They barreled down the Riegelmann Boardwalk chanting, “Hey ho, hey ho, homophobia has got to go,” and “We’re here! We’re queer! Immigrants are welcome here!”
With a strong focus on the intersection of LGBTQ and immigration issues, a vibrant group of local queer residents combined with allied organizations from around the city gathered on May 19 to commemorate the third annual Brighton Beach Pride celebration on a windy but sunny Sunday afternoon in southern Brooklyn.
The event was led by RUSA LGBT — a network of Russian-speaking people, their friends and loved ones — and featured activists, representatives from several city agencies, folks from Queens Pride and the Reclaim Pride Coalition, and others who traveled from near and far. Attendees were there to stand in solidarity with a marginalized LGBTQ community often plagued by immigration woes and homophobia in a part of Brooklyn still known to be rife with conservative viewpoints. Participants included those who fled their Russian and Eastern European homelands where LGBTQ people regularly face social stigma and persecution.
Marchers, holding Rainbow and Transgender Flags along with signs highlighting the abuse of LGBTQ people in the Russian region of Chechnya, stepped off at the Ruby Jacobs Club Walk and proceeded east on the boardwalk until they stopped to hold a rally at the boardwalk and Brighton 15th Street. Some onlookers sitting on benches or walking the boardwalk watched with a seeming indifference or surprise, while others clapped enthusiastically and snapped photos.
When the march reached the rally locale, Lyosha Gorshkov, the co-president of RUSA LGBT who was driven out of Russia by persecution and gained asylum in the US, got the diverse crowd fired up with sentiments voiced in both English and Russian expressing gratitude to those who overcame the trauma of homophobia back in their home countries and are willing to stand proud in their new land.
Participants held signs in support of Black Lives Matter as well as trans and immigration rights as other speakers stepped up to tell their asylum stories and provide folks with information on how to receive immigration assistance. Matthew McMorrow, an out gay senior advisor to Mayor Bill de Blasio, emphasized to the crowd that the city supports the entire LGBTQ community in southern Brooklyn.
“As we prepare to welcome the world to commemorate Stonewall, we have a message we will take to the world — that queer immigrants are welcome here always, every day,” McMorrow said. “I want you to know that the City of New York has your backs.”
The city’s Commission on Human Rights, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and the NYPD Community Affairs Unit were among the city agencies in attendance. Notably absent, however, were elected officials. Gorshkov said he invited City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, who represents the area, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, as well as de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“The elected officials pay no attention to our concerns,” Gorshkov told Gay City News. “What we need to do more is to encourage other people to stand up for themselves because that’s the main thing. They’re still traumatized, still afraid to walk around the neighborhood in Brighton Beach.”
Gorshkov was particularly upset that Deutsch, who unleashed a homophobic attack on an opponent during a debate in his first campaign for City Council and has repeatedly voted against LGBTQ rights, still refuses to attend Brighton Beach Pride — especially at a time when the vulnerable community is fighting for acceptance.
“Deutsch told me plainly that he does not support same-sex marriage and he is not going to attend Brighton Beach Pride,” Gorshkov said. “I sent him a lot of invitations and he dismissed them. He still supports conversion therapy.”
Still, Gorshkov was glad to see the mayor’s office, the Human Rights Commission, and other representatives from city government in attendance, as well as several advocacy groups. Like the Reclaim Pride Coalition, RUSA LGBT’s growing grassroots support has been fueled in part by it refocusing its Pride celebration on critical issues facing the community rather than allowing a large corporate presence to overshadow the event.
“It feels amazing because I feel like every single year we’ve had more and more people,” he said. “We have a lot of Brighton Beach residents here and they would like to come back. That means we are doing something that’s very important.”