Gay Liberation Network (GLN) welcomed gay Russian activist Nikolai Alekseev, who kicked off his national tour Feb. 26 at Lake View's Merlo Public Library with a gripping short film and a stark reminder that the fight for gay rights is a global issue.
The event opened with a telling 12-minute short film of actual footage from past gay-rights protests. Footage included scenes from Moscow Pride 2006 and other banned gay pride protests and gatherings leading up to 2008. Audiences received a graphic second-hand account of protesters being arrested and even attacked by Russia's police force. GLN founder Andy Thayer commented that he sees Alekseev's national tour around the United States as a way of drawing attention to the issue and even placing pressures on both the Russian and U.S. government.
"The basic purpose is to put pressure on the Russian and U.S. government to make sure that gay pride protestors are not attacked in future protests by fascist thugs," Thayer said. "We are raising the profile of Moscow pride right now. We are trying to be preemptive about this. Simply legalizing gay Moscow pride is not enough. They need to provide protection."
Alekseev discussed the history behind gay rights in Russia; the Russian government's opposition to gay rights; and efforts he and his group are making to change the social and political climates for Russia's LGBT community. Staying in line with former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov anti-gay politics, the new mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, vowed to continue the policy of banning gay rights marches, protests and assemblies. According to RIA Novosti, a Russian news site, Sobyanin is confident that Moscow will not have any gay parades and feels that "Moscow does not need this at all." Alekseev and his group has taken their case to the European Court, which ruled in their favor last fall, stating that Russia had violated the rights of gay-rights protestors in banning previous marches.
"I think we have a chance to show Americans and other LGBT activists how important it is to fight for human rights everywhere and not just in one isolated area," said Alekseev.
Alekseev also said that his landmark cases, 12 so far, are not just about the right to host a gay parade or even gay rights, but also about basic human rights such as the freedom to assembly. He sees a sanctioned Moscow gay-pride parade as a means to reach a "broader acceptance" and attention to civil rights for the LGBT community.
"It has not only an impact on gays in Russia, but the freedom to assembly," said Alekseev.
Hoping to strengthen his cause and cases against the Russian government, Alekseev has been actively working with the European Court and the United Nations to draw political attention to Russia's anti-gay policies. He also noted that the Russian government's bans and anti-gay legislation are unconstitutional, adding that Sobyanin has referred to gay parades as "satanic gatherings," "weapons of mass destruction" and publicly referring to gays as "faggots." Alekseev said that Sobyanin's blatant disrespect and policy direction for the LGBT community is not only bigoted but illegal.
"Our case is an investment in the future. For me, it's important that we use international organizations and that we all understand that we can reach things together," said Alekseev.
Even through the arrests and other setbacks, Alekseev is confident that in five years time, there will be a ruling supporting alternative unions for Russia's LGBT community and possibly other anti-gay policy breakthroughs. He cited Egypt's current political strifein particular, the people's right and success to assemble under one cause.
"You don't have to have money," Alekseev said. "All you need is people. We are far from victory and it's like a battle for a millimeter of homophobic territory. Please write letters to your Congressmen and the government in Russia. If 10,000 people main in letters, they can't ignore it."