For archive purposes, this article is being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.

Friday, 17 February 2006
Gay pride challenges Moscow
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News website, Moscow

Public gestures of affection of the most innocent kind between a man and a woman, such as holding hands, can upset Sasha, a young gay man from Siberia.
Bookstand in Moscow gay lifestyle store
Bookstand in Moscow gay lifestyle store
Gay Moscow has been keeping its rainbow flags indoors

They hurt him because much of Russian society rejects the right of he and his boyfriend to do the same.

However, if a bid to hold Russia's first Gay Pride parade pays off, Sasha and thousands of other gay men and women will take their sexual orientation to the streets of Moscow on 27 May.

It is a big "if" in the face of strong opposition from politicians who do not question the legal right of gay people to pursue their lifestyles in privacy, but do not want to see them making a show of it.

Clergy from Russia's two biggest faith groups, Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims, have equally frowned upon the idea.

This week, the issue of the Moscow Pride electrified Moscow's media after a Muslim cleric was quoted as saying the paraders should be "thrashed by decent people".

It is a scenario which alarms Moscow's authorities in a year when Russia is entrusted with both stewardship of the G8 and, from 20 May, the Council of Europe — a body dedicated to promoting human rights.

Privacy and provocation

Inna Svyatenko, chairwoman of Moscow City Council's security commission, does not have a problem with the city's gay community.
Sasha with his glasses case the rainbow cloth he uses to clean the lenses
In Russian slang, a gay man is "blue" (goluboy) and a gay woman "pink" (rozovaya)
Homosexual acts in Russia were punishable by prison terms of up to five years until 1993

"This city and civic society here are very protective of our sexual minorities," she says.

Gay people work freely in the city and are greatly respected for their contribution in areas such as retail and the creative professions, according to Ms Svyatenko.

They have their own clubs and, she adds, you need only look out the window of her downtown office to see where a gay lifestyle store opened its doors recently.

But she argues against the parade on three grounds:
  • that much of the gay community allegedly oppose it themselves

  • that similar events in East European capital cities like Riga last year ended in violent clashes

  • that the preferred route would cause massive traffic disruption.
According to her information, most gay people in Moscow do not want the Pride because "it is their private life and they do not want to put it on show" and because such an event could provoke violence.

Inna Svyatenko
Inna Svyatenko wants to avoid the clashes seen in Europe last year

"In our fragile society, do we really need to provoke a situation in which the ultra-right and so-called skinheads rise up and the law enforcement agencies are unable to guarantee the safety of the paraders?" she asks.

Of course, the police could suppress any disorder if necessary, she says, but nobody in the city authorities would be prepared to take responsibility for "artificially provoking the disorder".

To allow a parade down Tverskaya Street, Moscow's central artery, would cause massive disruption in a city already choked with traffic, she adds.

"If the gays chose an area on the outskirts of the city or somewhere in Moscow Region, I think the authorities might take a different view," she says.

Inna Svyatenko accuses the organisers of the parade, and their supporters outside Russia, of "wanting to make a name for themselves without any thought for the impact of such an event on other people like them".

"I realise there are certain European countries where these parades have a long history and nobody cares but let's not drag Russia into this — Russia is not ready," she argues.

Breaking the ice

The word "pidor", a corruption of "pederast", is still one of the most common terms of abuse in Russia.

Whatever the local objections in Moscow, the parade would mark the first-ever Pride in Russia as a whole and public tolerance of gay people is still largely confined to a few big cities.
Nikolai Alexeyev (photo supplied by same)
If people had really maintained the status quo in our history... homosexuality would still be a crime
Nikolai Alexeyev

"Russia needs the parade because it will help the country to show that we are a tolerant society," argues Nikolai Alexeyev, the chief organiser of the Pride.

"It will be a very strong attempt to break the ice between society and the gay community.   People will understand that there are no reasons to be scared of sexual minorities."

Russian media, in his opinion, distort the image of gay people, portraying them as "perverts and people who only need pity".

Predicting a turnout of some 5,000, he strongly objects to moving the parade away from the centre though he is open to negotiation about the final route.

He also rejects the suggestion that many gay people do not want the Pride.   Some gay businessmen, he suggests, are anxious about the Pride's possible commercial fallout, but, "at the end of the day, the fact is that activists and individuals support this event".

The Pride organiser links homophobia in Russia to poverty, saying the "more wealthy people are, the less they care about such things".

But some of the event's most vocal opponents are religious leaders, refusing to accept the validity of "non-traditional" sexual orientation, to use the Russian euphemism.

'Glorifying sin'

Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Muslim Spiritual Board in Central Russia, told Interfax news agency that Muslim anti-Pride protests could be angrier than those seen abroad over the Muhammad cartoons.

But his reported call to "thrash" paraders was not taken up by his counterpart in Asian Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, who went on a Moscow radio station to say the use of violence was unacceptable.

While also rejecting the use of violence, the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has condemned the Pride as "homosexual propaganda and the glorification of sin".

Men interviewed in Moscow's new gay store did not believe the gay parade would happen simply because of the mounting hostility.

Its fate will not be decided until two weeks before it is due to be held, when the formal application for permission must be lodged with the Moscow mayor's office.

The mayor's office could not be reached for official comment but is believed to be strongly opposed.

Wilde's legacy

Among foreign figures lending support is Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde, who, while not gay himself, plans to be in Moscow.

"I am happy to add my 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," he wrote in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin this month.

Nikolai Alexeyev passionately believes in the need to make a stand, whatever the risk of a backlash.   The Pride is timed to fall on the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia.

"If people had really maintained the status quo in our history, the Cold War would have never ended, Boris Yeltsin would have never come to power and homosexuality would still be a crime in Russia," he says.

Meanwhile, in the Moscow gay store, the little plastic rainbow flags of the international gay rights movement stay firmly on the shelves and the store's business card refers only to "our theme".

Evidently, for some, a "love that dare not speak its name" must remain anonymous in Russia.

Friday, 17 February 2006
Young, gay and Russian
Sasha, a young gay man from Siberia, is happy about his sexuality among his family and friends but is wary of going public.   He strongly supports Moscow Gay Pride.   Here he talks in Moscow to the BBC News website about his life:
Sasha is only open about being gay among his family and friends

Only people close to me know about my orientation.   I had no real difficulty coming out, apart from with my father.

At first, he was angry, of course, and reacted negatively, but of late he sort of ignores it and there is an understanding that nobody raises the subject in his presence although my parents and sister and I are great talkers.   I have a couple of close friends who know about it.

It suits me that my family and friends know the truth so that I do not have to lie to them.   Strangers — or polite strangers, anyway — do not as a rule ask about my private life.

I had some problems in school.   There were jokes.   But I never took offence and I found the experience useful because I developed a thick skin and I do not react when I hear unpleasant things being said for my benefit.

One TV presenter called [Brokeback Mountain] a "controversial film for adults"

When I am in the street with my boyfriend, I cannot show tokens of affection.   I cannot take him by the arm, for instance.   Well, there are places we can go, but I don't like it, for instance, when ordinary, heterosexual couples demonstrate their relations.   I have never risked holding hands in public and that is the only reason why I would not want to live in Russia.

Before I came to Moscow to study, I lived in a village with a population of 1,200 where the temperature fell to minus 50C in the winter and there was no internet back then.   Even some of the TV channels could not be picked up.   That had an effect on the people, of course.

I feel much more at ease in Moscow.   There is greater development here, it is closer to Europe, there are less conservatives here, in my opinion.   People take a more grown-up view here.

One day, I was out with my loved one on a square in central Moscow, we were hugging and two army officers came up to us.   Well, we thought we would probably have to make a run for it, but they walked up perfectly normally.   One of them even admitted he was writing a dissertation on homosexuality in the armed forces.   That kind of thing could only happen in Moscow.

I have friends in other cities like Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk where there is also good access to the internet and information circulates more freely.   There is tolerance there, but it's not the same as Moscow.

News vacuum

I don't personally know any cases of people being thrown out of their jobs in Moscow because of their sexuality and there are a lot of well-known gay people working here.   On the contrary, I know a lot of gay people who are quite open about it and have not suffered because of it at work.

I know people who lived together in their flats in Soviet times

Despite the prohibitions in Soviet times, there were places in Moscow and other cities where gays could meet and mix.   Of course, any mass arrests would not have got into the news anyway but from the people I know, I can say that there were no mass operations against gays in the 1970s and 1980s.   I know people who lived together in their flats in Soviet times, at the end of the 1980s.   Of course, it was an underground lifestyle.

I am absolutely in favour of the Pride.   Many people have been wanting to hold this for a long time.   Some gay people are not ready for it, but nobody I know has said the Pride is unnecessary.

I need this Pride to asset myself.   This is my "pride", I'm "proud".   This is one way of making ourselves known to society.   The state controls the TV channels, which is how the people in the provinces get their information.   When they were reporting about the success of Brokeback Mountain, nobody mentioned that it was a film about gay people.

I specially watched the reports on the TV news bulletins on the two main channels when they were handing out the Golden Globe Awards [in Los Angeles].   One presenter called it a "controversial film for adults".

So I believe this event, even if it does not make it on to the central TV channels, will reach the masses in some way and people will know that there are a lot of us and we are ready to defend our rights.

I think the success of this Pride depends on the contribution of every gay person, even if it's just persuading somebody else in an internet chatroom to attend.

Tuesday, 11 October 2005
Croatia's homosexuals go public
Detail of newspaper advert
Detail of newspaper advert.
A letter denoting sexual orientation sat by each name
More than 1,000 Croatian gays and lesbians have had their names published in several of the country's newspapers in a bid for greater tolerance.

One thousand two hundred names appeared in the advert under a banner reading: "I don't want to hide any more."

It also carried the message: "Little divides us and a lot unites us.   Reconsider your prejudice."

Homosexuals face severe prejudice in Croatia, where the influence of the Catholic Church is very strong.

Softening of opinion

Police at Croatia's first gay pride march
Police at Croatia's first gay pride march.
Croatia's first gay pride march was marred by violence

Many have been the subject of hate crimes and five years ago, when the country's first gay pride march was held, there were anti-gay protests and violent incidents.

The advert, which appeared in three newspapers and several magazines, was sponsored by the government and several rights groups.

The people named on the list identified themselves as either gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer or heterosexuals who support the campaign.

A letter denoting their orientation appeared by their name.

Although surnames did not appear on the list gay rights campaigners say it is still a significant gesture.

"Even though it's just a symbolic coming out, without full names, this is a good reflection that gays in Croatia are gathering courage to fully expose themselves and that society is growing more tolerant," Dorino Manzin, head of the country's leading gay and lesbian group, Iskorak, said.

An estimated 88% of Croatia's population of 4.4 million people are part of the Roman Catholic Church, which says that homosexuality is morally wrong.

Friday, September 30, 2005. Issue 3264. Page 4.
Gay Man Sues Railroad and Wins
By Irina Titova
Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg court has ruled that the Oktyabrskaya Railroad acted illegally in rejecting a man's application to work as a train conductor because he was gay, the plaintiff's lawyer said.

The case is unusual because gays usually find new jobs rather than challenge discrimination in court due to the social stigma still attached to homosexuality in Russia.   In addition, sexual discrimination in all forms is very difficult to prove in Russian courts.

The plaintiff, a 30-year-old man, appealed to the Frunzensky District Court after his application to enroll in training courses for conductors with the Oktyabrskaya Railroad was rejected in 2003, said the lawyer, Dmitry Bartenyev.

The rejection came after doctors at the railroad's clinic deemed him unfit due to a note on his military record that he suffered from a mental disorder.   The mark was made in 1992, when homosexuality still retained its Soviet-era classification as a "perverse psychopathy."

The court ruled on Sept. 20 that the clinic had violated the law and ordered the railroad to accept his application.

"The court ruled on two important issues," said Bartenyev, who works for the Medical Disability Advocacy Center, an international nongovernmental organization.   "It declared the practice of using military data to restrict human rights unlawful.   The information on it should only be used for military registration, and not to establish someone's health status with regard to employment."

The court also confirmed that the plaintiff's "perverse psychopathy" diagnosis was based exclusively on his homosexuality and that homosexuality was not a mental disorder, Bartenyev said.

Bartenyev declined to identify his client, citing the sensitive nature of sexual orientation, and said his client did not wish to speak to a reporter.

Valentin Morozov, head doctor of Oktyabrskaya Railroad Clinic, said the man was denied a job because of the mental disorder note, not his sexual orientation.

"We have instructions not to allow anyone with mental problems to do work that involves certain risks, such as being a train conductor," Morozov said Thursday.

He said it was not the clinic's responsibility to investigate the reason behind the original diagnosis.

When the diagnosis was made, the man was registered at a local psychiatric clinic and required to undergo periodic psychiatric assessments.   He was classified as being incapable of serving in the Army and issued a military card with the mark "7b," which indicated a psychopathic mental disorder.

In 2003, his name was dropped from the registry at the local psychiatric clinic, but the military refused to cancel his diagnosis and confirmed it still considered him unfit for service because of his homosexuality, which it had reclassified as "other disorders of sexual identity," a classification in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, Bartenyev said.   The WHO has not classified homosexuality as a mental disorder since 1992, when it issued the 10th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, known as ICD-10.

Since 1999, the Health Ministry has obliged all medical professionals to use ICD-10 diagnoses, and homosexuality was expressly deleted from the 2003 list of conditions limiting someone's ability to serve.

The Hungarian-based Medical Disability Advocacy Center praised the court ruling as a step toward fighting the stigma that is attached to both homosexuality and mental disability in Russia.

"Unfortunately, it's still common for the Soviet system of psychiatric diagnoses to be used to restrict everyday life," it said in a statement.   "People with previous records of psychiatric disorders or 'bad military cards' — limiting ability to serve in the military because of a previous mental disorder — are routinely prevented from getting jobs."

Eduard Mishin, editor of KVIR, a Russian publication aimed at homosexuals, said the railroad's rejection had been "an obvious violation of human rights."

"Unfortunately, in our country, many people are still afraid of gays and lesbians," Mishin said.   "They associate homosexuals with mental problems, HIV and a sexual attraction to children."

Mishin said cases in which homosexuals were fired as a result of their sexual orientation were often hard to prove.   As a result, most homosexuals prefer not to fight for their rights and instead change their place of work and hide their orientation, he said.

In another recent case, a Yaroslavl court upheld the rights of a lesbian who was fired from her job as a kindergarten teacher on grounds of "health problems," according to, a leading Russian web site for the homosexual community.

The court ruled on Dec. 28, 2004, that sexual orientation could not be considered an obstacle for working in educational institutions and gave the woman back her job.

Bartenyev said his client had not yet decided whether he wanted to work as a train conductor with the railroad.

© Copyright 2005, The Moscow Times.   All Rights Reserved.

Homophobia seeps across new EU

Daniel McLaughlin in Warsaw

Sunday March 12, 2006
The Observer

He has been attacked by skinheads and threatened by police, and Szymon Niemiec sees life in Poland getting even tougher.   'For gays and lesbians, today's Poland is like 1930s Germany,' he says.   'We are ruled by a fascist party, which uses the same language and ideas as Hitler.'

As a prominent gay rights campaigner, Niemiec, 25, has long been a target for extremist groups, but since the election of the Law and Justice party last November he has felt a new wave of prejudice coursing through deeply Catholic, conservative Poland.

'The police even visited my home,' he says.   'And they told me they were ready to do what they did in 1985, when hundreds of gays and lesbians were rounded up and interrogated by the Communist police.'   Law and Justice (PiS) came to power promising to purge the EU's largest new member of corruption, cronyism and disparities of wealth that have sent the Warsaw skyline soaring, while the elderly struggle and unemployment nears 20 per cent.

But many see a dark side to the party's 'moral revolution' and the rhetoric of other social conservatives challenging for power across central Europe.

Human Rights Watch has accused President Lech Kaczynski of presiding over 'official homophobia' in Poland - as mayor of Warsaw he banned gay parades and said he was 'not willing to meet perverts' when asked to talk to its organisers.

His twin brother, Jaroslaw, the leader of PiS, has said gay people should not teach in schools, while Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz has called homosexuality an 'unnatural' thing that the state must prevent from 'infecting' the general public.

'These are Catholic fundamentalists,' says Tomasz Szypula, of Poland's Campaign Against Homophobia.   'One of the first things they did after taking power was abolish the government office for gender equality, which dealt with all forms of prejudice here.'

It also helped fund minority rights groups and was the kind of anti-discrimination body that the EU demands in all member states.   Critics say its abolition exemplified the government's scorn for Brussels.

'Some of the new EU members signed up to decrees to get into the EU but now treat them like an à la carte menu on which they can ignore what they don't like,' says Michael Cashman, Labour MEP for the West Midlands.

Events in Poland and moves to ban gay marriage in Latvia and Lithuania prompted the European Parliament to pass a resolution against homophobia in January.

Only six of 54 Polish MEPs backed the motion, and the EU will struggle to match the Catholic Church's influence on Poland's new government.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Gays face hostilities in Eastern Europe

Polish President Lech Kaczynski shakes hands with US Republican Senator and majority leader Bill Frist as Democratic Senator HarryReid looks on.
Photo: Rudy K. Lawidjaja

Hostilities against gays in Eastern Europe became more menacing this month after the leader of a Muslim group in Russia said that gays should be "thrashed" if they try to hold a gay pride march there in May, and other religious leaders jumped on the bandwagon, promising to turn out a million counter-protesters to quash the event.

According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Talgat Tajuddin, the head of Russia's Central Spiritual Governance for Muslims, promised a backlash against any gay pride event in Moscow this spring, saying that the Prophet Muhammad ordered that gays be killed because "their behavior leads to the end of [the] human race."   Tajuddin compared gay pride events with the controversial cartoons depicting Mohammad published in a Danish newspaper.

"Protests of Muslims can be even sharper than those abroad against scandalous cartoons," he told Interfax.   Riotous protests erupted following the publication of the cartoons in Denmark on September 30, and their subsequent publication in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Within days of the Russian Muslim leader's comments on February 14, numerous other religious leaders in Moscow began condemning the proposed pride march.   Top Russian Jewish Rabbi Berl Lazar said a gay pride parade is as offensive to "believers" as the recent religious caricatures that have caused an enormous furor.   An official with the Russian Orthodox Church said the church is "obliged to come out strongly against" a pride march "lest an ever growing number of people should be caught in the sphere of sinful influence."

Interfax reported that the leader of the Russian Pentecostals would join the Russian Orthodox Church, Moslems and Jews, to turn out a million counter-protesters.

The mayor of Moscow has already refused to grant Russian gay activists a permit to stage a pride parade there.   A spokesperson for the mayor told Interfax last week that "the city government will not allow a gay parade in any form, open or disguised, and any attempts to organize an unsanctioned action will be resolutely quashed."

The parade was scheduled to take place in Moscow on May 27, and a spokesperson for the organizers of the pride event has said the group would seek legal recourse should the city try to prevent the march.

"The right to meetings, marches and demonstrations is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution to every citizen of Russia, including gays and lesbians," said the spokesperson, Nikolai Alekseev.

Alekseev called the comparison of the pride event with the religious caricatures "an attempt to incite hatred toward sexual minorities."

Meanwhile, in nearby Poland, reports of violence against gays have also increased since ultraconservative religious right politician Lech Kaczynski took office in December as president of the Polish government.   Prior to becoming president, Kaczynski was mayor of Warsaw, where he banned gay pride marches as "sexually obscene."   More than 2,500 gays marched despite the ban, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, but onlookers pelted them with eggs and hostile taunts.

In neighboring Czech Republic, President Vaclav Klaus last week vetoed legislation that would have provided a means for gay couples to register their partnerships with the government.   Klaus said the legislation would "legalize the disintegration of traditional institutions on which the society is based."

Responding to the pride march bans in Poland, Latvia, and other Eastern European countries, as well as violent attacks against pride marchers who have attempted to stage their events, the European Parliament passed a resolution in January calling on member countries — which include Poland, Latvia, and the Czech Republic — to oppose "homophobic hate speech or incitement to hatred and violence" and to treat gays with "respect, dignity and protection."

President Bush and other U.S. political leaders — including Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) — welcomed the new Polish president to Washington on February 9, but a small group of gays in Chicago waved signs of protest at him there, saying "Gay rights are human rights."

Thom Lynch, executive director of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and a member of the advisory committee of Human Rights Watch, an international group, said he's been "disappointed there has not been more outrage from the LGBT community in the United States."   But, he said he is hopeful that the European Union's ability to impose sanctions on member countries might influence some nations to combat hostilities against gays.

Michael Cashman, a British member of the European Parliament and president of its intergroup on gay rights, vowed to raise the issue of the hostilities against gays in Eastern Europe with the European Parliament.

      Copyright © 2005, Bay Area Reporter
Issue: Vol. 36 / No. 8 / 23 February 2006      



For archive purposes, this article is being stored on website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.