They carried banners advertising a virtual tweet-march through Moscow, where a real Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Parade was banned in 2012 for the next 100 years, and calling on Westerners to boycott Russian vodka. But, persecuted at home, Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union reveled in the opportunity to celebrate their sexual orientation during New York’s recent Pride Parade.
“I came to be happy and to show that we can have this kind of happiness back home,” commented Anton Krasovksy, a TV journalist who has become a crusader for gay rights in Russia since coming out on national television in January – and promptly losing his job.
“I really want for people in other countries – countries of Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, in Kazakhstan and Belarus, and even in Eastern Europe, where there is discrimination – to see that things can be completely different. It could be not now, but at some point,” added Krasovsky, whose Kontr TV Channel was shut down after his coming out.
Cheered by hundreds of thousands of onlookers as they made their way down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan as part of the 44th annual New York Pride Parade on June 30, many of the 150 Russian-speakers and sympathizers who marched under the banner of RUSA LGBT, New York’s Russian-speaking gay and lesbian association, shared the sentiment.
“We came here from Kazakhstan in order to be among people like us,” Andrey, who came to the US three years ago with his boyfriend from Taraz, said. He fears speaking openly about being gay in Kazakhstan because he feels prejudice there is widespread.
“I want our president [Nursultan Nazarbayev] to allow these kinds of actions – there are a lot of us there, too,” Andrey, who did not give his last name because he is in the US illegally but hopes to apply for asylum based on his sexual orientation, added. “If they don’t pass the right laws, I want my friends to come here.”
While the Pride Parade – originally the Gay Pride Parade, though the name has been changed to include other LGBT groups – has been held every summer since 1970, on Wednesday, June 26, the US Supreme Court added an extra reason for the LGBT community to celebrate. The court announced that it would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), removing the barrier to extending federal benefits to gay couples married in the 13 states (plus Washington, DC) that recognize same-sex marriage – benefits including immigration privileges.
“We’ve been thinking about getting married in DC,” said Marcus Scharon, a German citizen who came to join the RUSA association from Washington with his boyfriend Vadim Morozov, originally from Minsk. “Now we know that if we happen to get married here, we’ll have rights. […] If I apply for a green card, then he can get one too.”
The parade kicked off at a particularly inauspicious time for gay rights in Russia. On June 29, police arrested a group of gay-rights activists in St. Petersburg. The next morning Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill known as the law on homosexual propaganda, forbidding adults from portraying homosexuality in anything but a negative light in front of minors. Similar laws are being considered in Ukraine and have been discussed in other post-Soviet countries.
Still, the mood at New York’s parade stayed buoyant, despite bad news from abroad. Wearing young Soviet pioneer kerchiefs, traditional Belorussian outfits and, in one case, a costume made to resemble Vladimir Putin wrestling a tiger, the marchers gave it their all.
“I really hope that this particular parade won’t inspire any thoughts among onlookers except happy ones brought on by DOMA,” Krasovsky, the journalist, added. “The people who got beat up […] in St. Petersburg, during the Pride Parade there - they probably had other thoughts. But in this country, people should celebrate.”