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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gay Parade Fuels Internal Debate

APPeople on Wednesday standing outside Indigo, a store for gay patrons.
If activist Nikolai Alexeyev has his way, hundreds of gays and lesbians will parade down one of Moscow's main streets later this month in a colorful display of pride and a bold protest against intolerance.

But if most of Moscow's gay community has anything to say about it — not to mention nearly all of Russian society — there will be no parade.

Efforts to stage an unprecedented display of gay pride in Russia are dramatically raising the profile of Moscow's modest homosexual community, but not in the way many had sought.

Right-wing and religious extremists have staged violent protests outside gay nightclubs in recent weeks and forced the cancellation of a cultural festival. Moscow's mayor adamantly opposes holding such a gay parade.

Alexeyev, who runs a gay web site and is the parade's main proponent, says it is time for Russia's gays — around 500,000 to 700,000 in Moscow alone, some estimates say — to exercise their rights.

Others say the recent violence showed it was too early for Russia to witness such a parade.

"We don't have gay society in this country," said Alexei Khodorkovsky, a 32-year-old activist who opposes the parade. "It's not good timing … This will only consolidate forces against us."

On Thursday, city officials declined the request for the parade, Interfax reported.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality 13 years ago, but gay relations are still widely considered unmentionable or even a perversion or mental illness.

Many top Russian officials and religious leaders have made pointed statements against homosexuality in the past year, warning against public displays.

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church warned of "homosexual propaganda." A top Muslim cleric said gay paraders should be "thrashed by decent people." Mayor Yury Luzhkov, called homosexuality "abnormal."

On April 30, dozens of skinheads and elderly women carrying religious icons protested outside a Moscow nightclub. Patrons, who were mainly gay, barricaded themselves inside until police arrived to evacuate them by bus as protesters chanted slurs and threw eggs and trash. Photographs posted on several Russian web sites show an Orthodox priest blessing several of the skinheads. The following night, dozens of youths tried to storm another Moscow nightclub but were rebuffed by riot police. That same day, a building that was hosting an art exhibit as part of a gay festival called "Rainbows Without Borders" was torched.

Elena Kidanova, who manages Moscow's only gay products store and runs a group called Tolerance, said holding a parade is less important than pushing for anti-discrimination legislation.

"We have nothing in this country," she said. "We don't exist."