Abrupt End for Approved Gay Rally

Image by Sergey Chernov / SPT
Image by Sergey Chernov / SPT
Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Reposted from St Petersburg Times: http://www.sptimes.ru/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=37322

St. Petersburg authorities abruptly ended a previously authorized LGBT protest rally against homophobia and transphobia — described as Russia’s largest in the past few years — for alleged security reasons on Friday.

Called Rainbow Flashmob, the protest was organized by LGBT organization Vykhod (Coming Out) and the Alliance of Straights for LGBT Equality and drew an estimated 200 participants. A similar number of anti-LGBT counterdemonstrators, many of whom acted aggressively and shouted insults and threats, also attended.

Soon after demonstrators arrived at the small site designated on the Fields of Mars, which was enclosed by metal fencing, they were pelted with smoke bombs and stones.

Officers from the OMON riot police, who were present in large numbers, rushed in and formed a line between the two groups while a City Hall official on site presented the organizers with written orders to end the rally, scheduled to be held from 2 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. At 2:13 p.m., the rally was stopped due to “immediate threat to the life and health of citizens.”

According to Olga Lenkova, the press officer for Coming Out, the orders had been printed in advance, but the time “2:13” was written in pen on site.

Lenkova believes the police presence on the site was large enough to prevent any violence and let the rally continue.

“I think the police could have driven back the counterdemonstrators, they have forces to do that, but apparently they were unwilling to,” she said by phone Monday.

The counterdemonstrators, consisting mainly of militant nationalists and Orthodox radicals, included Vitaly Milonov, the Legislative Assembly’s United Russia deputy responsible for the local law banning “gay propaganda.”

Milonov, who showed up at the event with his wife and young daughter, held a poster showing a face of an alleged sex criminal. A dozen other anti-LGBT demonstrators who stood next to him held similar posters with at least one of the party holding an icon.

Lenkova said that the anti-LGBT group also included Orthodox activist Gleb Likhotkin, now on trial for discharging a gas weapon in the face of a Rainbow Flashmob participant last year, and militant nationalist Dmitry Deineko, charged for attacking LGBT activists after St. Petersburg’s anti-Putin rally on June 12, 2012.

According to Lenkova, one young woman was hit in the head with a stone, another woman was punched and one man was pushed with force when entering the bus following the protest.

Three counterdemonstrators were detained by the police “for an attempt to disrupt public order.”

Protesters, who held placards reading “Don’t Look for Enemies Where They Aren’t,” “We Demand Fair Investigation of Hate Crimes,” “Homophobia Is a Disease” and “My Friend Is Gay and It’s Okay,” reacted with shouts of “Fascism shall not pass.”

One young woman held a placard reading “I Am 17. The Government Says That I Don’t Exist. The Nazis Say That I Should Be Killed. I Will Live.”

Apart from members of the LGBT community, the demonstrators included activists from such organizations as Soldiers’ Mothers, the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Center, the Yabloko Democratic Party and Solidarity, as well as the other citizens “outraged by rampant homophobic fascism in St. Petersburg,” according to the organizers.

“The May 17 rally was the largest LGBT protest in St. Petersburg and Russia in years,” the organizers said in a statement.

“The adoption of the homophobic law and even open threats of physical violence not only failed to drive the LGBT community underground, but just the opposite, encouraged more people to take to the streets and fight for their rights.”

Rainbow Flashmob is held in St. Petersburg annually on May 17 to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was created in 2004.

The day was chosen specifically to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder on May 17, 1990.

This year’s protest was dedicated to the memory of Vladislav Tornovoy, the 22-year-old killed in Volgograd on May 10, in what is believed to be a hate crime.

Due to the early forced shut down, several planned speeches were abandoned. After Lenkova announced a moment of silence in memory of all victims of hate crimes, the protesters released hundreds of colored balloons, half of them black to mourn LGBT people who have been murdered. Most of the protesters then left in two buses that were provided by the organizers.

An attempt to ambush the buses on a nearby corner, undertaken by some of the counterdemonstrators, was prevented by the police.

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