Organizers of an annual LGBTI event in Moscow, Russia cancelled it after homophobic threats and a pepper spray attack.
The fifth annual LGBTQIAPP+ Family Conference was supposed to happen between 9 and 11 November 9-11. But in the days leading up to the event organizers started receiving threatening text messages and phone calls. They also saw many homophobic and threatening messages about the event posted on Russian social media site, VKontakte (VK).
Yulia Malygina is the director of Resource LGBTQIA Moscow. She said on the morning of the first day of the conference its location had been leaked on VK. Malygina had tried to file a complaint with police but a technical glitch stopped it going through.
So, to protect attendees’ safety, volunteers and staff, organizers decided to cancel the event.
‘It was clear how difficult this decision was for the management,’ Malygina said.
Pepper spray attack
Some volunteers stayed at the event’s venue but in the evening when about five or six of them decided to go across the street to a shop an unknown person attacked them with pepper spray. According to volunteers the attacker had been spotted lurking around the building all day and asking questions.
Two of the volunteers ended up in hospital with eye injuries and discharged in the early hours of the next morning.
When Malygina contacted police, they refused to help once they found out what the event was about. They told her ‘it wasn’t their territory’ and to call different police. Malygina did that and a different set of police didn’t turn up for almost two and half hours. She claimed they didn’t interview anyone and took two of the victims to the local station for hours where they filed their complaints.
Instead of holding the event in a physical space, organizers decided to live stream the conference online but the confidential website was also leaked onto VK and became the target of homophobes.
Many of the online comments accused the conference organizers of violating Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law. President Vladimir Putin established the law in 2012, which bans spreading information that LGBT people in a positive light in public, where children might see or hear it.
Police should conduct a thorough and effective investigation capable of identifying and holding those responsible accountable.
Homophobes also targeted the conference in 2017 with an attendee attacked with pepper spray.
While activists from around the world have called on Russian police to investigate last week’s attack, Malygina said organizers remained defiant.
‘We’ve decided that we will never hold closed events,’ she told Human Rights Watch (HRW).
‘Instead, we will make them open. We don’t want to hide anymore, run away, or hide the venue address.’
HRW called on Russian authorities to do more to prevent the attacks.
‘It is totally unacceptable for activists to face threats and attacks simply for holding a conference,’ said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.
‘The Russian authorities need to do more to ensure that these threats and attacks stop.
‘The attack on ‘Vth LGBTQIAPP+ Family Conference’ is yet another example of how the anti-gay propaganda law has emboldened hate groups.’
‘If the authorities want to end hate-based violence, they should start by annulling the “gay propaganda” law.’