Global Pride Warriors

In the spirit of widespread change, meet four international gay rights activists from Nepal, Russia, Nigeria, and Chile.

BY Advocate.com Editors

May 06 2008 11:00 PM ET

Sunil Pant president of the Blue Diamond Society
When Nepal’s supreme court ruled last
year that the government had no right to legally
discriminate against gays and lesbians, Sunil Pant,
president of the Blue Diamond Society, was there. In fact,
Blue Diamond, a Nepalese LGBT rights organization, was
one of the groups that filed the lawsuit that led to
the court’s landmark decision. Pant said at the time
that the ruling “liberated” his
country’s sexual minorities and hoped it would
set a precedent for conservative nations around the world.

While Americans
are knee-deep in the battle for full marriage rights, we
sometimes forget that in many countries, simply living as an
out gay person can lead to imprisonment, physical
punishment, and even death. Progress in those places
requires people like Pant—not just lobbyists and
activists, but courageous warriors fighting on the front
lines on behalf of their communities.

The International
Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission recognized the
work of Pant and his compatriots by awarding the BDS its
2007 Felipa de Souza Award, named after the
16th-century Brazilian lesbian who was accused of
sodomy and persecuted during the Inquisition.

To foster
profound change, even in the face of peril, is precisely why
IGLHRC supports the work of activists and visionaries around
the globe. “We change the world one city, one
country, one region at a time,” says Paula
Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director, adding that
each time homophobia is fought in places like Chile,
Nepal, or Nigeria, it benefits the global community of
LGBT people. “It is imperative that all of us in
the United States connect with and support our partners and
colleagues around the world,” she says.
“That’s how we participate in changing the
world.”

During his
acceptance speech, Pant pointed to the many successes his
organization has achieved. “BDS has mobilized sexual
minorities over the past six years by creating service
centers in seven cities and network associations in 15
others,” he said. “We have had direct contact
with more than 60,000 individuals from the communities
we serve.”

Yet obstacles
still remain. “Metis -- those traditionally
recognized as third genders -- and other LGBTIs are
excluded and believed to have no capacity to
contribute to society,” says Pant, speaking recently
from his office in Nepal. Which is why it’s
critical to keep pushing to end discrimination and
stigma. “Small injustices must not be
overlooked,” he adds. “Small,
incremental progress adds up over time.” -- Fred Kuhr

Nikolai Alekseev Founder of Moscow Pride and
Project Gay Russia
Nikolai Alekseev never intended to become
Russia’s leading LGBT rights activist. But
suffering antigay discrimination as a university
student -- including being prohibited from writing his
thesis on the rights of gays around the world -- set
him on this unintended path. (His case against
Lomonosov Moscow State University is still before the
European Court of Human Rights.)

Alekseev, now 30,
is a lawyer and public administrator by trade, though
he works full-time as an activist. He first gained global
attention two years ago when he became the principal
organizer behind the inaugural Moscow Pride. But what
was intended to be a celebration like any other Pride
became a battle when Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov banned the
event. Alekseev and his colleagues went forward with
their plans and were confronted by violent opposition
and police arrests that made headlines around the
world. The same fate befell the second Moscow Pride last
year.

Alekseev was
arrested both years. In 2006 he was acquitted; in 2007 he
spent 24 hours in police custody and was fined.

“I was
going to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider to lay flowers when
I was arrested by the police and confronted by
extremists,” recalls Alekseev. “My
grandfather died in the Second World War, and I could not
understand why I was being denied the right to pay my
respects to people who fought fascism. After so many
years, fascism is gaining strength in the country that
defeated it.”

Moscow Pride has
filed a complaint against the mayor and Moscow police in
the European Court of Human Rights. And while Alekseev and
his compatriots wait for a final decision, they have
moved ahead with plans for this year’s May 31
celebration, timed to coincide with the 15-year
anniversary of Russia’s decision to decriminalize
homosexuality. If the European Court doesn’t
help convince the Moscow mayor to lift his ban on
Pride, perhaps international political pressure will do the
trick. Alekseev has sent formal invitations to the
mayors of Berlin, London, and Paris to speak at the
Pride press conference.

“We really
thought having these European mayors here could change
things this year,” said Alekseev. “Since
Mayor Luzhkov knows the other mayors well and meets
with them regularly, they are probably the main channel we
have to put pressure on Mr. Luzhkov.”

Unfortunately for
Alekseev, all three have declined to attend. He’s
particularly critical of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë
and Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, both of whom are gay,
for not wanting to put their support into action. But
the disappointment doesn’t end there. Alekseev
has learned that Mayor Luzhkov put pressure on the hotel
that was to host Moscow Pride’s associated
human rights conference. “We’ve had our
conference at Swissôtel the past two years,” he
explains. “This year, Swissôtel denied the
place to us even though everything was already
arranged a year ago. We are now considering further legal
actions against the hotel.”

Alekseev is a
fighter, but he says he’s not alone. “We have
a saying in Russia meaning, ‘There is more than
one warrior in the field.’ There are many other
people around me who are not very visible, but who are
making a significant difference in the fight for gay
rights in Russia,” he says. “I
don’t think I would be able to change things here
alone.” -- Fred Kuhr

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