Risking fines and arrests, the fifth annual international QueerFest launched in St Petersburg today.
Attracting nearly 2000 visitors every year, Russia’s ‘queer pride and culture festival’ comprises seminars, discussions, photo exhibits and concerts to make a statement against homophobia.
It will be the first festival to take place under the country’s law banning ‘homosexual propaganda’ where individuals and organizations can face fines and jail time for promoting LGBT rights.
This year’s 10-day QueerFest, from 19 to 28 September, will introduce visitors to LGBT police officers and parents of LGBT individuals from Sweden, hold debates about women’s role in Russia’s LGBT movement and premiere a concert with Swedish rock band Gravitonas.
‘Mister Putin, I will be straight forward with you: we will never back down. The struggle for the human right to love cannot be stopped,’ said Gravitonas lead singer Alexander Bard at Stockholm Pride this August.
Polina, an LGBT rights activist with QueerFest, spoke to Gay Star News about the possibility of facing persecution from the government or from the community for holding the event.
She told Gay Star News: ‘In St Petersburg, the [‘homosexual propaganda’] law was already in effect last year March 2012, so we’re used to this, we always have to think of plan b, c, d.
‘It’s very possibe the venue where the festival is being held will cancel the contract at the last minute, it’s happened before. It won’t happen because they hate gay people, but because they’re afraid. They’re afriad of getting fined or the government coming for them.
‘The second concern is safety of participants. That is because the aggression of violence from nationalists has increased drastically in the past year. They do monitor our websites and come to our events.’
Polina advised participants to be careful, not travel alone, but also highlighted the need now more than ever for the Russian LGBT community to make themselves visible and respected.
‘Some hold to the opinion that the only path for Russian LGBT people today is out of the country. While that may be so for the specifically targeted groups and individuals, such as same-sex families and LGBT rights defenders under risk, there are LGBT people who intend to live in this country and try and improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
‘That is why it is all the more important now to continue organizing QueerFest, a space where LGBT community can share in a sense of pride, and the city can learn more about LGBT culture, lives, and rights,’ she added.
Since President Vladimir Putin signed the anti-gay law in June, a ripple-effect has torn through local and international communities:
- local Russian gay pride organizers have been arrested
- Russian homeowners have launched witch-hunts for LGBT tenants
- LGBT Russian teachers have been expelled from their jobs for their sexuality
- four tourists filming a gay-related documentary were arrested in North Russia
- the possibility of LGBT athletes participating in the Sochi Winter Olympics has sparked international outrage
and international athletes have faced reprimands for protesting the anti-gay laws