Moscow's Gay-Bashing Ritual

Published: May 27, 2013

MOSCOW — I arrived at the edge of Gorky Park as one arrives on a red carpet: A score of photographers surrounded me and started clicking away. I was the first person to show up for an L.G.B.T. rally scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, one of three pride events held in the city that day.

For the last couple of years, gay activists have been using an old dissident tactic: scheduling several events in different locations on the same day and making sure information about them travels through different channels. In the Soviet era, this was a hedge against secret-police informants, though it was rarely effective. In the age of social networks, the police usually know where to expect the protesters, but on a couple of occasions the tactic of dispersed protests has served to protect participants from gay-bashers who frequent all L.G.B.T. events.

A concerted effort by Moscow activists to secure a legal permit for an L.G.B.T. pride parade resulted, after several years, in a 2010 European Court on Human Rights ruling that directed the city authorities to allow the event to be held. Though Russia usually complies with E.C.H.R. decisions, this time the Moscow City Court responded by banning gay pride events for the next 100 years. That, and the pending legislation against so-called propaganda of homosexuality — passed in a number of Russian municipalities and likely to face a final vote in the national Parliament as soon as this week — have pushed L.G.B.T. issues to the foreground of Russian politics and L.G.B.T. organizing deep underground.

With the ban on gay pride parades in effect, organizers of Saturday’s events planned modest actions that were strictly legal: one-person pickets and a rally in a cordoned-off corner of Gorky Park that is dubbed “Hyde Park” because it’s specifically set aside for free speech. (This is a recent invention of the Moscow authorities, who are apparently unaware that it serves to underscore the fact that the rest of the city doesn’t condone free speech.)

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