Largest gay pride parade to date successfully held in St Petersburg

(Photo credit: Francesca Visser)

Largely peaceful event ends in an attack on activists

Sunbathers and tourists at the Field of Mars encountered an unusual sight on Saturday 12 August. Despite Russia’s notorious law banning public displays of homosexuality, visitors to the park were met with a happy crowd of people wrapped in rainbow flags and holding signs supporting LGBT rights.

According to organizers, this year’s gay pride parade became the largest in the city on record. More than a hundred people were able to gather in the centrally-located park and celebrate in a largely peaceful manner.

The generally scarce attendance of past parades is attributed to the lingering fear of repercussions against activists, Kir Federov, an activist from the Russian LGBT Network, told Prospekt Magazine.

Cases of people losing their jobs or getting expelled from the university are still common, according to Yuri Gavrikov, an organiser of the gay pride march. One recent example is St Petersburg’s activist Kirill Kalugin, who left Russia for Germany in 2015 as a consequence of threats and assaults due to his activism.

Since the first gay pride event in the city in 2010, the parade has regularly been disrupted by groups of religious fanatics and nationalists. In 2013, the crowd of protesters even outnumbered the participants, forcing organisers to cancel the event after ten minutes. A total of around 60 people were arrested back then—according to Gavrikov—all participants in the gay pride parade. The group of nationalists, throwing eggs and bottles full of urine at the participants, was largely untouched by police.

In comparison to 2013, this year’s parade signified a major victory for the LGBT movement, raising hopes that tolerance is on the rise.

Obtaining the necessary authorisation for the event was once again difficult. All of the routes and locations suggested by the organisers were refused. According to Gavrikov, three of the routes were refused because of alleged construction work, and the Field of Mars was unavailable due to another cultural event that—according to the authorities—would have taken place from early in the morning until the evening.

Only one person was spotted at this planned event at the Field of Mars at 11am. Natalya, waving a St George’s flag, stated that she was there in remembrance of the victims of WWII and in support of “traditional values”. A couple of hours later, she was joined by four other activists holding banners in support of Putin. The group attacked the crowd of LGBT activists several times and insulted them from behind the OMON riot police that had formed a barrier between the gay pride activists and the protesters.

At the onset, the riot police successfully protected the parade both from religious activists and a group of nine young nationalists, however, they failed to protect the LGBT activists once the event was over.

The nine nationalists, who had been denied access to the gay parade, lingered around the park. When asked, they said that they had no intention of using violence against the crowd but declared that they were against homosexuality. Once the event was over, the group attacked the activists with pepper spray. Whereas the group successfully escaped unpunished, one participant of the parade was detained.

According to OVD-info, Anna Grabetskaya was taken away by the police for violating the order to leave the location once the event was over. Later in the day, the young woman was transferred to the hospital because of abdominal pain, but was refused hospitalisation and was sent back to police department number 78, where she will await a trial scheduled for Monday.

Attacks against the LGBT community remain a reality in Russia. According to research carried out by Sexuality Lab, the passage of the anti-gay law was followed by an increase in hate crimes against sexual minorities, especially homicides, taking place mostly in small villages.

In bigger cities like St Petersburg and Moscow, being openly gay is easier: “Diversity is more widespread here in St Petersburg, even more than in Moscow, for historical reasons—because St Petersburg was always the cultural centre of the country and, of course, there was always a gay community here,” says Gavrikov.

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