LGBT Russian New Yorkers Will March At Brighton

New York Russian LGBTs say their own pride parade is a chance to counter long-held discrimination of gays dating back to the Soviet Union

Anti-gay protestors try to tear a rainbow flag during an LGBT in central Moscow. — REUTERS
May 17, 2017 at 12:32 PM ET

An American organization made up of Russian-speaking LGBT members will hold the first-ever Russian pride parade in the U.S. this month in an effort to overcome taboos within the Russian-speaking population of New York City.

RUSA LGBT will host its pride parade on May 20 on New York’s Brighton Beach, an enclave for immigrants from the former Soviet Union that sits along the Brooklyn waterfront. The neighborhood, famous for its Russian speakers, is conservative and voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election. According to RUSA, the neighborhood isn’t especially friendly for LGBTs, claiming many of their members encounter “discrimination in their homes, workplaces, and medical facilities,” and even “physical and verbal abuse.” 

In order to combat anti-LGBT feelings within the neighborhood and as well as the wider Russian-speaking community in New York, RUSA will host its own parade separate from the annual New York Pride Parade. One of the parade’s stated goals is “to break through the silence and taboo in the Russian-speaking community. ‘We are queer and we are here!’ is a relevant slogan for us today, here in the Russian-speaking community.”

Lyosha Gorshkov, co-president of RUSA, told Vocativ that he first came up with the idea for a parade in Brighton Beach three years ago after arriving in New York. “When I got to New York and settled down in Midwood [a Brooklyn neighborhood] I was surprised by the conservatism and homophobia there,” he said. Gorshkov said New York’s Russian-speaking immigrant community is “very conservative” because of widespread anti-gay attitudes in the former Soviet Union. The discrimination can get so bad within the community that local employers “often would not hire people if they learned you belonged to the LGBT community.” His organization is devoted to helping members of the community and recent immigrants get the services they need, and to get educated in order “to accept themselves, and become part of American society.”

Some 200 people have clicked “attending” on the parade’s event page, with hundreds more expressing interest.

Many Russian New Yorkers expressed support for the parade, hoping it would help change attitudes within the community. “I support this idea as I believe that majority of the Russian community is homophobic and not open-minded,” wrote one fan, adding she hoped “this march will be the first milestone to make a change.” Another supporter, an LGBT Russian-American, wrote they themselves had experienced troubles “as a result of the homophobic and transphobic culture,” and was ready to join the parade “as a transgender individual and as a supporter of the LGBT Russian-speaking community.”

Word of the parade even reached the beleaguered LGBT community inside Russia. The Straight Alliance for LGBT Equality, a Russian social movement founded in 2012, posted on its Facebook page in support of the parade.

Over the last several years Russia has become an increasingly hostile environment for LGBT individuals. In 2013 the government banned the distribution of materials claiming homosexuality as a norm and on May 1, authorities arrested LGBT activists marching in a May Day rally in St. Petersburg. Most worrying are the reports of anti-gay pogroms in Russia’s Chechnya region, where the local leadership has reportedly vowed to eradicate the local gay community.

“I believe that Brighton Beach Pride is going to be successful,” says Gorshkov. “We understand that it is going to be hard and emotionally difficult to stand against bigotry inside our own cultural communities for the first time, but it is worthy.”