IN LOS ANGELES – June 8, 2008
Another Gay Pride season is upon us. For some, it is a time for serious reflection. For most, it’s a big party—a time to pull out the rainbow-colored skivvies, the wigs and, of course, the booze. For Moscow-based gay activist Nikolai Alekseyev, it’s an annual battle. Gay Pride is not taken so lightly in countries like Russia, where homosexual oppression takes America back 50-60 years. A march for gay human rights was recently banned for the third time in a row by the mayor of Moscow, who links homosexuals to Satan. Alekseyev has been on the frontlines of the Russian gay movement. His attempts to organize Gay Pride demonstrations since 2006 have led to aggressive clashes with skinheads, religious zealots and Moscow authorities. He has been spat on, heckled, subjected to physical violence and even arrested. But none of these lost battles discourages Alekseyev from the larger cultural war he finds himself fighting. We were granted an interview with the Russian revolutionary after the ban of Moscow Pride ’08. Despite the hardships ahead, Alekseyev seems optimistic about the future legal- ization of this gay event—just don’t call it a gay carnival.
Why choose the month of May to organize a Gay Pride march?
May 27 is the date when homosexuality was decriminalized in Moscow back in 1993. This year is the 15th anniversary. We applied for all of the days of May—from the 1st to the 31st— so they don’t know when we’re going to march. The previous two years we advertised the date, so the opponent was well prepared.
Why did it take you guys so long to get organized?
There were various circumstances. Rus- sia wanted to be part of European Council, but the condition was that we had to decriminalize homosexu- ality. It all happened so fast after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Without a struggle, most of the leaders of the gay community lost interest. They stopped their political activities and opened gay clubs. We started from scratch in 2005.
When you visualize a Gay Pride in Moscow, what do you see?
It is not a gay carnival. We want to have our political message heard. Our rights are being violated in this coun- try. We applied to have a human rights march, not a gay parade. Society is not ready for that yet.
What type of carnivals or parades do the authorities find acceptable in Moscow?
Surprisingly, the St. Patrick’s parade is the only event allowed since 1992. The Mayor personally took part in it in ’92. They block the main streets and pro- vide security. If you look at the images, there is nudity and a lot of craziness. It is hypocritical to ban political demon- strations for gay people but then allow a St. Patrick’s parade.
Do you think being assaulted and arrested has helped your cause?
It helped remind the authorities that we are going to fight for our right to express ourselves and to demonstrate until it is allowed, which is the right that we have according to the con- stitution. We are absolutely sure that it will all work in our favor.
Are you afraid for your life?
Fear is natural, especially when you are fighting on a very high level against the authorities here in Russia. There’s always a risk.
How does your family feel about what you are doing? My parents will always be scared for me, but I think in the last three years they just got used to it. Now they fully support me.
How does a Russian gay boy become a gay activist?
It was a gradual process. It started when I was trying to do some scien- tific thesis on the issue of gay rights at Moscow State University, but they did not allow it. I had to sue them in court for discrimination. In 2005, I real- ized I could be more active. I had no idea so many things would happen in three years.
What are your thoughts when you hear that Americans take Gay Pride for granted?
I don’t think there are enough politi- cal messages at these parades in West- ern countries. America is still a long way from equality in terms of family rights, marriage rights, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, hate crimes, federal discrimination provisions and so on. There is still a lot to do. Fun is fine, but it doesn’t change things. I think there’s a sort of apathetic attitude because, for so many years, people went to demonstrate and not too many things changed.
What do you think the future holds for you?
I believe in fate. I want things to change. I want equal rights. I will do the job for the time that I am needed. When I can’t bring anything new, then I will stop. Maybe I will immigrate to Amer- ica. As soon as my work is done here, I will go fight over there. [Laughs] I’m only joking.
Originally published: IN LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE