Immigrants from across the former Soviet Union took to the streets on June 24 during New York City’s Gay Pride Parade to raise awareness of rights violations that homosexuals face in Russia.
Nina Long, 33, a Belarusian immigrant who helped organize the march, said she personally knew immigrants hailing from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Latvia among the 70 marchers -- and that even more countries of the former Soviet Union were represented.
RUSA LGBT, a New York support group for gays of Russian descent and their families, organized the march.
Yelena Goltsman, 49, who founded the organization in 2008, said it is evolving into a gay-rights group that promotes equality in both Russian-speaking countries and New York.
As the parade began, Goltsman gathered the group around her and shouted, "Let’s show them the Russians are coming! They’re here!" One in the crowd then called out: "And they’re queer!"
Some of those marching were scantily clad or dressed in drag. One man appeared in an outfit mimicking famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who was bisexual.
The marchers were light-hearted, dancing to loud Russian music, blowing bubbles, and doing the limbo under a pink feather boa.
But their message was serious. They waved flags and held signs that read, "In Moscow gay parade banned for the next 100 years," "17 got arrested for carrying rainbow flags in Russia," "Human rights violated in Russia," and "No government has the right to tell citizens whom to love!"
PHOTO GALLERY: Russian-speaking gay-rights activists take to the streets of New York
Many of the marchers also wore white ribbons tied around their wrists, echoing massive antigovernment protests in Russia that began last December.
Long said the group was marching specifically to raise awareness of several laws passed recently in Russia.
These include a law approved in St. Petersburg in February that bans "gay propaganda." The first Russian arrested under this law was Nikolai Alekseyev, Russia's leading gay-rights campaigner, who was fined the equivalent of $170 in May for holding a sign reading, "Homosexuality is not a perversion, field hockey and ice ballet are."
'Going Backwards' On Human Rights
Another decision they were protesting is a Moscow ban on gay-pride parades for the next 100 years, instituted earlier in June.
"It seems that Russia is going backwards on the human rights scale," Long said. "We just think that the first step is to educate people, and then hopefully that is going to lead us somewhere."
Goltsman said this march was the first political activity that RUSA LGBT has participated in. She founded the group to help Russian-speaking gays and their families who were suffering from homophobia in their community.
Goltsman herself was married to a man for 18 years and had two children before finding the courage to come out to her family that she was homosexual.
She and her husband separated and she has since remarried a woman. Her daughter marched in the parade with her on June 24. She said her son would have been there if he had been in the city.
"[Coming out] is a very hard thing to do without support, without knowing that there are other people that will support you throughout your journey," Goltsman said.
"The Russian community here is still very homophobic, here in the United States, so people who need support. They come to us and we provide the support to them."
According to Goltsman, when they started planning the march they expected about 10 people to show up. She and Long were shocked and thrilled at the crowd of 70 that turned out.
"This is a big statement of identity -- not only political protest but also their own personal identity," she said of those who chose to march.
-- Courtney Brooks