Sunday, May 29, 2011

20 Russians at Moscow Alexeyev Pride;
Gay Organizer Skips Action

Permit me to say I'm glad another effort was made at staging a small gay pride march in Moscow on Saturday, and that no one was killed. I deplore the rough treatment and arrest of the activists by police forces and homophobes, and wish a speedy and full recovery to Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, a straight ally, who suffered a head injury that sent her to the hospital. [Correction: She is a lesbian who came out the day before the march.]

I also have to pipe up about the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

The dearth of gay Russians, and their allies in the feminist, socialist and liberal movements, either backing the sixth attempt by Nikolai Alexeyev to stage a pride march or showing up, needs wide discussion. Why? Because after a half dozen similar occasions the tactics and strategies employed by Alexeyev have not evolved and produce the same dismal results.

Rejecting working in coalition with other gay or allied organizations or individuals, who are collaborating together throughout the year on street actions, Alexeyev applies for and is denied a parade permit.

He imports foreign friends with marquee names, in some cases paying their travel expenses, puts them before the cameras and hostile crowds at a very small pride march, violence erupts and occasionally gay blood blows, generating sensational coverage, and the larger gay local gay community is not engaged, creating even deeper distrust of Alexeyev's motives and goals.

The ensuing media attention omits facts about all the other public displays of gay visibility, including flashmobs and rallies, including recent IDAHO May 17 actions in thirty Russian cities and towns. Western gays are left with false impressions about the vibrant and open LBGT community across Russia, because readers of blogs and newspapers only see the sensational shouts and arrests of Alexeyev's foreign pals.

In St. Petersburg, where there is a coalition of activists working in concert, just two weeks before the Moscow march, the local daily paper wrote about this great gay happening (except for the release of the balloons) and ran a photo by Sergey Chernov with the headline "Police Protect LGBT Activists":

The Rainbow Flash Mob — an extremely rare authorized LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights event — took place without incident due to heavy police presence Tuesday, despite threats from nationalists and the arrival of tough-looking opponents at the site.

More than 100 participants holding rainbow flags and posters with slogans such as “Homosexuality Is Not an Illness” and “Different Love, Equal Rights” released 300 balloons into the sky to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The event was organized by the local LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out). ...

My estimate, having read voluminous Russian, French, German, American and British blog and news accounts of the pride attempt, is that only twenty or so Russian gays participated as protesters or observers with cameras in the actions in Moscow. Compare the Moscow numbers with the St. Petersburg numbers, and see that gay street actions can take place in Russia with local backing and engagement.

Speaking of locals missing from the pride march, the Moscow News reported on Alexeyev not making an appearance at his protest:

Nikolai Alexeyev, leader of Russia’s gay rights movement, was conspicuous by his absence at Saturday’s latest attempt to stage a Gay Pride march in Moscow.

The cast of defiant gay rights protestors, jeering far right counter demonstrators and grim-faced riot police was a familiar one, but Alexeyev’s unexpected absence left a big gap at the heart of proceedings. ...

The paper didn't say why he was missing-in-action and no explanation is offered at his blog, his GayRussia site or his Facebook page.

From St. Petersburg, lesbian activist Polina Savchenko shared her thoughts on the QueeRussia listserv regarding key issues:

LGBT community for the most part ignores the Moscow pride because: 1) people do not understand the goals of the parade or how the parade will help them. They do however see its harmful effects, and 2) people do not have any trust in the Moscow pride organization because the organization has never addressed THEM, asked for their opinion, assessed their needs. 

Presence of foreign supporters is great! It's always good to show that international community is watching. However, the proportion of foreign supporters to Russian participants should never be so lopsided. Gay pride should demonstrate the PRIDE of LGBT people in who they are and what they have achieved in the struggle for their rights. When it does not actually include the local community, it is no longer a pride event but is something entirely different.

The U.S. news site Global Post ran a fascinating profile of Alexeyev written by their Moscow correspondent, shedding much light on his tactics, including paying travel expenses for two of his guests from abroad:

Alexeyev has won high-profile champions abroad, from leading British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to Dan Choi, the former U.S. soldier who became the face of the battle against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He flew both of them to Moscow to attend Saturday’s rally. ...

Yet within Moscow’s activist society, Alexeyev has won more enemies than friends. He has shrugged off potential partnerships ...

[His blog and FB page are a] treasure trove of rants against U.S. justice, with particular attention paid to Jews, and once an outpouring of serious hate against Lady Gaga after the pop star declined to meet him. Recently he has derided the “illegal prostitute” sent to discredit former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn. ...

I'm not sure his needless provocations are what's needed when trying to obtain marching permits in today's Russia, and if after six tries you're still coming up with the same violent results with little local support, it is more incumbent than ever that other gays besides Alexeyev speak up and that Westerners list to them and give them a platform on our web sites.

The Moscow News reported the views of another local gay leader, who reinforces what many know to be the truth about Moscow pride:

But other people have different reasons for staying away, “First of all, stop calling it a ‘gay pride march’,” Ed Mishin, publisher of gay magazine, told The Moscow News. “It is a meeting organized by one person, not widely supported by the gay community.

“In St Petersburg last week there was another successful gay meeting.  With rainbow flags and balloons, everybody was happy. A few years ago St Petersburg even had the real gay parade with no hatred from townspeople. 

“And Alexeyev’s problem (the guy who ‘tries’ to organize the meeting) is a lack of will to speak with the authorities and negotiate, not the problem of Russian society in general,” he wrote in an email.

American gays would be wise to look beyond just Alexeyev and his Putin-esque behavior when considering Russia's LGBT community and organizing strategies.

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