Moscow Mayor protest gets big Russian coverage

Russian gay leader threatened: “we will get you”

Yuri Luzhkov bans Moscow Gay Pride, due 27 May

Gays denounced as “satanic,” “unnatural” and “deviations”

Russian gay leader Nikolai Alekseev expressed “delight” at the “massive coverage in the Russian media” of Wednesday’s London protest against Moscow’s notoriously homophobic mayor, Yuri Luzhkov.

Mr Alekseev joined the protest, alongside the openly gay Green Party member of the London Assembly, Darren Johnson, and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The protest took place outside City Hall in London on Wednesday 28 February. It was coordinated by LGBTI human rights group OutRage!.

Protesters waved placards with the slogans: “Mayor of Moscow! Mayor of hate!,” and “Luzhkov! Gays aren’t satanic, you are!” and “Stalin! Luzhkov! No to Homophobia!”

Free photos of the protest, see here:

Mr Luzhkov was in London for a summit with the mayors of Paris, London and Berlin. He recently denounced gay pride celebrations as “satanic.” He has also condemned same-sex relationships as “unnatural”, “licentiousness”, deviations”, “blasphemy” and “deadly moral poison.”

“Russian media reporting of the protest has been very beneficial. It has put gay rights on the political agenda in Moscow,” said Mr Alekseev.

“The TV and press coverage has generated a big public debate. It is helping to break down homophobic attitudes.

“The demonstration was very important and effective. It helped keep the pressure on the Moscow Mayor. The protest was widely shown on Russian TV. The issue of gay rights got through to millions of Russians. This is a very positive achievement.

“The protests are working. We saw Luzhkov’s position change for the better during his visit to London. Contrary to his usually strident homophobic outbursts, he did not condemn homosexuality as unnatural, satanic or against religion. His criticisms were relatively mild. This time he said only that homosexuality is ‘wrong and unusual.’

“Very significantly, Luzhkov told the post-summit press conference at City Hall that if the courts decide a gay pride march should be allowed in Moscow then he will not block it. But I wonder whether this was just said to satisfy a western audience. Will he say the same thing back in Russia? I am not sure,” added Mr Alekseev.

A similar view was echoed by fellow protester, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!:

“The fact that Mayor Luzhkov is now saying less vicious things about gay people shows he is feeling the heat. He seems less confident in his homophobic stance,” said Mr Tatchell.

“He has been unnerved by the criticisms and protests. He seems to realise that his extreme homophobia is creating problems.

“Mr Luzhkov is concerned about his negative public image in the West and how this might affect western investment, tourism and cultural relations with Moscow. He is vulnerable to pressure,” concluded Mr Tatchell.

Immediately after the press conference at City Hall ended, Mr Alekseev incurred the wrath of Luzhkov’s minders. He unfurled a rainbow flag with the Moscow Gay Pride logo, as Mr Luzhkov was giving an interview to the Russian media.

“I was about two or three metres behind Luzhkov,” recalls Mr Alekseev.

“This infuriated his staff. Luzhkov’s press secretary, Sergei Tsoi, who is well-known for his homophobic remarks, ordered me to put away the flag. When I refused, he tried to grab it from me by force. Tsoi threatened me. He said they will not leave it like that. I interpreted this as an implied threat.

“I later received two phone calls that seem to have been from someone in Mayor Luzhkov’s entourage. The calls threatened that ‘we will get you.’ It is quite worrying,” confided Mr Alekseev.

Mayor Luzhkov had only recently announced that he was banning the 2007 Moscow Gay Pride parade, scheduled for 27 May. Last year’s march was also banned and some marchers were beaten, tear-gassed and arrested by the Moscow riot police, the OMON.

Mr Alekseev is currently appealing to the European Court of Human Rights against Mayor Luzhkov’s ban on last year’s Moscow Gay Pride. He is also suing the Mayor of Moscow for libel after the Mayor in January this year labeled Moscow Gay Pride as “satanic”.

“Whatever the stance of the Moscow Mayor, we are going ahead with plans for a second Moscow Gay Pride on 27 May,” said Mr Alekseev.

“On behalf of Russian gays and lesbians, I would like to thank OutRage!, particularly Peter Tatchell and Brett Lock, for organising the protest. My thanks also to everyone who attended, despite the appalling weather and transport problems,” said Mr Alekseev.