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Celebrates Three and a Half Years of Gay Activism – and a Million Visitors
Three Moscow Prides, 165 banned events appealed in the courts, 5,000 articles published, 10 million hits on its web site, and more than a billion watchers of Moscow Pride 2006 documentary. A retrospective.
MOSCOW and LONDON, December 20, 2008 – Russian LGBT human rights project GayRussia.ru has become the leading non-commercial LGBT web portal in Russia with more than 1 million visitors, 10 million hits and 5,000 articles.
“We started from scratch” said the man behind the webiste, Nikolai Alekseev who is also heads the organising group for Moscow Pride.
“Whether you support it or not, the Moscow Pride initiative went beyond the concept of a one day march for LGBT equality. It turned into a dynamic that allows for activism on the other 364 days of the year”
“Moscow Pride has become the symbol of the fight not only for gay rights but for civil liberties in Russia. It also became a brand that attracts media attentionm, and rewards all foreign participants”
GayRussia in the footsteps of the IDAHO campaign
It all started when GayRussia.ru made its debut in cyberspace on May 17, 2005 – the first International Day Against Homophobia. The organisation had earlier agreed to become the coordinator of the Paris based IDAHO Committee in Russia.
Few months later, GayRussia.ru offered IDAHO founder Louis-Georges Tin the chance to stage the group’s first conference in Moscow during the city’s first Gay Pride festival in 2006.
On this occasion, IDAHO and GayRussia.ru managed to attract to Moscow activists and politicians from more than 20 countries. Since then, Moscow Pride is not just an event, it’s a tradition. It was held in May 2007 and May andJune 2008.
“Louis-Georges Tin is one of our supports from the very first day,” Mr. Alekseev pointed out. “He made many things possible.”
As a result of multiple homophobic dissents to Moscow Pride within Russia, the network of coordinators of IDAHO around the world staged many protests were organized in front of Russian diplomatic representation throughout the world – San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Vienna and Stockholm among the pickets.
Next year, IDAHO will be back again in Moscow – GayRussia.ru plans to host the 2nd Conference of the organisation.
Permanent fight against homophobes
GayRussia tracked and revealed the homophobia of various Russian politicians and public figures. Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov had tough time during his international meetings of the ‘M4’ ( annual summit of the mayors of Berlin, London Moscow and Paris) staged in London and Berlin.
Then, GayRussia.ru applied for the criminal prosecution against Mufti Talgat Tadjudin, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Tambov region governor Oleg Betin.
Pressure on the Parliament
Activists of GayRussia took the fight for gay rights at a political level. In December 2007, 20 activists had arranged to vote for the renewal of the Parliament in the same polling station that the Moscow Mayor, who was also running the list of the main ruling party which later appointed Vladimir Putin as its leader.
Prior to casting their vote, the activists showed journalists the ballot papers they had nullified by adding: “No to homophobes, no to Luzhkov” on them.
Nine of the activists were famously arrested. They were released the same day on the order of Prosecution Department, and later declared innocent by a Moscow Court as the ‘regime’ did not want to risk having a court case on the election which could have been ultimately looked at by the European Court of Human Rights.
Results of the elections was as a success to all. Nikolai Kurinovich, the main political opponent to Moscow Pride ‘06 was not re-elected. But the same fate fell on Alexey Mitrofanov who had helped with the organising of Moscow Pride ’07.
The Moscow Helsinki Group had, on this occasion, mentioned that it cannot take part to an event next to Mitrofanov whose presence was only driven for the publicity of his own re-election.
After his participation, Mitrofanov was disowned by his own party and finally was soundly defeated in his re-election bid.
Even though Mitrofanov’s past was well known to the organisers, he remained the only elected deputy who ever spoke in favour of Moscow Pride to the media and in the Duma. His participation was not limited to the press conference as he also provided a lawyer to defend the organisers who were arrested, as well as cars and bodyguards to foreign MP’s who took part.
Another figure that missed his re-election by just 0.07% is Alexander Chuev. The former deputy is well known for anti-gay actions as well as multiple attempts to re-criminalise homosexuality in parliament.
His campaign suffered from the debate on prime-time television with Nikolai Alekseev.
GayRussia.ru and Moscow Pride made it possible that, for the first time ever, a leader of the Russian State expressed his position on LGBT issues.
President Vladimir Putin was asked a question during the annual press conference in Kremlin in winter 2007.
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Success on the end of the ban on gay blood donors
In 2006, a campaign was launched to end the ban on gays giving blood. The ban that was in force for many years was finally repealed by the Ministry of Health in spring this year. It took several letters and pickets, some of them not authorised, to get this successful outcome.
Even though, this could be seen a very symbolical, it is the first piece of gay discrimination that has been set-aside in Russia since the 1993 decriminalisation of male homosexual acts.
A news agency in Russian and English for all LGBT news
Over the last three years, GayRussia.ru has published more than 5,000 news items on gay life in Russia – and abroad. It has worked closely with other media outlets, including the main Russian domestic news agencies who have republished parts of GayRussia’s articles.
More than 400 articles have been published in English, meaning that gay news from Russia has reached a world-wide audience through both the international ‘mainstream’ and the LGBT media.
GayRussia.Ru initially began to broadcast English news in 2005 with the Interview from the Iranian activists of MAHA which was republished by LGBT and mainstream media in more than 45 countries.
An unprecedented pressure on the Russian Court System
A record number of ‘gay’ marches and pickets – 165 so far – have been banned by Russian authorities. All the bans have been appealed, and lost.
But even though the activists were unsuccessful in overturning the bans through the Russian courts, they have pledged to challenge all of them at the European Court of Human Rights.
The precedents already set by the ECHR in Strasbourg should mean sucess all the cases .
Project GayRussia has always given importance to gathering video evidences of LGBT human rights violations. In 2007 the documentary about the first Moscow Pride produced by GayRussia.ru was included in the official program of Berlin Film Festival.
The activists also have video footage taken by some of the most reputable television companies in the world.
Future of the movement is beyond Russian borders – integrating Belarus
In May 2009, Moscow Pride ’09 will host the first Slavic Pride together with Belarusian activists. This was agreed at a meeting last month in Minsk, along with a co-operation agreement between activists of both countries.
A media exposure never seen before
In terms of media exposure, GayRussia.ru has struck both a precedent and a victory. The Moscow Pride initiative managed to put gays in the spotlight of the media.
The image that Russians had of gays was limited to what they could read in the tabloid magazines. But that is slowly changing as Moscow Pride helped in the organising of talk shows and debates on TV.
“We showed to the rest of the country, to the people who live outside of Moscow and the main cities that gays are not like singer Boris Moiseev, walking in women’s clothes and scared to speak out for their rights or to defy the authorities” claims Mr. Alekseev.
Moiseev, known to be close from Vladimir Putin and the Moscow Mayor, has been an opponent of Moscow Pride.
The absence of any journalists at the first press conference organized by GayRussia in May 2005 was followed by the registration of more than 100 journalist to any Moscow Pride press conference today proves the shift of interest of journalist’s and their editors for gay issues.
“While the press coverage, as one can guess, is not 100% supportive within Russia, it has been on average very positive,” Mr. Alekseev pointed out .
“The vision of Russians toward homosexuals has changed. With ‘prime time debates’ gay issues are no longer seen as a pure tabloid interest.
“Clearly, Moscow Pride allows us to attract those who fight every day for civil liberties, rights and also, those who are attracted by a broad media exposure.
“For us, it’s a win-win situation. If there was no media interest, we would still face protesters and police. But without any political pressure on the government within diplomatic circle.”
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Will Russian gays get the permission to march in 2009?
Russian authorities have created an awkward situation in which a public action has usually great chances to be permitted as long as the words gay, homosexual, lesbian or transsexual are not included in its application.
But, Mr. Alekseev admits, it is too early to know if the Slavic Pride will be authorised in May next year.
“To be honest, diplomatic pressure from Brussels, Paris and Berlin has so far not worked.
“But don’t get me wrong. With oil prices tumbling, Russian officials will probably now be much less arrogant abroad like they were 10 years ago.
“Clearly, there is no interest from Kremlin as we speak to break the status quo on gay rights, but there is also no interest at the European Court of Human Rights to speed up the hearing of our cases against the government.
“Remember that the case against Poland over Warsaw Pride was concluded within 18 months… but we are told to wait five years…” he added.
Another activist and writer at GayRussia.ru is Nikolai Baev. He commented that “it’s amazing how, in a short period of time, a small group of people managed to achieve such outstanding results in the promotion of LGBT rights in Russia – and information breakthrough”.
“We managed to build our own website into a serious and respected Internet edition of Russian LGBT community.
“This proves that our primary strategy was right. This was a strategy of openness of our community and consistent fight for our civil and social rights based on professionalism and competence.
“Our project has become an important lobbying organisation for sexual minorities in Russia,” he said.
“Protection and promotion of the rights and liberties of LGBT people are the main directions of our work. For that we managed to successfully use political lobbying, court cases and information campaigns.
“We are at the frontline of gay activism in Russia,” Mr. Bayev suggested. “We are always ahead in the fight against homophobia and discrimination paving the way to all the others.”
“We are where we are now thanks to those who supported and helped us,” Mr. Bayev continued. “We never compromised on our ideals and will never do.”
“GayRussia.ru is a team success. Four of us started the movement. Our actions have brought many other individuals to embrace activism.
“Now, we are a team of 30.”
Mr. Alekseev then took up the thanks, but in an unusal direction.
“I have to thank not only those who work on the web site every day, but also those who work against us.
“Our opponents from all sides remind me why we have to wake up every day. They feed us with new challenges.”
Project GayRussia.ru has never received any financial grants to conduct its activities, which are organised at the expense of the 30 activists themselves.
Now, following the millionth visitor, Project GayRussia.ru will soon start to feature videos, including interviews with activists, politicians and public figures.
The first interviews that are to be posted, probably early in the New Year, are already recorded. They were recorded in Paris and feature the LGBT advisor of Paris Mayor Philippe Lasnier and the founder of IDAHO Louis-Georges Tin.
And, in many ways, that is where the story began …
Key dates around Moscow Pride
May 17th, 2005: GayRussia.Ru was born with the first International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) and becomes Coordinator of IDAHO in Russia.
July 2005: GayRussia.Ru announced first plan to conduct Moscow Pride in May 2006.
May 2006: First Moscow Pride and International Festival with International Conferences of the IDAHO Committee, the International Gay and Lesbian Cultural Network (IGLCN). Guests and activists from 25 countries include several Members of Parliaments, Deputy Mayor of Paris, French Singer DESIRELESS, Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland. Press conference welcomes over 100 journalists, including Peter Tatchell who's "under seige" report filed from a friendly cafe 200 metres from the police action outside City Hall was read across the world.
January 2007: President Putin answered, for the first time in modern Russia, a question on gay issue, specific to Moscow Pride.
May 2007: Second Moscow Pride. Activists are arrested on the door of the city hall when attempting to deliver a letter signed by Members of the European Parliament. Conference hosted 150 participants. Peter Tatchell was severely injured by an punch to the face by an anti-gay protester, while the police did nothing.
May 2008: For the first time, a banner “No to Homophobia, Luzhkov must be prosecuted” is unveiled on the 3rd floor of a building facing the Moscow City Hall. Protesters and police watch the banner from the street. Simultaneously, 30 activists manage to fool police and protesters and start a short march starting some 500 metres from the statue of the famous and thought-to-have-been-gay composer Tchaikovsky in downtown Moscow where a "secret" rally was staged. Even police and the OMON security force failed to "crack" the secret.
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