The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community will be marching in London on 1 July at EuroPride. Many important legal reforms have been made, such as civil partnerships, which have improved the lives of LGBT people. These were put in place due to many years of campaigning for LGBT rights.
Welcome though these reforms are, this struggle is not over. There have been laws against racial and sex discrimination for many years but these laws have not removed racism and sexism from society. The recent conviction of two men for the homophobic murder of Jody Dobrowski on Clapham Common shows that the LGBT community should never be complacent.
Rights won need to be defended and extended. This should be the theme of Pride, and should link up with international struggles. In Eastern Europe gay pride events have been attacked by reactionaries and the state. Privatising, big business politicians have used homophobia to bolster their positions.
IGOR YASIN, a gay socialist and member of the Socialist Party’s Russian sister organisation in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), Socialist Resistance, was involved in events on 27 May in Moscow, and reports:
The Moscow city authorities banned the Pride march planned for 27 May and the courts upheld this ban. A conference of Russian and foreign LGBT activists in Moscow on the eve of the planned march had a lot of discussion on tactics. The main dispute was whether the gay pride march should go ahead.
The relatively small number of LGBT activists from Russia were indecisive and many were obviously scared. Several put forward the idea that instead of marching under the slogan “Homophobia is just part of xenophobia” they should hand in a petition to the Moscow authorities.
A CWI member, Alexei Kozlov, attempted to convince the conference to participate in a picket of the Mayor’s Office with slogans against discrimination and in defence of the right to organise and demonstrate, as the best way of speaking out against discrimination against sexual minorities.
But many activists were unenthusiastic, saying we did not need “radical actions or conflicts with the authorities”. Some even said that we need to “respect the authority’s decision”.
I commented that, even according to current laws, there was no legal basis for banning the gay pride event, so gay activists should not give up before the fight had even started – we need to express our position and speak against discrimination and in defence of our rights.
Come the day of the picket we were due to kick off at 3pm opposite the Mayor’s office. Although formally it was a picket in defence of democratic rights, it turned into an action in defence of minority rights, in solidarity with the discriminated against LBGT community.
At midday on 27 May, a press conference announced that some gay activists would lay flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier by the Kremlin walls and then take part in the picket outside the mayor’s office. Our immediate reaction was that this was a mistake. Different people would be in different areas and make it easy for the cops to lift people individually. And this is what happened.
Some were arrested “for attempting to lay flowers” in the Alexandorskii garden (by the Kremlin) where crowds of screaming “patriots” and fascists had gathered. Others were lifted on their way to the Mayor’s office.
Before the planned picket, the street began to fill up with sombre-looking youth, hiding from the rain in archways. Alongside them, the cops stood blocking the path to the square outside the Mayor’s office. Slowly activists began drifting up, with them journalists and the inevitable representatives of the organs of repression.
Our group, which included the main organisers and some foreign gay activists turned up five minutes before the picket was due to start. Aleksei and Dima, the official organisers, were called over by the police to “discuss the details,” and we were left to unfold our banner. I naively thought I’d be able to distribute the 500 anti-fascist leaflets in my bag.
But nothing doing! As the organisers got to where the police had asked them to go, they were arrested. The rest of us were surrounded by a crowd. Then a deputy from deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party (Zhirinovsky recently called for the death penalty for homosexuality) climbed a statue standing over a few gay activists and started a homophobic, nationalistic speech.
The crowd of fascist youth started chanting “death to queers” and “send the queers to concentration camps”. A few of us shouted “fascism will not pass.” One of these idiots shouted back at me “Don’t be stupid – fascism was defeated in 1945!”
Then the cops laid in, arresting more organisers and participants in the picket whilst the fascists cheered them on with loud cries of “Long live Russia!” The actions of the far right and the police seem to have been coordinated. Otherwise it is hard to explain how confident the fascists felt in the centre of Moscow on that day.
We spent the next few hours to and fro from the police station where people were held to the internet café. We could spot groups of young fascists up alleys, in archways, in the metro entrance. Obviously we don’t look too gay as they ignored us.
But another comrade who was at the police station said that inside it was full of skinheads and the like helping the police. In another station 17 people were held including Alexei, Dima and well known lesbian activist Evgenii Debryanskaya. People were in shock but all did what they could. They were released after about four hours.
So although a march took place it was not gay pride but a march of fascists and skinheads. The gay community has made an effort to organise openly, but the mass media practically ignored them.
Only small circulation opposition papers and the reactionary press commented on the issue. Not a single mainstream political party has spoken out against discrimination. Even the so-called “democratic” (ie neo-liberal) parties which many LBGT activists support, have chosen not to notice the events just as they ignored the attacks on gay clubs by fascist groups the week before.
Even some ‘lefts’ think that fascism was defeated once and for all by the “Soviet people” in 1945. Others think the issue irrelevant. But after these events some of them have had to start rethinking their position.
There is no longer a neutral position on this question. Some young communists boasted on their website of how they formed a common front with the fascists against gays. But others have been forced by these events to speak out more openly against nationalism and in defence of gay rights.
27 May was the first “coming out” of Russia’s LBGT community in defence of its rights. But it’s just a beginning. Many gays and lesbians still have many illusions, few have a clear idea of how they can be emancipated.
Our task as socialists is to show that only by fighting capitalism and its state machine, together with all the poisonous prejudices that come out of capitalism and by building a new society based on freedom and equality – a socialist society – can these questions be tackled once and for all.