Gay Standoff Brewing in Moscow

In yet another blow to organizers of Moscow’s first-ever Gay Pride March, scheduled for May 27—previously banned by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov in an April announcement—city authorities this week said that the conferences and festival planned by Pride organizers would also be banned.

In announcing the ban on any of the gatherings, Moscow’s chief of security, Nikolau Kulikov, told the Echo Moskvy radio station on May 21 that “all public expressions [by gays and lesbians] must be banned. They violate our rights. We have our traditions, lots of religious groups told us that they were against this Gay Pride.”

Activities ancillary to the Pride March—which organizers insist will be held despite the ban on the demonstration—include an international conference on homophobia co-sponsored by and the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). Among the scheduled speakers at that conference is Merlin Holland, the grandson of Oscar Wilde.

Nicolas Alexeyev, one of the principal organizers of Moscow Pride, told Gay City News from Russia, “In all, from abroad we expect 100 participants from 20 different countries.”

The ban comes as Russia last Friday assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe. Founded in 1949, the Council has 46 member countries and is composed of their foreign ministers. While the Council is a separate entity from the 25-member European Union, no country has ever been granted EU membership without first being a member of the Council. At its quadrennial summit meting held in Warsaw last year, the Council of Europe adopted a political declaration making its first priority “promoting the common fundamental values of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy,” according to the Council’s Web site.

A number of European politicians have announced their intention to go to Moscow to participate in the Pride March, including members of the European Parliament from several countries. One of the Parliament members, Sophie in ‘t Veld of Holland, said of the ban on gay activities, “This is a very unfavorable start to the Russian chairmanship in the Council of Europe.”

The openly gay mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, is sending two representatives, including a vice mayor, to the Moscow Pride events. Openly gay German member of Parliament Volker Beck—the former spokesman for the German gay rights group LVSD, who is considered the father of Germany’s domestic partnership legislation—will also make the trip to Moscow.

Last week, Jack Lang—France’s former minister of culture and also of education under the late President Francois Mitterand, who is a declared candidate for the Socialist Party’s 2007 presidential nomination—told Moscow Pride organizers that he would also travel there to join the march. Last Thursday, Lang released a personal letter he’d written to Russian President Vladimir Putin denouncing both the actions of Mayor Luzhkov in banning the march and the “unacceptable threats of violence by religious authorities” against the gay participants, Agence France Presse reported. In his letter to Putin, Lang—consistently one of France’s most popular politicians according to public opinion polls—declared that he felt “personally insulted by the attitude and statements of the mayor of Moscow and these religious leaders.”

The grand mufti of Russia’s Muslims, Talgat Tajuddin, had earlier called for the gay marchers to be “beaten” by believers, and the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church had publicly condemned the Gay Pride festivities as a “sexual perversion.”

Russia’s chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, said that if the Pride Parade were allowed to go ahead it would be a “blow to morality,” adding that “sexual perversions” do not have the right to exist.

At the beginning of May, hundreds of Russian neo-fascist skinheads and Russian Orthodox Christians bearing icons and crosses attacked gay men and lesbians arriving at parties at two Moscow nightclubs, throwing bottles, rocks, and eggs and forcing the cancellation of both gatherings. Moscow police were tardy to arrive, but eventually made 39 arrests in the two incidents.

Pride organizer Alexeyev told Gay City News that plans have been made to protect Pride participants against violence.

“We have already ordered full security for all the events of the Pride festival. And we have paid extra for that,” he said. b“All the six events will be protected by private security or the police. I will not let anyone disrupt anything. The world is watching us.”

Human Rights Watch has condemned these latest violent attacks on Russian gays and called for the bans to be revoked, telling Mayor Luzhkov that he “can stand up to protect human rights, or endorse the views of extremists responsible for anti-gay violence.”

HRW’s Director of LGBT Affairs, Scott Long, will make the trip to Moscow to join the Pride activities.

In a separate letter to Luzhkov, Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, wrote, “We remind you that your active support for the Pride Parade in Moscow is a critical component of your obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of all citizens in Russia, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens who make up your constituency.”

At the group’s 2006 Human Rights Awards in Manhattan Tuesday evening, Ettelbrick said IGLHRC would be represented in Moscow as well.

In sharp contrast, neither the Human Rights Campaign nor the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has even issued a press release in solidarity with Moscow’s gays under attack and these groups have no plans to send representatives there.

Moscow Pride organizers are appealing the bans on their activities in the city’s courts. Regardless of the bans, Alexeyev told Gay City News, “The Russian Constitution guarantees our right to demonstrate, so on May 27 we will be in the center of Moscow celebrating the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of same-sex relations in Russia.”

In New York, on the eve of the Moscow events, the Greek and Russian Orthodox LGBT group AXIOS will hold a vigil and demonstration in front of the Russian Consulate, at 9 East 91st Street, just off Fifth Avenue from noon to 1 p.m. The group will then proceed to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission at 75 East 93rd Street, just off of Park Avenue, for another one-hour vigil. Anyone interested in helping to plan for the demonstration should e-mail or call 212- 989-6211.