St. Petersburg joins world protests for LGBT rights

St. Petersburg protester compares the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany with the 2014 Winter Olympics in anti-gay Russia. (Photo by Yury Goldenshtein, courtesy of the Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality.)
St. Petersburg protester compares the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany with the 2014 Winter Olympics in anti-gay Russia. (Photo by Yury Goldenshtein, courtesy of the Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality.)

As international protests continue against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, Russia’s Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 5 to to seek repeal of the country’s national and regional laws against “gay propaganda.”

Protests, many of them coordinated by the online activist group AllOut, were held or are planned in New York, Paris, London, Dublin, Jerusalem and as many as a dozen other cities worldwide.

In St. Petersburg, police foiled the group’s first attempts at the protest, apparently using inside information. In the end, the group was limited to individual protesters holding their banner.

This is how the alliance described the St. Petersburg protest:

LGBT activists hold “Olympic” event in St. Petersburg despite police opposition

On Wednesday evening, 5 February, a group of St. Petersburg LGBT activists held an event dedicated to the forthcoming opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi. The format of the event had to be changed at the last minute because the original plan was disrupted by the police, who arrested two participants. In single pickets beside the Olympic countdown clock the activists displayed banners comparing the Olympic Games in Sochi to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. …

The original plan had been to display, at the platforms of two central stations on the St. Petersburg metro, a pair of banners in the shape of a pink triangle with the message “Berlin 1936 = Sochi 2014”. The purpose of the pink triangle is to call to mind the badges that homosexuals had to wear in the Nazi concentration camps. The banners were going to be raised towards the ceiling by balloons. At the platforms of a metro station they would have been seen by the greatest number of people.

The police appeared to know about the event planned for the metro stations despite the fact that it was prepared in secret and not publicised in advance. There was a leak. All the territory of the metro was fulfilled by policemen. Two activists (Daniil Grachev and Victoria Shvetsova) went down the stairs into the lobby of their metro station with bundles of balloons in their hands. They were detained before the event even began and taken to a police station. They were held there for three hours while reports were drawn up alleging administrative violations. The reports also allege that they used profane language and harassed passers-by (which is not true).

At the other metro station the police would not allow a different group of activists to even enter, on the pretext that some kind of “orientation (operational briefing)” was taking place. After that the police watched their every move, following them around the city by car, apparently in order to prevent them from accessing the metro from any other station.

Police foiled plans to use balloons to launch this protest sign into the air. (Photo by Dmitry Musolin, courtesy of Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality)
Police foiled plans to use balloons to launch this protest sign into the air. (Photo by Dmitry Musolin, courtesy of Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality)

As a result, it was quickly decided that the plan for the event had to be changed. The activists released the remaining balloons into the night sky and made their way to the Olympic countdown clock standing in the centre of St. Petersburg on the corner of Nevsky Prospect and Malaya Konyushennaya Street. There Natalia Tsymbalova and Mikhail Gerasimov, members of the “Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality, staged single pickets, holding up their banners. There was a large police presence on that corner, they checked the documents of the two pickets and copied their personal details.
The event, which took place at [8 p.m.], an hour later than planned, was attended by about two dozen St. Petersburg LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists and their colleagues in the equality movement.

It will be remembered that the Berlin Olympics took place in 1936, three years after Hitler came to power. Then, as now, a powerful international movement was calling for a boycott of an Olympiad in a country whose government had declared its policy of discrimination and racism. Such a policy is contrary to the Olympic principles. At the time, the International Olympic Committee dismissed all the claims by those in favour of a boycott and did not find anything in Germany “that might damage the Olympic movement”. For the duration of the Olympiad anti-Semitic slogans and placards disappeared from the streets of Germany. But we all know what happened next.

President Putin has managed to convince the IOC that in Sochi athletes would not be discriminated against on grounds of sexual orientation. However, the whole world knows that the Russian government is following undisguised homophobic policies. Russian legislation has declared that LGBT people are second-class citizens and “socially unequal”. Through its propagandists Putin’s regime is inciting homophobic hatred. There are increased levels of aggression and the number of cases of violence, harassment, bullying and homophobic murders is rising. LGBT people are being denied the right to freedom of speech and assembly, and the right to protection of their human dignity. Putin has offered assurances that there will be no discrimination at the Olympics. But once the Olympics are over and the athletes have left Russia, what will be the plight of Russian LGBT people then? There will be the same, or even stronger, homophobia by politicians, legislators, state-owned media and neo-Nazi groups.

On the eve of the Sochi Olympiad LGBT activists both in Russia and around the world call on all Olympic athletes, sponsors and Olympic guests to utilise their opportunities to issue statements in support of equality for LGBT people, to come out against homophobia and intolerance, and to lobby for the repeal of discriminatory anti-gay laws in Russia. Actions under the auspices of the international human rights organization “All Out” took place on 5 February in nineteen cities around the world . The St. Petersburg event, organised by the “Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality” was part of that protest campaign.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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