Moscow’s authoritarian mayor, Yuri Lushkov — declaring that homosexuality is “an unnatural act” — has banned Moscow’s first-ever Gay Pride March, and the gay festival and conference that was to coincide with it. Lushkov has said the Pride activities will be “severely repressed,” while some religious leaders have called for the use of violence to prevent the march. The official ban has created outrage in Europe’s gay community, and demonstrations in front of Russian embassies and consulates have been organized for today, March 2, right across the Continent by European gay groups — yet U.S. gay organizations have remained silent on the ban on Moscow Gay Pride, and no demonstrations against the ban have been organized here.
Plans for Moscow’s first Gay Pride March were announced last July, Nicolas Alexeyev, head of the group Gay Russia, told me via e-mail. Since then, he said, coverage in the print press has been extensive and positive.
“Over the last years, homosexuality was covered by tabloid papers. Gays were laughed at by journalists,” Alexeyev told me in an e-mail. But, he said, “Since we have announced the Pride last, for the first time, daily papers started to be interested in the situations of gays. The radio Echo of Moscow held a talk show prime time, on the topic of the Pride. Then, more recently, the homophobic statements from religious leaders increased the media interest to us. Kommersant, the paper of business and finance (a sort of local Wall Street Journal), wrote an article about gays, for the first time. The gay pride is almost in all papers. The coverage also is very balanced and quite positive for the image of gays. I think journalists understood well that if a Mayor can bypass the constitution and prevent us from our constitutional right of peaceful demonstration, then this is obviously a restriction of freedom. Who will be next tomorrow?”
In the most extreme threat of violence against the Pride March and festival, the Supreme Mufti of the Central Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Russia, Talgat Tajuddin, told the Russian news agency InterFax on February 14 that, “Protests of Muslims [against the Pride March] can be even sharper than those abroad against scandalous cartoons.” He added, “The parade should be allowed in no circumstances, If they go into the streets, they should be thrashed. All normal people will do it, both Muslims and the Orthodox.”
The Mufti said that the Prophet Muhammad had ordered the killing of homosexuals because “their behavior leads to the end of human race. This is neither a democracy, nor an anarchy. This is the end of history. This is abhorrent to God and man,” Tajuddin underscored.
The chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berl Lazar, also condemned the Pride March, telling InterFax that if the Gay Pride parade was allowed to go ahead it “would be a blow for morality,” adding that “sexual perversions” do not have the right to exist. “I would like to assure you, that the parade of homosexuals it is not less offensive to the feelings of believers than any caricatures in newspapers,” Rabbi Lazar added, echoing the Mufti’s linking of the Pride parade with the current furor over the cartoons published in Denmark five months ago.
Pride organizers filed a criminal complaint against the Mufti for his comments with Russia’s General Prosecutor, asking that a criminal prosecution be started against him for “inciting hatred towards a social group,” which is prohibited by Article 282 of the Criminal Code of Russia, Alexeyev said.
On February 16, Mayor Luskhov’s press secretary, Sergei Tsoi, reiterated the official ban, indicating that it would include the festival and conference planned to coincide with the Pride March. “Moscow government does not even consider the issue of allowing a gay parade,” Tsoi said. He added that the plans for the conferences which formed part of the gay festival were “nothing else than a cloak for the [Gay Pride] march.”
“The Mayor of Moscow said firmly that Moscow government will not allow the conduct of the gay parade in any form — neither open, nor indirect, and all attempts to organize non-sanctioned action will be severely suppressed,” Tsoi told InterFax.
Mayor Lushkov’s ban has been accompanied by anti-homosexual propaganda on the main Moscow television station, TWC, which the mayor controls, Gay Russia’s Andreyev said. “This proves that we are obliged to conduct this parade not to allow such people to portray us as perverts and people who only need pity. They lie, they do everything to destroy our reputation, and the people are watching it and live under the influence of such low quality reports. Our aims is to stop it and to give objective information on homosexuality to the society,” Alexeyev told GCN.
A particularly repulsive anti-gay propaganda broadcast on the TWC channel’s “Postscriptum” program at the beginning of February was denounced by Oscar Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Holland wrote Putin that the program — re-run numerous times on the Moscow TV channel — “was apparently of an overtly homophobic nature and quite clearly intended to convince the Russian public that homosexuality is the affliction of a depraved and decadent minority in Western Europe, a minority whose aim is to cause trouble in Eastern Europe by marching for its human rights,” UK Gay News reported.
Holland reminded President Putin that Russia had a number of world-famous people in the arts who were gay , like the composer Tchaikovsky. “It is nothing of which to be ashamed; it is not decadent and depraved; it is a part of human nature and has been since the dawn of civilization,” he wrote. Holland went on to say that while he was not gay himself, he was happy to add his voice to those raised in protest against homophobia. “My grandfather was imprisoned in 1895 simply for being a homosexual and our family was almost destroyed as a result.”
“It is an honor for us that the grandson of Oscar Wilde, who is not gay, is trying to help us,” Gay Russia’s Alexeyev told me.
Mayor Lushkov’s intention to “severely repress” the Pride March and its attendant conference and festival has received a chorus of support from other Russian politicians. Ekaterina Lahova, who chairs the committee of the Duma (Russia’s parliament) on women, family and youth issues, entered the fray by saying it was not “safe for the state to propagate homosexuality” and that the action by the Moscow authorities in banning a gay parade was a “perfectly correct decision.”
Lubov Sliska, the First Vice-Speaker of the State Duma said that some people “equated ‘human rights’ with ‘permissiveness.’” “Therefore, Moscow city authorities made a right decision by banning this procession,” she said, adding, “Some say that the ban to hold Gay Parade does not correspond to human rights but one person asked me: ‘Who is going to protect my rights, if I don’t want to see this Parade?’ There are several million people in Moscow who do not want homosexuals to have this procession. Who is going to protect their rights?”
Alexander Chuev, the deputy leader of the Rodina (motherland) group in the Duma and the head of the Christian and Democratic Perspectives alliance, claimed that, “if Moscow city authorities were to allow this Gay Parade, we would witness horrible consequences of clashes between this campaign’s followers and opponents.” Chuev said that he is currently in the process of preparing amendments to the Penal Code to impose sanctions for “propagating” homosexuality.
Reactions denouncing the ban on the Moscow Pride March were swift in coming. Louis-Georges Tin, the president of the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO, which is scheduled for May 17), called for world-wide demonstrations against the ban on March 2. Tin — a rising star of France’s movement for racial equality who also heads the Representative Council of French Black Associations — pointed out that the Mayor of Moscow was wrong in his statement that the majority of Muscovites were against gays and the proposed Pride. “A recent poll found that 51% of Russians thought that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as all other people,” Tin noted. “These political and religious statements are clearly threatening human rights and diffusing hatred in the whole country.”
Gay groups in many European countries have responded to IDAHO’s call, and major demonstrations have been scheduled for March 2 in support of the Moscow Pride events in London, Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, Warsaw, and other cities. But in the United States, no demonstrations have been organized, and none of the national gay groups here have issued even a word of protest — neither the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), nor even the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) have bothered to issue so much as a press release in protest against the ban of Moscow Pride, let alone call for or organize public actions in support of the repression of Moscow’s gay rights advocates. In this, these groups are continuing the ostrich-like, isolationist attitude they’ve maintained in public toward the lethal anti-gay pogrom in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has already claimed the lives of a dozen young gay men who have been executed by the religiously fanatic regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
By contrast, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has vigorously denounced the ban. “Mayor Luzhkov is giving prejudice a veto over the rights to peaceful expression and assembly,” said Scott Long, director of HRW’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program. “Human rights are not a popularity contest,” said Long. “Letting this march proceed is an international obligation. If prejudice is allowed to trump the rights that all citizens should enjoy, then everyone’s freedoms are endangered.”
On February 28, officers of the European Parliament Gay and Lesbian Rights Intergroup have this afternoon (February 28) issued a statement expressing their “serious concern” about the anti-gay proclamations coming from Moscow and its Mayor. “We condemn this attitude,” said Michael Cashman, president of the Intergroup and a British Labour Party MEP (Member of the European Parliament). Alexander Stubb, an MEP from Finland (where the president of the country is the former head of Finland’s gay rights group) said that the steering committee of the Intergroup has sent written questions to the both the European Commission and the Council of Europe about the Moscow gay repressions. “We are asking for action,” he said.
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared March 2, 2006. It was written for Gay City News. To follow this story first-hand, visit the English section of Gay Russia’s website.