Barring of Gay Pride reflects growing official, religious backlash, threats of violence
Declaring that homosexuality is “an unnatural act,” Moscow’s authoritarian mayor, Yuri Lushkov has banned Moscow’s first-ever Gay Pride March planned for late May, and the gay festival and conference that were 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, as Gay City News goes to press, demonstrations in front of Russian embassies and consulates have been organized for March 2 across the continent by gay groups.
U.S. gay organizations have remained silent on the ban on Moscow Gay Pride, and no demonstrations 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 Gay City News 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 wrote. But, he said, “Since we have announced the Pride last July, 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 in us. Kommersant, the paper of business and finance, 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.”
The chief rabbi of Russia, Rabbi Berl Lazar, also condemned the Pride March, telling InterFax that if the event were allowed to go ahead it “would be a blow for morality.” Lazar added 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,” Lazar added, echoing the mufti’s linking of the Pride March 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 toward a social group,” which is prohibited by Russia’s criminal code, 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 told InterFax. “The mayor of Moscow said firmly that the 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.”
Lushkov’s ban has been accompanied by anti-homosexual propaganda on the main Moscow television station, TWC, which the mayor controls, Gay Russia’s Alexeyev 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,” Alexeyev wrote. “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 aim is to stop it and to give objective information on homosexuality to the society.”
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 that the program “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,” UK Gay News reported.
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 Wile, who is not gay, is trying to help us,” Alexeyev told Gay City News.
Lushkov’s anti-gay efforts 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 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 the 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, “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 preparing amendments to the penal code to impose sanctions for “propagating” homosexuality.
Reactions denouncing the ban on the gay events were swift in coming. Louis-George Tin, the president of the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO, which is scheduled for May 17), called for worldwide demonstrations against the ban. Tin, a rising star of France’s movement for racial equality who also heads the Representative Council of French Black Associations, pointed out that Moscow’s mayor was wrong in his statement that the majority of Muscovites were against gays and the proposed pride celebration.
“A recent poll found that 51 percent of Russians thought that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as all other people,” Tin noted.
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, none of the major national gay groups has issued even a word of protest—neither the Human Rights Campaign, nor the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, nor even the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. In this, these groups are extending an isolationist attitude they have maintained in public toward the lethal anti-gay pogrom in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has claimed the lives of a dozen young gay men executed by the religiously fanatic regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
By contrast, Human Rights Watch has vigorously denounced the ban.
“Mayor Lushkov 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. Letting this march proceed is an international obligation.”
On February 28, officers of the European Parliament Gay and Lesbian Rights Intergroup 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 member of the European Parliament. Alexander Stubb, an MEP from Finland—where the nation’s president is the former head of its 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 can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.