For yet another year, Russian-speaking LGBTQ individuals and allies marched down the Riegelmann Boardwalk to mark Brighton Beach Pride — but this year’s event was particularly focused on showing solidarity with Ukraine in the midst of Russia’s invasion.
RUSA LGBTQ+, which consists of Russian-speaking queer individuals, has led the annual Brighton Beach Pride March since 2017 as part of an effort to bring queer visibility to a neighborhood with a significant share of immigrants from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. The event begins in the amusement area of Coney Island and proceeds west along the boardwalk to Brighton Beach, where marchers huddle for a rally with a series of speeches.
The march has always served as a safe space for queer immigrants — and that was the case again this year — but this time the march took on a different tone. Several Ukrainian Flags complemented the usual collection of Rainbow Flags and participants carried signs featuring hearts filled in with Ukrainian colors. Marchers also provided a street beat with drums and other instruments to go along with chants like “Hey hey, homophobia has got to go” and “Putin is a war criminal.”
“[The slogan for] this particular Brighton Beach Pride is ‘A free Ukraine is a free world,’” Yelena Goltsman, the co-president of RUSA LGBTQ+, said at the rally following the march.
The demonstration grabbed the attention of pedestrians who were walking along the boardwalk and those who were dining at a nearby restaurant, Tatiana. The community’s response was reminiscent of every other edition of Brighton Beach Pride: A handful of folks pulled out their phones to record videos, while others just stopped to watch the group pass by.
Some locals appeared surprised to see the demonstration, but marchers in attendance were there with a purpose. Alena Lipa, who moved to New York from Moscow five years ago to establish a better life for her transgender son, said she wanted to attend to show support for her child and members of RUSA LGBTQ+.
“That’s why we are here,” Lipa told Gay City News. “We are so happy to be part of this wonderful community. I brought him to the States and was told New York was the best place for transgender people. My son is much more happier here than in Russia.”
It was the second time RUSA LGBTQ+ marched along the boardwalk since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. On March 19, the organization led an event featuring a wide range of speakers, including individuals who had just recently fled Ukraine for the United States.
During that march and the one on May 22, marchers denounced President Vladimir Putin of Russia as the chief architect of his nation’s assault on Ukraine. But while the event in March encouraged folks to support Ukraine’s military defense campaign, Goltsman explained that there is now a greater focus on providing aid for civilians in need.
The public speeches gave way to a lively atmosphere on a warm and sunny day on the boardwalk. Several marchers stuck around to dance and socialize with other participants.
The event helped to kick off what is expected to be a busy Pride season in New York City. There will be several borough-based festivities during the early weekends of June ahead of the city’s main Pride March on June 26.