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© RIA Novosti. Ekaterina Chesnokova

Gay Pride leader skips Moscow march

by at 28/05/2011 17:36

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 absence of the key player in Moscow’s gay rights movement did not, however, diminish the drama and there was the usual spate of arrests.

“There are eight of us here in this partition, going by the sounds I’d say there are five neo-Nazis in the next partition,” Daniel Choi, front man against the US army’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, told The Moscow News by phone from a prison van.

From a prison van

“Myself and Louis-Georges Tin [founder of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)] were put in isolation and now we’ve returned,” Choi said. Tin, pictured above with Alexeyev at a press conference on Friday, gave a rendition of Toreador from Bizet’s Carmen that did not go down well with the guards.

“One of the neo-Nazi arrestees acted as an interpreter to ask the questions, they were much more harsh and threatening to Louis [who is black – ed.] than to any of the other foreign protestors,” Choi said, listing some of the obscene language that had been used.

Lowered hopes

Anna Komarova, transgender activist and a Gay Russia organiser was also taken. Identifying as a man, Komorova told The Moscow News before the march that protesting for sexual minority rights was an uphill struggle in Russia and that arrests were inevitable.

“Unfortunately in the current circumstances we can only go on to the street and unfurl a banner before it gets taken away, it’s all we can do,” Komarova said.

Alexeyev’s absence may have disappointed those who did come to the march but he had injured his foot when he left a live TV debate in a fury on Thursday night. Choi said in a tweet that he was safe and in hiding.

Gay activists targeted

Official reports listed almost equal numbers of arrests among the ranks of gay activists and of right-wing protestors, “18 activists from the so-called gay movement were arrested and 16 opposed to holding the minority parade,” a police source told RIA Novosti.

Choi and other high profile foreign visitors were arrested outside Alexandrovsky Sad soon after proceedings kicked off, along with the counter-protestors arrests who tried starting a fight.

By the time those few remaining at liberty had moved up Tverskaya to City Hall police attention had moved onto gay rights demonstrators. A young woman was grabbed from the middle of an interview with reporters and bundled into a waiting police van, while right wing agitators walked around unimpeded.

A middle aged man in the middle of a heated argument was likewise snatched up and marched away, his antagonist was left alone.

Word on the street

“I am against this Gay Pride march,” a young man in combats snarled. “Men should be men and women should be women,” he spat.

Student Vladimir did not agree. “I am not gay but I came to support the march because civil rights are for everyone,” he told The Moscow News.

And he does not see the march as rubbing a person’s sexuality in the public’s face, “If you want to change something then change it. You can’t just sit at home…The civil rights movement in America was a template for this. You’ve got to say ‘I’m queer and I’m here’.”

Gay Pride marches has a place in tolerant societies too, he added. “It is like an inoculation, to stop things going backwards.”

People do talk about the issue of homosexuality but there is still some way to go before attitudes ease, “In Russia calling someone gay is the greatest slur,” he said.

Should the march be allowed to go ahead? Tell us what you think in our latest poll

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