Keep the closet closed
Gay pride challenges Moscow
By Patrick Jackson
BBC News website, Moscow
Public gestures of affection of the most innocent kind between a man and a woman, such as holding hands, can upset Sasha, a young gay man from Siberia.
They hurt him because much of Russian society rejects the right of he and his boyfriend to do the same.
However, if a bid to hold Russia's first Gay Pride parade pays off, Sasha and thousands of other gay men and women will take their sexual orientation to the streets of Moscow on 27 May.
It is a big "if" in the face of strong opposition from politicians who do not question the legal right of gay people to pursue their lifestyles in privacy, but do not want to see them making a show of it.
Clergy from Russia's two biggest faith groups, Russian Orthodox Christians and Muslims, have equally frowned upon the idea.
This week, the issue of the Moscow Pride electrified Moscow's media after a Muslim cleric was quoted as saying the paraders should be "thrashed by decent people".
It is a scenario which alarms Moscow's authorities in a year when Russia is entrusted with both stewardship of the G8 and, from 20 May, the Council of Europe - a body dedicated to promoting human rights.
"This city and civic society here are very protective of our sexual minorities," she says.
Gay people work freely in the city and are greatly respected for their contribution in areas such as retail and the creative professions, according to Ms Svyatenko.
They have their own clubs and, she adds, you need only look out the window of her downtown office to see where a gay lifestyle store opened its doors recently.
But she argues against the parade on three grounds:
* that much of the gay community allegedly oppose it themselves
* that similar events in East European capital cities like Riga last year ended in violent clashes
* that the preferred route would cause massive traffic disruption.
According to her information, most gay people in Moscow do not want the Pride because "it is their private life and they do not want to put it on show" and because such an event could provoke violence.
The Pride organiser links homophobia in Russia to poverty, saying the "more wealthy people are, the less they care about such things".
But some of the event's most vocal opponents are religious leaders, refusing to accept the validity of "non-traditional" sexual orientation, to use the Russian euphemism.
Talgat Tadzhuddin, head of the Muslim Spiritual Board in Central Russia, told Interfax news agency that Muslim anti-Pride protests could be angrier than those seen abroad over the Muhammad cartoons.
But his reported call to "thrash" paraders was not taken up by his counterpart in Asian Russia, Nafigulla Ashirov, who went on a Moscow radio station to say the use of violence was unacceptable.
While also rejecting the use of violence, the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has condemned the Pride as "homosexual propaganda and the glorification of sin".
Men interviewed in Moscow's new gay store did not believe the gay parade would happen simply because of the mounting hostility.
Its fate will not be decided until two weeks before it is due to be held, when the formal application for permission must be lodged with the Moscow mayor's office.
The mayor's office could not be reached for official comment but is believed to be strongly opposed.
Nikolai Alexeyev passionately believes in the need to make a stand, whatever the risk of a backlash. The Pride is timed to fall on the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia.
"If people had really maintained the status quo in our history, the Cold War would have never ended, Boris Yeltsin would have never come to power and homosexuality would still be a crime in Russia," he says.
Meanwhile, in the Moscow gay store, the little plastic rainbow flags of the international gay rights movement stay firmly on the shelves and the store's business card refers only to "our theme".
Evidently, for some, a "love that dare not speak its name" must remain anonymous in Russia.
Why would there be violence? Doesn't Moscow have a police force? Who cares if gays march in the streets?
posted by Steve @ 9:19:00 AM