By Brett Edward Stout
Originally published on Advocate.com May 17 2012 5:49 PM ET
Approximately 150 protestors faced off against 150 counter-protestors today in St. Petersburg’s first official pride rally held in the Russian city since a new law banning gay “propaganda” took effect last month.
The Petrovsky Park rally was organized by the Russian gay rights organization Coming Out to commemorate today’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Only 17 protestors were expected, but nearly 10 times that many showed up.
In opposition, an equal number of counter-protestors shouted antigay chants and slurs. Meanwhile, police used a blockade to stop either side from charging the other.
Police and officials have looked largely confused about enforcement of the vague new law. They arrested others in the past but also provided government bus transportation and officer protection to the protestors at today’s rally.
Despite the police presence, two activists were reportedly assaulted by counter-protestors. They were shot with a gas gun, a source reports. Then as antigay protestors became frustrated with the police blockade, they turned on a passing bus of immigrants. It is unclear if they believed the bus to be filled with more arriving for the rally.
Coming Out blamed the violence on the law being protested. “This incident demonstrates fully how the ‘propaganda’ laws lead to escalation of violence and hatred in society, which could touch the lives of anyone,” the group said in a statement. “All the more important it is for civil society to unite, become stronger and more visible, and say ‘NO’ to violence and homophobic or any other form of xenophobic discrimination.”
As peaceful protestors sang songs and held banners, they released into the St. Petersburg sky 500 rainbow-colored balloons inscribed with messages of unity and diversity.Petrovsky Park is bordered by water on two sides and a tall building and a street on the other two, making the location of today’s rally fairly secluded.
And the protest itself seems to fall into a grey area created by the new antigay law, which forbids any positive mention of homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgenderism that might be viewed by minors. While the city’s central governing body denied the permit for the protest, sighting the new law, the regional government authorities that control the district where the park is located officially sanctioned the rally.
Pictured is a protestor who was hit by the gas gun. View more photos from the rally on the following pages.