Richard Ammon
April 27, 2010

Letter from Russia.

Gay Russia is surprisingly alive or dead according to the view you have from being there.

Dense homophobia pervades the culture. A visitor will not find a public scene. No flags, no parades, no store-front centers or offices, one magazine, a couple of on-line gay sites that list a few venues, one in-the-streets activist organization that tries to mount a gay Pride event each June that’s overrun with skinheads and police.

Or, a visitor can point to the vibrant gay night life in Moscow and St Petersburg–a dozen bars, discos, saunas in the two cities. Passport gay travel magazine recently described St Petersburg’s biggest gay club, Central Station, as ” a veritable maze on four levels connected by several stairways, a half-dozen bars, two stages, a sushi restaurant, comfortable nooks to chat in, and a dance floor. On weekends the club is packed with over 1,000 people. On Thursday nights about 100–150 gals show up for Lesbian Night.”

In Moscow, the popular Propaganda bar-disco gets mixed reviews: “Propaganda is really good on Thursdays and really crappy on Fridays and Saturdays. The gay party on Sunday is excellent (not for girls, though). The food at Propaganda is very good and cheap.” Or: “people who say that it is a cool place are definitely not from Moscow.”

From either perspective, the LGBT scene in Russia is very limited. How could it be otherwise?

This vast country spans eleven time zones stretches more than ten thousand kilometers (6300 miles) from Western Europe to far eastern Vladivostok. There are a mere 142 million people living in 17,075,400 sq km (6,592,800 sq mi) of territory. That makes the population density about 21 people per sq mi! And how do you organize a party in a population where 90% of people do not own a computer!?

The answer is not easy. Nor is the LGBT effort currently under way by a tiny group of LGBT Russians who are trying to carry the modern banner of human rights and equality to the government and people of Moscow and St Petersburg. For the past four years, the gay rights organization–led by Nikolai Alekseevhave attempted gay Pride demonstrations at public locations. None of thee had official city approval even though Russian citizens have the right to assemble–with permission. Mayor Luzhkov has refused that permission four times in four years. It would seem the LGBT public efforts were stalled.

But instead of cowering n fear, as they did in communist times, has ‘fought’ back by staging rallies despite the ban. The results are a bit of blood, bruises, arrests and court appearances. And they plan another event this year in June 2010.

This is the new tactic in homophobic countries that are outgrowing their socialist heritages: Baltics, Balkans, Eastern Europe (and Turkey).

Russian activists are taking the middle way. The results will likely succeed since successful membership in the European Union demands respect for human rights for all and non-discrimination toward minorities. Such humane laws will not go backward will succeed over time.

(This is NOT the tactic in extremely homophobic cultures that are deeply entrenched in Muslim heritages. Here the risk is death, not just a street tussle. There, members would be assassinated by death squads. So they don’t go there. No gay rights activist go there and only work online to help individual sneak out of the toxic countries.)

Support gay Pride Russia in June 2010.