Manchester Pride festivalgoers are being urged to show their suppport for St Petersburg's persecuted gay community by sending a text message.
The Russian city has been condemned by world leaders and human rights activists after it passed an anti-gay 'propaganda' law which effectively gags any public discussion of LGBT issues or events targeted at gay and trans people, including pride.
Manchester City Council, St Petersburg’s twin city in the UK, begged officials to veto the bill during a visit marking the 50th anniversary of the cities’ friendship in March.
And now northern England's buzzing metropolis is calling on people attending Manchester Pride this weekend to stand up for gay rights in St Petersburg by sending a text message to the Russian city's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
Messages should be sent to 86099 and start with the word 'PRIDE' and include your name and where you are from. You will only be charged at your standard text rate and all messages will be forwarded to LGBT groups in St Petersburg, including Coming Out.
Councillor Bev Craig, Manchester City Council’s lead member for lesbian issues, said: 'It’s hard to believe that in this day and age that people still suffer state persecution simply because of their sexuality. But, sadly, that is true in many parts of the world, including our sister city of St Petersburg.
'This is a great chance to send a clear message to gay people in St Petersburg that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their fight for equality.'
She added that Manchester Pride is about more than celebration.
'It’s also about solidarity, it’s about protest, it’s about getting angry about injustice,' Cllr Craig said.
'And it is about all of us, gay and straight, taking a stand to say that human dignity is a universal right. I’m proud that we are showing that politics is very much still at the heart of pride.'
Leaflets and flags will be given to spectators at tomorrow's (25 August) parade and a special banner, carrying a message of solidarity for LGBT people in St Petersburg, will be carried through the streets. It will also be sent to St Petersburg after pride.
One of Russia’s leading gay activists will be attending pride to share her experiences of living in St Petersburg. Polina Savchenko is one of the directors of Coming Out, a St Petersburg-based LGBT group that provides vital support to gay people in the city and lobbies for LGBT rights.
The group hopes to organise a festival in the city next month to celebrate LGBT life, despite the oppressive legislation.
Polina will address the crowds at the main stage in the festival, will take part in the parade and will meet representatives from Manchester LGBT groups.
The theme of this year's Manchester Pride parade is 'Queer'd Science' in honor of gay computer genius Alan Turing whose work in Manchester led directly to the technological revolution that has transformed all our lives.
After being arrested for being gay, Turing was forced to undergo brutal medical treatment to 'cure' him of his homosexuality. This led to him taking his own life in 1954. This year would have been the centenary of his birth.
Manchester Pride runs until the 27 August. The parade takes place on tomorrow from 1pm, starting in Liverpool Road. For more information on the free parade, and how to buy tickets for the Big Weekend event in the gay village, visit the official website here.