Last year, Moscow's top court banned gay-pride parades in the city for 100 years. But it only took one year for U.S. supporters of gay rights in Russia to offer a creative response. On June 30, they organized a virtual parade through the streets of Moscow to coincide with New York City's famous march.
is the brainchild of M&C Saatchi, a tech-savvy and "socially conscious" New York advertising firm. To make its idea for an online parade a reality, M&C Saatchi partnered with the organizers of New York City's pride march and RUSA LGBT, a local advocacy organization for Russian-speaking gays.
Kyiv-born Yelena Goltsman, the founder of RUSA LGBT, says the project was intended as a creative response to a raft of discriminatory legislation recently passed in Russia.
"In Moscow the parade is prohibited for 100 years. As ridiculous as it is, that's the actual law," Goltsman says. "What we're saying is, 'You cannot stop us. We will do it, and with the support of all these people.'"
Step By Step
Technology, in this case, provided a virtual avenue that remained open where Moscow's were closed.
A special geolocation app carried by Goltsman's group in the parade was synced in real time with a route laid out through downtown Moscow. Google mapping technology provided a street-level view of the Russian capital on the Virtual Pride website. When the group took a step in New York, a rainbow path also moved a step forward through the virtual Moscow streets. It traveled 2.02 miles -- the same length as the New York parade route -- from Prechistenka Street, past the Moscow River, and ended in Red Square.
As if that weren't enough technology, supporters populated the Moscow parade route by way of Twitter messages. All tweets containing the hashtag #virtualpride were programmed to pop up in message bubbles along the side of the virtual road as they came in. Goltsman's group displayed banners promoting the Virtual Pride website as they marched through the rainbow-filled streets of New York.
Most of the hundreds of messages of support came from the United States. One Twitter user wrote, "DOMA's down, let's take on Moscow!" -- a reference to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on June 26 that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision granted legally married gay couples in the United States the same social benefits as those available to opposite-sex married couples.
And while the Virtual Pride website is in English only, it was noticed by several Russian blogs and websites.
One tweet from a user in Moscow that appeared along the virtual parade route said, "There's no way we're shutting up. Every life is precious. Every love is priceless."
Another Twitter user from Russia wrote, "We're people, just like heterosexuals. We want to hold hands in the street too!"
The message was an apparent reference to federal legislation that passed Russia's upper house of parliament on June 26 that criminalizes "gay propaganda" and imposes fines on those found to be in violation of the ban.
The upper house approved the bill with 137 votes in support and one abstention. No lawmakers voted against the bill, which was not debated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the measure into law on June 30, despite concern by Western governments and international rights groups.
On June 25, Putin had called gays and lesbians "full members of our society."
Other messages of support appearing along the virtual parade route were in Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and other languages.
Tish Flynn, the media director for the New York City pride parade, explained why Virtual Pride earned official support.
"We think it's really important that anyone is allowed to celebrate a pride. If it's not a safe space where they live, either internationally or here, we feel like everyone should be able to take part in some sort of pride celebration," she says. "NYC Pride is also a member of Interpride, which is the international pride organization, so it's always really important to us to make sure that we keep that global awareness going, not just the party aspect of it.
"Hopefully this project raised a bit of awareness outside of Russia about what gays in the country are deprived of -- and hopefully some of them felt proud of the project, too."