Moscow city police shut down Moscow’s seventh attempted Gay Pride Parade on Moscow’s Red Square yesterday, even though the city’s ban on the annual festival was declared illegal last year by the European Court of Human Rights. Moscow Gay pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev (whom I’ve come to think of as Moscow’s Harvey Milk) was arrested the moment he set foot on the square and was carried off by police at a dead run, captured in this photo by blogger Roustem Adagamov (you can see more of Adagamov’s excellent photos of the event here).
Other Gay Pride activists were arrested within seconds of displaying anything rainbow-colored or even just for talking to the gathered press. A few counter-protesters also showed up, including members of the fundamentalist Russian Orthodox group Union of Orthodox Bannerbearers (Союз православных хоругвеносцев), who periodically chanted ‘Sodom won’t pass” («Содом не пройдет»); some of these counter-protesters were also arrested (there’s at least one moment of equal opportunity for you). Bursts of violent melee erupted when a few young men fell upon some of the Gay Pride would-be marchers with fists flying, as captured in this video on the Novaya Gazeta website:
What do Moscow bystanders think of all of this? Lida Moniava, a resident of the neighborhood where the Gay Pride Parade was attempted, wrote in her Live Journal blog:
“It is impossible to watch the video of today’s gay parade in Moscow without tears. I don’t like the idea of parades on a sexual theme, and I do not belong to LGBT society, but watching the Russian Orthodox psychotics who were beating up intellectual and well-meaning gays and lesbians, and the OMON who were twisting people’s arms and dragging them away for no reason at all makes me want to get up and go to the next gay-parade, just out of solidarity. This whole nightmare took place today right outside my front door, and the Russian Orthodox psychotics, screaming their slogan “Sodom won’t pass”, went en masse into my very own church, where I’ve been going for five years practically every week. Taking everything into consideration, there’s no way I can say this doesn’t concern me. It concerns me. And what to do about it, as always, I don’t know and I’m very sad.”
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 (the same year it was decriminalized in my own adopted home of Ireland, incidentally). In 1995, Nikolai Alekseev started his university studies in Moscow State University, while also interning at the Constitutional Court in Moscow, and he graduated with honours in 2000. He stayed on at MSU to study law, doing well until he proposed to change his dissertation topic to focus on the legal status of sexual minorities in Russia – his supervisors disapproved and he had to give up graduate studies. This seems to have daunted Alekseev not a whit; eventually, he dedicated himself full time to gay-rights activism, and he now heads the Russian Human Rights LGBT-Project GayRussia.Ru. Alekseev is active in a number of gay-rights campaigns in Russia, but his one main success to date is his fight against the Russian Ministry of Health’s ban on blood donations from homosexual men. In an uncharacteristically progressive act, the Ministry overturned the ban in May 2008. Currently, the Moscow City Council is debating an anti-“gay propaganda” law similar to the one recently passed in St. Petersburg.
Arrest of Nikolai Alekseev at the first Moscow Gay pride in May 2006. Photo Nikolai Alekseev at en.wikipedia.