Gay Paraders Opt for Safer Approach

MTGay activists unfurling an anti-Luzhkov sign across from city hall on Sunday.
Gay rights activists protested in defiance of a City Hall ban on Sunday, marching in front of the Moscow State Conservatory and unfurling a banner demanding greater rights for gays and lesbians from the window of an apartment on Tverskaya Ulitsa, just blocks from the Kremlin.

Dozens of activists from Gay Russia, led by organization head Nikolai Alexeyev, held a series of separate protests throughout the city to try to avoid exposing protesters to some of the violence that accompanied the larger gay pride parades in 2006 and 2007.

"We wanted to make this pride [day] different from the last two years," Alexeyev said in English. "We didn't want to have any more beatings in the street. We just want to show everyone that we are normal people."

City Hall rejected more than 100 requests by the group to hold their annual gay pride parade in May, citing security concerns. Mayor Yury Luzhkov is a fierce opponent of the parade and his office has denied every parade request since 2005, a move upheld as constitutional by the Moscow City Court in April 2007.

The protests were much more peaceful than in recent years, when anti-gay activists attacked protesters in full view of police. Despite the lack of violence, the mood on Sunday was hardly festive.

Screaming protesters threw garbage and rotten eggs at the apartment on Tverskaya. One woman was detained after lifting a banner that said, "Mr. President, stop these sodomites from leading us down to the path to death!"

Police arrested about 15 anti-gay protesters, Interfax reported, and a bus full of people that officers said were detained for registration violations sped away in the moments before the march began.

A massive security presence was visible early in the afternoon, as hundreds of regular officers and OMON riot police lined Moscow's main thoroughfare, blocking access to Tverskaya Ploshchad.

"We're protecting the children," said a police officer, who refused to give his name. "Do you think it's proper for [gays] to come out into the streets like this? Well, I don't."

In addition to the throngs of police and security forces, dozens of protesters flocked to Tverskaya to protest against what they described as an attack on traditional Russian values.

Homosexuality is a choice, said Dmitry Antonov, head of a small nationalist group called the Orthodox Brotherhood.

"We are against the gay pride parade because we are Orthodox people, and Christ himself said the best way to deal with such people is to put a stone around their neck and throw them into the sea," he said, referring to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew concerning people who do harm to children. "It was Jesus who said that."

But not everyone was against Gay Russia.

Vladimir, a burly 18-year-old with a shaved head and multiple tattoos, happened upon the parade by chance. The decision to ban the parade was drawing more attention than they ever would have gotten without a ban, he said.

"They just want to come out onto the street and show that they're gay," he said. "Sanctioned or unsanctioned, I just don't see what the problem is."