Despite the hostility of the authorities, I am proud to be currently traveling to Russia at the invitation of lesbian and gay activists there to participate in a gay pride demonstration banned by the Moscow city government.
Mayor Yury Luzhkov has repeatedly labeled gays "satanic," and last year had about 40 of us arrested by the OMOH, Moscow's riot police. This year's demonstration, slated for Saturday, May 29, will go forward despite Luzhkov's ban.
This is the fifth year that Moscow authorities have banned gay pride events in the city, despite a decriminalization of homosexuality that occurred 17 years ago when Russian authorities were courting the European Union. In announcing this year's ban, Moscow authorities did not offer an alternative venue to the proposed site of the protest, as they are required to by law.
"For several years, Moscow has experienced unprecedented pressure to conduct a gay pride parade, which cannot be called anything but a Satanic act," said Luzhkov in December. "We have prevented such a parade and we will not allow it in the future. Everyone needs to accept that as an axiom."
"It's high time that we stop propagating nonsense discussions about human rights, and bring to bear on them the full force and justice of the law."
Principal Moscow Pride organizer Nikolai Alekseev countered by calling Luzhkov's decision "purely political... We are ready to take all bans to the European Court of Human Rights, which this year is due to rule on the complaints lodged over the bans on the first three Moscow Gay Prides - in 2006, 2007, 2008."
Unfortunately, most of the "official" human rights movement in Western Europe has dragged its heels over offering genuine help to our Russian gay and lesbian friends, apparently preferring steady imports of Russian natural gas over upholding human rights principles. Some honorable exceptions to this are Britain's Peter Tatchell, Germany's Volker Beck and France's Louis-Georges Tin, who will be joining me in a Thursday press conference, along with Russian LGBT activists Nikolai Baev, Maria Efremenkova and Alekseev.
Finally, I am extremely grateful to my friends in the all-volunteer Gay Liberation Network, whose financial and moral support has made my trip possible. In 2007, GLN sponsored Nikolai Alekseev's first-ever visit to the United States, where he spoke at our 7th annual Matthew Shepard March and Rally for LGBT Freedom.
More information about the movement for lesbian and gay rights in Russia can be found at www.GayRussia.ru.