Gays and Color-Coding

In May 2006, The Moscow Times ran an article entitled, “Russian Gay Pride parade in Moscow is broken up by an unlikely alliance of Neo-Nazis, Communists, and the Orthodox Church.” Instead of eliciting outrage and astonishment, the headline was met with either derision or indifference.

“When my friends and I heard about the parade and Gay Pride in Moscow, most of us just laughed,” said Alla Krivova, a middle-aged businesswoman from St. Petersburg. Like Krivova, the majority of Russia’s population remains largely unconcerned about gay rights, an attitude that carries wider implications for democracy and freedom in the country.

Although, or perhaps because, fewer than 15 percent of Russians support gay marriage and many Russian politicians—including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov—are adamant about suppressing gay rights, the leaders of the Gay Pride movement petitioned the Russian government for the right to hold a parade in Moscow on May 27, 2006. In response, the activists unsurprisingly received a resounding “no” from the mayor and the city.

However, the gay community ignored the ban and proceeded to march down one of Moscow’s main streets as planned. Soon after reaching the Tomb of the Unnamed Soldier, a coalition of Neo-Nazis, Communists, and members of Orthodox and Muslim religious communities attacked the activists and their supporters with stones and sticks. The police who arrived treated the parade participants with equal brutality, detaining the leaders of the parade as well as its international participants for up to 24 hours.

This past summer, Moscow Gay Pride staged another parade, though the mayor and the courts maintained their ban on public activities supporting homosexuality. This time, 50 people were arrested and, as before, the parade ended in violence.

It has been a year since the first parade, but anti-gay sentiments remain virulent. Alexander Pushkov, a Russian college student at the State University of St. Petersburg, said that people often change the channel or say offensive things when one of Russia’s gay pop stars appears on TV. Two men living together in a union is “basically unheard of,” said Pushkov, noting that even those who want to “show their true colors” choose forms of expression other than homosexuality. In order to avoid even using the word “gay” in public, Pushkov said, “we call gay guys goluboi, which means blue, and lesbians are called pink, or rozovaya.”

This desire to keep homosexuality out of public life mirrors the political and societal pressure against displays of Gay Pride. Though Krivova attributes the recurring bans to Mayor Luzhkov’s personal views, she believes that many Russians share his sentiments. Her friends may laugh at “Gay Pride,” but she believes that men are much less tolerant of homosexuality than women, and that the older population is even more intolerant.  Some, according to Krivova, even claim that gays are “ruining the country.” Although middle-aged and young Russians are more tolerant, even Krivova admits that, though they may not be as militantly anti-gay as the parade protestors, many people would be appalled if a friend or relative admitted to being homosexual.

Homosexuality in Russia became legal more than 14 years ago, but people continue to treat it as an alien behavior that does not—and should not—affect them personally. One of Mayor Luzhkov’s main objections to the parade was that it would disturb “civic order.” Other citizens objected that it would exacerbate Moscow traffic.

Unless Russian citizens stop mocking the failing Gay Pride movement, the future of civil rights is grim, and radical Neo-Nazis and Communists will continue to exercise their destructive influence on the country’s emerging system of law and order. In Russia’s developing democracy, only a movement with more popular support will succeed in curtailing intolerance and enforcing human rights for everyone.