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U.S. Demonstrations Chide Russia On Gay-Rights Abuses

Some 20 people protested Russia's troubling record on gay rights in front of Moscow's embassy in Washington.
WASHINGTON -- Activists, Russian-Americans, and other concerned citizens held small demonstrations in front of Russia's missions in Washington and New York on July 31 to protest the country's rapidly deteriorating record on gay rights.

About 20 people rallied in front of Moscow's embassy in Washington, with some chanting, "Gay rights! Human rights!" over a megaphone in the direction of the imposing, gray edifice.

Others waved rainbow flags and held posters documenting the recent uptick in homophobic attacks in Russia.

One protester held a sign that read, "Russian state policy: A good gay is a dead gay."

The demonstration was organized in part by the Washington-based Spectrum Human Rights group, which recently helped publicize a spate of extreme gay bullying in Russia's Sverdlovsk region.

The videos of young gay men apparently being taunted with phallic sex toys, threatened with axes, and being made to drink urine have made headlines and evoked outrage in the United States.

The ultranationalists behind the bullying are part of a nationwide movement in Russia and have acted with impunity.

WATCH: Protesters in front of the Russian Consulate in New York City dump Russian vodka and call for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics due to Russia's anti-gay crackdown.
Gay Activists Dump Russian Vodka in NYC
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Russian-American Larry Poltavtsev, the president of the Spectrum Human Rights, said he was protesting not only against abuses in Russia, but what he described as a weak response from the West.

"Why are we, as Americans, and Europeans as well, sort of providing white-glove treatment to Mr. Putin [while] he successfully humiliates and oppresses his own population? Maybe there are some underlying political reasons and global interests -- I don't know. But that sounds wrong," he said. "Silence is indeed death right now."

'Homosexual Propaganda'

In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban on "homosexual propaganda" that was passed unanimously by the State Duma.

The United States and the European Union have expressed concern at the measure. Activists say it not only sanctions, but promotes, the country's already widespread homophobia.

Putin maintains that homosexuals receive equal treatment in Russia.

Anthony Doubek, a young transgender man, said he came to the Washington protest to stand with "people like me who are fearing for their lives."

"I had such a hard time coming out, I can't even imagine what it would be like if your family wasn't supportive -- or if your government wasn't supportive. So to me, I'm here fighting for those who weren't as lucky as I was," he said.

Doubek was one of several demonstrators who wore black-and-white-striped prison uniforms with pink triangles sewn on. They also wore gold medals around their necks.

The outfits, organizer Poltavtsev explained, were meant to mimic those worn by gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. The medals were a reference to the 2014 Winter Olympics that will be held in Sochi, Russia.

"The International Olympic Committee issued a statement that they received assurances from the highest sources in Russia that there will be no LGBT discrimination during the Olympic Games," Poltavtsev noted. "Do they read history? Hitler said the same thing back in 1936 that during the Olympics there will be no persecution of Jews!"

Protesters pour Russian vodka into the streets of New York on July 31.
Protesters pour Russian vodka into the streets of New York on July 31.

As in Washington, protesters in front of Moscow's consulate in New York City also called for a boycott of the 2014 Olympics due to Russia's antigay crackdown.

More than 60 people participated, including gay asylum-seekers and people who said they had been attacked during raids on gay clubs in Russia.

The demonstrators emptied bottles of Russian vodka into the streets in protest, with some chanting, "We are here, we are queer, and we drink only beer!"

Wth contributions from RFE/RL Russian Service's Olga Loginova in New York