The initiative to hold the first “Moscow Pride” was officially announced in July 2005 during a press conference organized by GayRussia in Moscow by Nikolai Alekseev and Eugenia Debrianskaya with the first March to take place on May 27, 2006 on the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of male homosexuality which was done in 1993. Russia never had any Pride attempts in the past and Moscow Pride was the first attempt to be ever initiated in the country.
Six years later in June 2011, a public opinion poll found that 53% of Russians heard about the initiative to conduct a Gay Pride March in Moscow.
The same day of its announcement, journalists started to question Yuri Luzhkov who was at that time the Mayor of the Russian Capital, whether he would allow the event or not. Even though Luzhkov was not in Moscow, he firmly told Interfax that he will never allow the conduct of a march of sexual minorities in Moscow.
The Mayor probably thought that this announcement was a one day PR and he could not imagine that this was only the start of a long and unstoppable campaign for freedom of assembly of LGBT people in Russia which would end up being often discussed at the highest diplomatic level. Perhaps the Mayor thought that this was a repeat of an attempt to conduct a Love Parade in Moscow in 2001 for which the organizers finally did not apply after the Mayor said in advance that the event would not be allowed in the city.
By immediately affirming that he will prevent sexual minorities to hold their peaceful actions, the Mayor created a buzz and generated a wide media interest in this action. Media started to get a growing interest of the people who were in Moscow ready to defy the Mayor. And as a result, media started to talk about homosexuality. This is Moscow Pride main achievement and main goal: To succeed in making Russian society talk and debate on the issue of LGBT people.
The Mayor’s decision to ban the event created an outcry outside Russia and was seen as a new evidence of the limitation of the rights of citizens to express themselves freely. Over the year the now former Mayor called the Pride “Satanic gathering, “gays responsible for the growing HIV infection in the city” and “gomiki”.
While the organizers always went to Court against the statements of the Mayor, neither the Prosecution nor the Russian Courts ever found any insulting or defamatory expression in his statement, ultimately giving a decision that “gomiki” was not an insult. The Prosecution still denied that any of the statements of the Mayor as well as others high figures like the one from the Mufti Talgat Tadjudin or the Governor or Tambov, Oleg Betin were inciting hatred against a social group and would fall under article 282 of the Criminal Code.
Gays and lesbians are not recognized as being a social group in Russia while they are elsewhere in Europe as well as in the precedents of the European Court of Human Rights. Organizers applied to the European Court against the Statements of Oleg Betin which are inciting hatred but did not apply to the European Court of Human Rights against the Mayor's statement which were considered not strong enough to breach the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the European Convention.
Positioned as a pure human rights action for the rights of LGBT people, Moscow Pride did not obey to the codes of similar actions existing in Western Europe. As a non-commercial event, Moscow Pride is not a project receiving any grant or any funding neither from Russia nor from abroad.
Moscow Pride in spirit can be considered with the first attempts to host similar actions in the 70’s in San Francisco or in London. Organizers always stressed that their aim is to organize a public action in support of sexual minorities. They never stopped to explain that the Moscow Pride as they try to organize it has nothing to do with current Prides in Berlin or New York and that their event is a peaceful march for Equality, for the rights of LGBT people: No naked people dancing in the streets, Moscow Pride aims to be a human rights march.
Over the last 5 years, all the attempts to organize Moscow Pride were rejected by the City authorities. Events were banned either by the Mayor personally or by the Prefecture of Tverskoy. Every years Organizers applied for a series of public actions to be organized on the Pride day. Several pickets and demos are usually applied either to the City hall of to the Prefecture depending on the location and the number of people planned and each ban is systematically challenged in Courts. This explains the multiplication of Court cases.
While organizers always challenged all the bans through Courts, they were always unsuccessful in front of Russian Court. Their major legal victory came in October 2010 when the European Court of Human Rights said that Moscow Pride ban in 2006, 2007 & 2008 were contradictory to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court still has to open the case of the 2009 & 2010 cases but the outcome makes no doubt. This is to date, the only victory against Russia within this Court on a LGBT issue. More than a dozen of other cases launched by GayRussia and its activists are pending (see sections: campaigns and about us).
Every May since 2006, Moscow Pride organizers and participants were harassed by the police, by extremists and by religious groups before, during or after their attempt to schedule the Pride. Despite the fears, and despite the homophobic climate, every year, organizers attempted to stage the event. They either met police violence or a violent anti gay crowd but they always showed up and attempted to realize their constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
Organizers regularly invited foreign personalities to witness their struggles such as Members of European Parliament, Members of Italian & German Parliament and grassroots activists; though if foreigners constituted the majority of participants in the first 2 editions, organizers decided to position the event as a pure Russian struggle from 2008 and reduced the level of foreign participants to a symbolical number. This did not prevent organizers to team up with Belarusian activists in 2009 and create the Slavic Pride movement. An association that on-boarded also Ukrainian activists and St Petersburg activist in 2010.
Moscow Pride formed a new generation of LGBT activists in Russia directly inspired by similar methods created in Britain by Peter Tatchell and his direct action group OutRage! Still today’s Peter Tatchell and OutRage are Britain most known LGBT group and the same happened in Eastern Europe with Moscow Pride and its organizers. In the foot steps of Moscow Pride were created the Minsk Pride in Belarus and also the St Petersburg Pride in Russia, all founded by this new generation of activists, fearless and who all stick to the same moto “Gay Rights Without Compromise”. A moto created and adopted by Slavic Pride Organizers in November 2008.
Outcome & Future
The first Moscow Pride was often called a Russian stonewall in reference to the event which took place in 1969 in New York when gays went in the streets to protest after a raid of the police on a local gay bar, the Stonewall Inn. Over five years, Moscow Pride organizers have shown a fearless force to oppose the injustice of the Russian authorities. Despite the institutional calls for hatred from leading politicians, religious leaders or nationalists, activists never stopped to plan and attempt to conduct their actions knowing that they will probably be arrested each time.
Organizers are satisfied with the high media coverage over the year which helped them to disseminate their other campaigns on issues of same sex marriage or freedom of speech. The media coverage overall was positive and helped to fight stereotypes. It helped to show that Russian LGBT people are not different than any other citizens and that they are capable to stand up and fight for their rights, that they are not scared of the decision of justices which are taken in contradiction with the laws of the Country, that they are not scared of police harassments, arrests, prosecutions and nationalists and religious groups. Moscow Pride was discussed in a large number of Russian media and was the main topic of leading TV shows while in the past homosexuality was only a monopoly of the hottest pages of the tabloids.
But most of all, after 5 years, the European Court gave a decision against Russia for banning the Pride in 2006 to 2008 (cases fro 2009 and 2010 are yet to be considered). This historical decision changed the legal balance of power. While the organizers lost all their Court proceeding against the banning of all the Prides and their related actions in Russia, the European Court’s decision is the first to show that organizers were on the right side of the law. Despite this decision, Russia once again banned the Moscow Pride in May 2011. Public attitude is also evolving on the positive side. In June 2011, 61% of Russians opposed the idea to host a Gay Pride March in Russia versus 82% in April 2010.
Ever year, a new initiative group is formed a few months before the event. While the main figures are staying from one year to another, organizers have invited over the last years various LGBT and non LGBT personality among its team. The initiative group is present at the annual press conference held a few days before the Pride. The lead activists behind Moscow Pride did not change since the beginning.
The full composition of the initiative group is no longer public to protect the security of its members as some of them went through different kind of harassments in the past years however the Moscow Pride lead organizers are: Nikolai Alekseev (chair & spokesperson), Nikolai Baev (co-chair) and Anna Komarova (co-chair).
The co-organizers can be contacted through GayRussia by email.
TODAY IN HISTORY
In 1993, President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree which repealed the law forbidding male homosexuality. Starting from 2006, Russian gay rights activists started to celebrate this date by attempting to organize an annual gay rights march known as Moscow Gay Pride. The first edition was banned and marred with violence. It was reffered as the first Russian Stonewall.
This day was founded in 2004 by French Academic Louis-Georges Tin to mark the anniversary of the declassification of homosexuality from the list of disease by the World Health Organization. Russian LGBT have been celebrating this day every year since 2005 under the leadership of Project GayRussia which was itself founded on May 17, 2005. GayRussia is Russia's coordinator of IDAHO.
Following Moscow in May 2009, Minsk was the second capital to host the Slavic Gay Pride. The March was banned and marred with violence but it did not prevent two dozens of Pride organizers from Moscow, Minsk and St. Petersburg to march over 300 meters waiving a 10meters long rainbow flag. 11 participants including some of the organizers were brutally arrested by police forces.
2009 marked the launch of GayRussia's campaign for the opening of same-sex union of gays and lesbians in Russia. While the Constitutional Court already expressd the opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman, activists believe that the lack of partnership or marriage for gay couples is a strong point to impose legislative changes via a decision of the European Court of Human Rights.
The five-judge panel of the Grand Chamber of the Court rejected the appeal of the Russian Federation in the Moscow Pride Ban case. The decision given on October 21 is final. By repeatedly banning Gay Pride Marches as well as other LGBT themed public action, Russia breached the European Convention on Human Rights.