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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Parade Politics of Fear

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Let's get some things straight. Why would anybody want to go out into the street and tell people about her sexual orientation? Or let's start earlier. What is the point of telling others about your sexual orientation? There is none. Still, I usually end up doing it within 15 minutes or so of meeting somebody. That's how long it usually takes people to ask me what my husband does (or whether my husband is also a journalist, or whether my husband is Russian, or whether my husband is home with the kids right now if I am on a trip).

I answer whatever question is posed, correcting the gender as necessary, and the conversation continues. I am lucky: I do not fear losing my job (I make my living writing books), or my housing (I live in my own apartment), or my kids (there isn't an ex-husband in my past threatening to fight for custody), or the support of my family (it's unconditional). Most people who are in same-sex relationships aren't nearly so lucky. And some of them have grown very, very tired of lying about the gender of their partners or hiding their partners from the landlord or from family. And some of them have decided that perhaps there is strength in numbers, that if hundreds of thousands of people go out into the street and say that they are gay, then this city and this country will finally have to admit that lots of gay people exist, and then it won't be quite as scary in the future to tell people. Odd as it sounds, the reason for making a public statement in this case is that it is still too frightening to make a private, individual statement.

But the idea of a public statement is based on some important assumptions. First, that the city will protect the marchers, simply because the city is obligated to protect all its residents and visitors. Second, that the march will be allowed to go forward at all. These are well-founded assumptions: the rights to public assembly and to police protection are both written into the Constitution.

On May 15, a group of activists applied for a permit to hold a gay pride parade in Moscow. Mayor Yury Luzhkov has previously said he will not allow such an event in the city. As it turns out, the paperwork for banning the parade was already put in place two months ago. In early March, first Deputy Mayor Lidiya Shvetsova wrote a letter to Luzhkov, in which she pointed out that "In our country homosexuality and lesbianism have always been considered sexual perversions, and in the past have even been punishable by criminal law. At the present the above acts are not legally banned but agitating for them in the form of a gay festival or a parade of sexual minorities, constitutes propaganda of immorality, which may be banned by law."

Note that a contemporary Moscow official cites a Stalin-era law banning male homosexuality as part of her justification. Luzhkov liked the idea. His resolution said, "It is necessary to take specific measures to prevent and prohibit public and mass actions of the gay orientation in the capital." He further directed his deputy to "organize an active media campaign and place public service announcements using letters from the public as well as from social and religious organizations."

The gay activists' assumptions, rational as they were, turned out to be wrong. The city will ban the parade and if its organizers persist in marching without a permit, may deny them the protection from violence that the city's own media campaign has been fanning. As a result, many people will go deeper into the closet. Why should you care? Because it will be a matter of fear rather than a matter of privacy. And a city where people are scared is never a nice place to live.

Masha Gessen is a Moscow journalist.