Monday, August 26, 2013

Russians Flee San Francisco Church Before Gay Protest

(Picket in front of the empty and locked church. Credit: Peter Menchini, Gays Without Borders.)

Members of Gays Without Borders and arrived at St. Nicholas' Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) on 15th Street in San Francisco’s famed Castro neighborhood for a peaceful picket only to be told that Rector Leonid Kazakov had left an hour earlier in full vestments and headdress accompanied by members of the church.

The August 25 picket, which was held to protest the Russian government’s continued crackdown on LGBT Russians, went ahead as planned with people holding a brief silent vigil to remember the LGBT citizens of Russia who were killed because of hatred, harmed by the anti-gay propaganda law, or now suffering because of the politics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and ROC Patriarch Kirill.

In June, the Russian government enacted its “anti-gay propaganda” law that bans any pro-LGBT statements or demonstrations in public or private and on the Internet. The Russian government has effectively made being openly LGBT and pro-LGBT a crime. That law has launched protests and boycott calls around the globe.

(A moment of silence was observed standing in front of the church and rector's house next door. Credit: Bill Wilson, Gays Without Borders.)

When protesters arrived at 10:30 am they were greeted by half a dozen uniformed San Francisco Police Department officers in four squad cars parked in front of the church. The picket was set for 11:00 am, which was the usual end time of the worship service and protesters hoped to finally communicate with church leaders and parishioners after weeks of not having our emails or voice mails returned.

(The ABC affiliate KGO-TV ran a teaser and news note, mentioning they couldn't get a comment from the church.)

A gay neighbor came over and told the protesters that he had seen the rector and congregants leave the church roughly 30 minutes earlier and drive off to an unknown location. The church and the rector’s home were locked. There were no members of the church present at any time before or during the action.

After a short conversation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists and the police about keeping the sidewalks clear, the activists laid out their rainbow flags and posters.

(A rainbow flag was well-hung by a gay neighbor across the street . . .

. . . which was reflected in the window of the rector's house. Credit: Bill Wilson, Gays Without Borders.)

Prior to starting, another gay neighbor who lives directly across the street from St. Nicholas was given an enormous rainbow flag and he hung that flag from the front of his home. It flew in the breeze during the picket. With the attention of residential and business neighbors, as they leaned out their windows and stood on the opposite side of the street, and passing drivers honking their horns in approval, the action began.

Holding several rainbow flags and "Boycott Russian Vodka" signs, activists formed a human chain in front of the church. Turning their backs to the church, the moment of silence was observed.

(Credit: Bill Wilson, Gays Without Borders.)

Melanie Nathan, pictured, Mike Hoban and Michael Petrelis of Gays Without Borders, and Robbie Sweeny of gave speeches.

Nathan addressed the plight of LGBT Russians and the need for the ROC to curb its dogma of stigmatizing and demeaning gays. Hoban said international LGBT solidarity was succeeding in staging protests for the past month at Russian embassies and consulates. Petrelis called for the repeal of Russia's anti-gay propaganda laws at the regional and federal levels. Sweeny promoted the Dump Stoli campaign and boycott of all Russian vodkas saying targeting Stoli was a powerful tool to build awareness.

(Credit: Bill Wilson, Gays Without Borders.)

Activists included Joseph Rose, pictured, chanted "Gay Russians under attack, what do we do? Act up! Fight back!" and "We're here, we're queer, we're Russian. Get used to it!"

Joining the American protesters were several gay and straight Russians whose last names are being withheld for confidentiality reasons. One gay Russian named Vladimir, who has resided in the U.S. for more than 20 years, conveyed his support for all efforts on behalf of Russian LGBT people.

(Credit: Gays Without Borders.)

Anatoly, pictured at right, a straight Russian, said he was a friend of the gay community and wants the ROC hierarchy to stop hating LGBT people. Anatoly spoke in Russian and English to the crowd.

(Credit: Peter Menchini.)

From across the street, another gay neighbor, pictured, leaned out his window to shout approval of the picket and he hollered his own slogans of gay liberation.

Once the speeches, chanting, and moment of silence were over, lyrics to the gay anthem "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" were distributed. Everyone cleared their throats then raised voices in unison and sang this powerful song of love and dreams.The activities lasted for 45 minutes. An estimated 50 persons participated at some point in the action.

Here is the video of out action made by Peter Menchini. Many thanks to everyone who assisted in creating this action.

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