers violently arrested more than a dozen protesters as they attempted to unfold a rainbow flag and signs reading “Russia is not Iran.” Other activists were also arrested near City Hall. Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has accused the police of colluding with opponents of LGBT rights, Russian nationalists, and neo-Nazi groups. “I saw neo-Nazis leave and re-enter police buses parked on Tverskaya Street by City Hall,” Tatchell writes. “Our suspicion is that many of the neo-Nazis were actually plainclothes police officers, who did to us what their uniformed colleagues dared not do in front of the world’s media. Either that, or the police were actively facilitating the right-wing extremists with transport to the protest.” Watch the videos:
Gay rights advocates had petitioned the authorities for a permit earlier this spring, but the government denied the application despite an earlier European Court of Human Rights ruling that fined Russia $40,000 for suppressing a similar demonstration. The government claimed to have received an outpouring of opposition to the march from Russian religious groups and citizens.
And indeed, following Saturday’s attempted demonstration, the Russian Orthodox Church issued a statement thanking city authorities for “politely” preventing “an instance of propaganda of homosexuality which could have been witnessed by children and teenagers who crowded the two venues of the action.” Some counter protesters expressed similar sentiments in videos from the protest, calling gay people “sick” and saying, “I really don’t want my kids to be like them.” “Why are they stepping on Russian land which my ancestors defended and spilled blood for so this dirt can step all over it,” another Russian woman asked.
Russia classified homosexuality as a mental illness until 1999 and decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1993, but homophobic attitudes remain despite successful protests in other areas of the country. According to a recent study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, Russian attitudes towards gay people have declined since the Soviet era, making Russia one of only four nations — along with Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Latvia — to see a reduction in tolerance towards homosexuality. Fifty-nine percent of the Russian population “felt that homosexual behavior was wrong in 1991 compared with 64 percent in 2008, the study showed.” In another poll from last year, when asked “Whom wouldn’t you like to have as your neighbor?” respondents said alcohol and drug addicts, former criminals, and homosexuals. This attitude was certainly shared by former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, a virulent homophobe, who explained his opposition to past gay pride events this way: “There are two reasons for which gay pride parades can not be organized in the city. Here is the first one. The society morally does not accept such parades; the society does not accept those homos morally. Secondly, if they gather for a parade, they will be lynched. We have a radical part of the society, which does not accept that. Those people may kill homosexuals…,” Luzhkov said. In February, his successor, Sergey Sobyanin agreed, saying, “it is not necessary” to hold a gay pride parade in Moscow.
The United States, France, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe have condemned Russia’s crackdown — in various degrees of severity — and the events have elicited solidarity from gay rights groups around the world. For a review of the challenges faced by gay and lesbian people living in Russia, click over to Yelena Kostyuchenko’s essay on the importance of supporting the country’s fledgling equality movement.