Michael Lucas on Russia's Pride Struggle
BY Michael Lucas
May 30 2010 6:00 AM ET
Two gay pride parades were held Saturday in Moscow. Unlike in previous years, there was no police brutality and there were no arrests. On one hand, this was a success of sorts, and on the other hand, you could barely call the events “parades”: The first event consisted of 25 activists walking down the Arbat, the main pedestrian area in downtown Moscow. After 10 minutes, they were stopped by a line of police and dispersed. Some time later an even smaller international group, including British gay activist Peter Tatchell, unfurled a rainbow flag and shouted “Russia without homophobes.” “Today, for gays, it’s like the Soviet era in Russia. Peaceful protesters are hunted by the police as if we were criminals,” Tatchell said to the Associated Press. Last year’s gay parade coincided with the finals of the Eurovision song contest and ended with dozens of arrests. Foreign politicians and pop singers as well as dozens of Russians were attacked by police.
Why does Russia have such a sorry record?
Most obviously, the culprit is Moscow’s famously religious and deeply homophobic mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. He refers to the gay pride march as “the satanic parade” and to gay people as “weapons of mass destruction,” and has made it a point of personal pride that there would be no gay pride while he was mayor.
Luzhkov, of course, is only a symptom of Russia’s deeply ingrained homophobia. This is Russia’s legacy: Despite a brief flowering of tolerance after the revolution, Stalin took up where the czars left off. The state vilified gays, and though it accorded superficial tolerance to the elite, everyone else was threatened with a jail term of up to five years. My mother once told me that one of her best friends from university jumped in terror out of the window to his death when the police came to arrest him.