Russian LGBT activists are planning on holding protests in at least 13 cities on Saturday, in widespread defiance of the clampdown on LGBT organizing since the so-called "homosexual propaganda" ban became law last year.
The events, called Rainbow Flashmobs, are not direct challenges of the law, which technically prohibits the "promotion of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors." The event doesn't target children, and activists will be chanting slogans promoting tolerance before releasing balloons in a gesture of hope. Because the events will feature slogans promoting tolerance, organizers have even been able to secure permission from the events in some places. Even still, the organizers are bracing for violence from extremist groups, which are already posting menacing messages on social networks.
Russian activists have taken part in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT), held on May 17, since 2009. That year, 30 events took place around the country — this year, it's down to 13, largely due to the violent counter-protestors who have attacked participants in recent years. Organizers are bracing for even more serious confrontations this time around because of the anti-LGBT sentiment stirred up by recent anti-LGBT laws, said Polina Andrianova, whose organization Coming Out is coordinating the St. Petersburg event.
The climate for the events, she said, "hasn't been becoming better. It's becoming worse."
That's part of why the group filed for a permit, Andrianova said. In the past, they could hold flashmobs without a permit. But it's become too dangerous to hold events without police protection, and they needed the permit to secure commitments from police to protect participants if confrontations turn violent. She said a meeting with security officials held this week was "positive," although they warned they would shut down the event if they couldn't provide enough police to keep the peace. Andrianova said she left the meeting "cautiously optimistic" they would facilitate the event.
In some parts of the country, however, organizers concluded local officials wouldn't allow the event to take place at all, so they didn't apply for permits and they're keeping their plans under wraps until they take place, said Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network, which is working with organizers throughout the country.
Getting at least 13 cities to participate is a big accomplishment given how dangerous the country has become for LGBT activists, Zakharova said. "It shows that we're here, not just to [other LGBT people] but the outer society as well," Zakharova said.
IDAHOT events are planned in more than 120 countries on Saturday. Russia is not the only country where LGBT activists are bracing for violence or intimidation. Following a march in Hunan last year, Chinese police arrested the event's organizers, and he was arrested again last week and is being pressured to call off this year's protest. Organizers in Georgia decided to call of plans to participate this year, after last year's march ended in a mob attack led by Orthodox priests. Anti-LGBT activists are planning to hold a march of their own, instead.
J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211
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