In Russia, Gays and Lesbians Struggle Against Widespread Hostility

Plans for a Moscow gay parade raise concerns that past violence will be repeated.

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Even if gays oppose the parade, it's in their best interests, Alexeyev argues. "These gays build a ghetto in the form of a nightclub. They think, 'No one will touch us, we're safe.' But it won't be like that forever."

Alexeyev, who has applied to hold a gay parade near the Kremlin, said Wednesday that new President Dmitry Medvedev's administration has ordered Moscow city authorities to permit the event. Unless the city grants a permit for an alternative site, he says he will hold a parade/demonstration outside the mayor's office this Sunday.

But not everyone in the gay community backs the gay parade. Ed Mishin, the founder of Russia's main Internet portal for gays and a magazine, Kvir, says that because of the parade plans, two major distributors have dropped his publication. He accuses Alexeyev of pursuing personal fame at the expense of the gay community's safety and says Alexeyev speaks "schizophrenic nonsense." Alexeyev counters that Mishin is opposed to the parade because greater tolerance in society could mean more gay-oriented businesses that steal his customers.

There are small signs that tolerance in Russia is increasing. In May 2006, a female rabbi, Nelly Shulman, performed a commitment ceremony for two women in Moscow. (Shulman later received death threats.) Another lesbian couple had a Russian Orthodox marriage in July 2007.

Clubbers at Three Monkeys on a recent weekend downplayed Russian homophobia and the need for a parade. "The situation in the country has changed," said Mikhail Zotov, 32, lounging by the bar in a room done up like a posh English sitting room. "When people have enough money, they're not so aggressive."

One of the club's managers, Oleg Khrolov, 40, said Russia was no worse than the United States or western Europe. "If homophobia is defined as coming out of clubs and being beaten," he says, "well, it's the same everywhere."