A Russian Court Made a Revolution and Declared the Ban of the St. Petersburg Gay Pride Illegal

by Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT Human Rights Project GayRussia, Moscow
IGLHRC believes that a vital part of our mission is supporting the work of activist organizations and allies by disseminating important information on human rights issues affecting LGBT communities worldwide. To this end we are posting this article from Interpride.

The decision given today by the Lenin District Court of St Petersburg is truly historical. I simply do not see any other word I can use. For the first time ever, a Russian Court gave a decision in which it declared illegal the ban of a Gay Pride in Russia. This very good news is not orphan. It came after what has been a crazy week in Russia.

First, there was the decision of the Russian President to dismiss the Mayor of Moscow. Yuri Luzhkov was the man who qualified gay prides as "satanic gatherings" and gays as "weapons of mass destruction". He is also the one who used the word "faggot" to name us on TV and who called gays responsible for spreading HIV in Russia. But most of all, Yuri Luzhkov deserves his name in the Guinness World Records Book for personally banning over 200 LGBT public actions in Moscow. I had the chance to see one of our applications with the word "to ban" written from his hand.

Then, just as Russia's top homophobe was packing his personal stuff from his office, his administration allowed the first ever LGBT labelled public actions in Moscow. For the first time in 5 years, they finally understood that Moscow can provide security to 20 peaceful LGBT activists who want to protest in the street. And so, last Friday, for the first time, the police protected us from the hooligans instead of running after us with batons. This was already historic as it will stay in memories as the first action by LGBT people in Russia to be ever allowed. And despite what some media wrote, the application for the event, which I published in my blog, clearly states that it was organized by gays and lesbians. But destiny decided that it was not enough.

On Monday, an appeal Court confirmed that the closing of Moscow's oldest gay club almost a year ago was illegal. Remember: we tried to mobilize the media and the public opinion at that time but we failed to fight the influential Prefect of Moscow 's Northern district who used the closing of the club as part of his electoral campaign. And that's the next good news.

The Prefect Mitvol was sacked by the acting Mayor on Monday as well!

So far, one can say that all these actions are not related and that they depended on external factors. That's correct. But good news are good news and they did not stop there so let's continue.

Today, a St Petersburg Court decided to create a revolution. For the first time, a Russian Judge is applying the law in a case which concerns the freedom of assembly of LGBT people. St Petersburg Gay Pride Ban last June 26 was ILLEGAL. So far, we all knew that banning a peaceful action contradicted not only with the article 31 of the constitution but also with the European Convention on Human Rights and the precedent of the European Court. But it seems that only us knew about it because in the last 5 years, not less than 200 LGBT public actions were banned in Russia and these bans where always backed... by the Russian Courts. The list of of Judges who confused law and personal beliefs is too long to enumerate.

For the first time today, a Court decided the opposite. A Judge applied the law. What can seem to be "business as usual" for western Europe or America is "unprecedented" for Russia. Don't misinterpret me, I am not saying that Russia's homophobia has gone tonight. Far from that. And this decision could even well be reversed in appeal. This is a small victory. But it is the first one we can be proud of.

At this stage, we are happy because for the first time, we get rewarded for 5 years of court actions, 5 years of arrests, of lost trials, of hits, of insults, of being followed or intimidated by officials, hooligans or individuals. We demonstrated that in Russia, a country of which many are saying that it is useless to go in the streets because nothing will ever change, even here the impossible can become possible.

We are probably miles away from the first ever allowed and protected human rights march of LGBT people in the center of Moscow or St Petersburg but with this first Court decision in our favor, we are definitely on track tonight. No matter wether this decision is about the Pride. It shows that there are some judges who can apply the law properly and give us justice. And this opens the path for future court decisions on other issues and not only freedom of assembly. It simply gives a signal.

We will continue to fight without compromising for our rights.

We don't mind to be called radicals, we don't even mind to be called revolutionaries, there is simply no use for us to fight for our rights and hiding our identity.

Visibility is our strategy. Equality is our message.

I cannot say this better than Harvey Milk: "We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions."

I'd like to end by thanking everyone, friends but also those with whom I have had different views, individuals and organizations, anonymous and politicians, all of you who showed support and love when I was arrested. Thanks for your messages, your worries, your actions, your letters, the support you collected, the protest you organized. You made me remember what we are all fighting for. Your love is the best energy that keep me motivated.

And don't forget that Russian-Belarussian Pride organizers agreed last June to host the 3rd edition of the Slavic Gay Pride in St Petersburg in June 2011.