Gay activists marched in the Lakeview area Oct. 6 in remembrance of Matthew Shepard.
More than 100 activists took to the streets for the 9th Annual Matthew Shepard March, hosted by Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) . Joining them was Russia's leading gay activist Nikolai Alexseev. The theme of the evening was the need for solidarity.
pictured: Nikolai Alexseev at the Oct. 3 solidarity reception. Photo by Andrew Davis. Protestor taking part in the Oct. 5 protest in Lombard. Photo by Amy Wooten.
One local activist discussed the need for unity within the Chicago LGBT community at a rally prior to the march. 'Nine years later [ after Shepard's murder ] , as a Black gay man, I have a whole different set of issues,' Lloyd Kelly, executive director of Let's Talk, Let's Test Foundation, told the crowd. 'I'm still sad.
'…When I look around this crowd I see very few people that look like me. I have to ask the question: What are we really saying? Are we really understanding the legacy that Matthew Shepard left? As a community we have to learn to embrace each other, regardless of what we look like, who we live with. If we want a larger community to embrace us, we need to deal with the issues in our own community.'
Later on in the rally, Alexseev discussed his struggles as the leader of Gay Russia and trying to gain the right to hold pride parades in Moscow. He has dealt with bloody attacks and an unfair justice system over the last few years.
Alexseev told the crowd that as he walked down Michigan Avenue earlier in the week, he found himself 'surprised and jealous' that two protests he saw did not have police presence. His struggles in Russia have really been to obtain the freedom of expression and speech. Gay Russia's mission is not only to fight for gay rights, but also to fight for the basic human rights of all minorities, he said.
Speaking about the need for solidarity, Alexseev said, 'Only if we are united can we prevent future violence against us, and violations of our rights.
'We need to be united in our solidarity internationally to win our freedom and equality. Remembrance is the first step in this direction. …We should never forget, and we should always remember.'
Also speaking at the rally was Episcopal Chaplain of Northwestern University Rev. Liz Stedman and ANSWER Chicago's Stephanie Fisher, who spoke about the death of transgender immigrant Victoria Arellano. Also at the event, GLN's Andy Thayer stressed the need for the LGBT community to join the anti-war movement.
The preceding night, gay activists picketed outside local anti-gay organization Americans for Truth's first annual banquet in Lombard.
GLN, joined by Alexseev and suburban PFLAG members, received numerous horn honks and cheers of support as locals drove by the picketing activists. GLN and others were disappointed that Lombard's Embassy Suites, which is managed by Hilton Hotels, agreed to host the event. The group also wanted to inform people about the hateful nature of the newly formed organization, which was launched by former head of the Illinois Family Institute, Peter LaBarbera.
'I'm surprised—HRC [ Human Rights Campaign ] gave Hilton Hotels a 95 rating,' GLN's Andy Thayer told Windy City Times.
Originally, the banquet was supposed to take place at Naperville's Holiday Inn, but the hotel cancelled the event when informed about LaBarbera's group.
Roughly 30 people appeared to be at the Americans for Truth banquet. According to Thayer, Americans for Truth boasted prior to the event that it had 150 attendees, including self-described ex-gay Venus Magazine editor Charlene Cothran.
On Wed., Oct. 3, Alexseev spoke at a solidarity reception at the Berger Park Community Center, 6205 N. Sheridan. GLN organized this event as well.
Alexseev talked about what has happened in the last few years regarding the gay-rights struggle in Russia and his part in it, which has included arrests, among other things.
Alexseev said that the gay-rights organization Gay Russia was started in 2005 because there was no interest in the political rights of the country's LGBT demographic. 'The gay community was not a public force in the fight for [ its ] rights,' he said, adding that homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993 mainly so that Russia could become part of the Council of Europe.
Alexseev added that 'Gay Pride, for us, is not just a way to realize our constitutional right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. This is also a way to bring other issues—very important issues—to society: issues like discrimination and the ban of blood donations by gay people.'
He cited the difficulties he encounters as an activist, but also spoke of determination. 'In 2005, if I knew that it was going to be so complicated to get permission for [ Moscow ] Pride, I don't know if I would have embarked on this so-called crusade,' he said. 'Now we're so involved that we can't stop until we reach our final goal.'
During a question-and-answer session, Alexseev said, among other things, that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he 'will respect the freedom of people in all its forms.' However, the activist also said that Putin actually wants to please both pro- and anti-gay factions. 'He wanted to show that he's not homophobic but he's also made a policy that he wants to increase the number of girls in Russia so that the population starts to grow after so many years of declining,' he said. 'He's trying to please everyone, but at the same time he's not like the Polish president, who is openly saying homophobic things.'