A Russian Woman’s Perspective On Saturday’s Protest Against Russia’s Anti-Gay Policies

From this week’s Pussy Riot performance at Amnesty International’s concert in Brooklyn, to the United Nations, to a GQ “embedded reporter” article about being gay in Russia, to this AT&T blog post (and even gentle Canada!), condemnation of Russia’s mammoth abuses of queer and human rights is front and center in the media. At the same time, the Olympic Games Facebook page is collecting millions of “likes” during the opening days of the Winter Games, a source of mass entertainment for a worldwide audience in the face of persecution, imprisonment, torture and even murder of anyone who “propagandizes” homosexuality or speaks out against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his government.

The anti-gay law, passed in 2013, is the crux of this terror for LGBTQ individuals in Russia. Led by Putin, the government passed a law forbidding expression of “non-traditional” sexuality and is considering a law to remove children from gay or lesbian parents.

Because of all this, Bay Area activists have decided to join the global LGBTQ community (which organized demonstrations in 19 cities on Wednesday) in protesting the oppression of queer and civil rights and Russia’s anti-gay law, organizing a rally to take place tomorrow at UN Plaza in San Francisco.

Because I went on a trip to Russia in August 2013, I was asked to speak at a rally in support of LGBTQ people in my homeland. I could not say no.

While my experience was not as extreme as those reported in the media (and those described by LGBTQ Russian youth), I was astonished by how pervasive the homophobia was in Russia. As soon as Russian hipster youth learned I was from San Francisco, I’d be peppered with questions about what it’s like “to actually speak to a gay” and when I told taxi drivers I lived in the City by the Bay, they would ask me, “How can you stand it there with all those sickos?”

The Olympics has brought a huge focus onto this Russian shame and some reports indicate that Olympic athletes plan to protest the anti-gay law at the Winter Games. According to Radio Free Europe, “proposals have included holding hands with fellow athletes of the same sex during opening ceremonies or wearing pins, earrings, nail polish, or other accessories representing the rainbow flag – an international symbol for LGBT rights.”

One of the organizers of Saturday’s rally is the San Francisco Team of the Federation of Gay Games (FGG), an international governing body of a competition-based event that happens every four years and was started in 1982 (by the famed and SF-loved Dr. Tom Wadell) to promote inclusion and participation of LGBT athletes and allies.

“It is important to support Russian LGBT people,“ said Martha Ehrenfeld, 48, member of the San Francisco Team of the FGG and a board member of the FGG.

“Here we are, in the gay mecca of San Francisco, how could we not stand up and rally for those who don’t have the same freedoms? From the Virtual Pride House at HiTops gay sports bar on Friday night to a rally at UN Plaza on Saturday, we want to show our solidarity with Russian LGBT people and their allies.”

The Pride House Ehrenfeld refers to — or, its absence in Sochi — was another motivation for this protest, she said. First in Vancouver in 2010 and then in London in 2012, the Pride House was created and promoted as a safe place for LGBTQ athletes and allies during the Olympics. The Russian Ministry of Justice refused to allow a Pride House at Sochi, citing that it was, of course, against the law.

Co-organizing the San Francisco rally is the Bay Area Freedom Socialist Party. “As socialist feminists, we fight against oppression and felt compelled to take a stand and send Russian LGBTQ people, revolutionaries and human rights activists support from San Francisco,” said Toni Mendicino, 45, a member of the party as well as feminist group, Radical Women.

I hope to see you at the rally. Because while we here are able to point out progress (marriage equality, It Gets Better), LGBTQ people in Russia are in a fight for their very lives.

Featured speakers (who each has 5 minutes to speak) at the rally include: Roger Brigham, Founder of Equality Coaching Alliance; William Butkus, Amnesty International USA; Amy Gray, Radical Women; Bevan Dufty, Director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships and Engagement (HOPE), City and County of San Francisco; Lenny Broberg, LGBT activist and former International Mr. Leather; Dean Ferguson, Freedom Socialist Party; Brent Nicholson-Earle, SF Front Runners, and more.

For more information, please see an article in the Bay Times written by Masha Penkova, a student and civil rights advocate who helped organize the rally.

What: Bay Area Activists Gather to Protest Russia’s Persecution of LGBTQ Community and Demand Civil Rights
When: Sat, Feb. 8 11am-1pm
Where: UN Plaza, San Francisco

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