TV & Radio
The Times May 27, 2006
Gay pride takes a fall amid fear and threats
From Jeremy Page in Moscow
IT IS almost midnight at the Three Monkeys and the manager is worried. The most popular gay club in Moscow should be heaving by this time, Ivan Timchenko says. But the bar is almost empty, the dancefloor deserted. Barbed wire has been strung around the exterior, extra bouncers have been drafted in and the barmen have been issued with electric batons.
Russia’s homosexual community is under siege. It should have been preparing to celebrate the 13th anniversary today of the lifting of a Soviet-era legal ban on homosexual relations between men. Instead, plans to mark the occasion with the first gay parade in Russia have sparked a violent backlash from religious and nationalist groups, and the controvery is polarising the country’s fledgling gay community.
The controversy began last year when Nikolai Alekseyev, a gay rights activist, announced plans to stage a parade. “We want to give hope to gays and lesbians in the regions, who have no influence on politics,” he told The Times. “These people do not feel free, natural or normal. They think they are mistakes of nature.”
His proposal triggered a chorus of outrage from Russian Orthodox, Muslim and Jewish leaders. Talgat Tadzhuddin, the Chief Mufti, said: “If they come out on to the streets anyway, they should be flogged.” Mikhail Dudko, of the Orthodox Church, denounced the idea as the “propaganda of sin”, and one bishop likened homosexuality to leprosy. The furore spilt on to the streets this month, when angry crowds protested outside the Three Monkeys and another club that was playing host to a gay night.
Skinheads and elderly women holding icons and crosses chanted, “Death to pederasts!” and “Russia for Russians!”, and several of the clubs’ guests were attacked. Moscow city authorities have since turned down the application for the parade, saying that it could provoke riots. Inna Svyatenko, the head of the security committee of the Moscow City Duma, said: “It wasn’t long ago that homosexual relations were illegal. There is still no single generation that has grown up without this way of thinking.”
Mr Alekseyev was vowing to go ahead with some sort of public demonstration today. On Thursday he launched the Pride ’06 festival with a conference attended by Peter Tatchell, the co-founder of Outrage!, and Merlin Holland, the grandson of Oscar Wilde.
As Mr Holland delivered his opening lecture, about 20 skinheads burst into the hall, screaming abuse, throwing eggs and spraying an unidentified gas.
Mr Alekseyev is also facing growing opposition from Russian gays who worry that a parade would antagonise heterosexuals. One group of gay activists has issued a statement calling a parade “untimely, dangerous and provocative”.
Mr Timchenko said that he and most of his gay friends were opposed to the public celebration of homosexuality. “It is too early for Russia,” he said. “We need to start breaking down barriers at home first. If we can’t talk about this at home, how can we shout about it on the street?”
September 18, 1998 Gays in Zambia defied laws and held first public rally. Ended as onlookers jeered demonstrators
July 8, 2000 100,000 marched in World Pride 2000 in Rome. Pope John Paul II described it as an insult to Rome
June 30, 2001 Shots fired, “Death to homosexuals” shouted in Serbia’s first and only gay pride march
November 1, 2003 First gay pride parade in Taipei, many participants wore masks to hide identities
June 30, 2005 Ultra-Orthodox Jew attacked three with a kitchen knife in Jerusalem parade
July 8, 2005 Nearly 300,000 took part in gay pride celebration in Rome
July 22, 2005 Protests at first Latvian gay pride