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Russian LGBT festival perseveres despite anti-gay laws

Russian LGBT Event

Holding LGBT events in a country that outlaws “gay propaganda” is incredibly difficult, but not impossible.

The Bok o Bok (Side by Side) film festival, founded by Manny de Guerre and Gulya Sultanova, showcases LGBT films, panels and lectures in a country that is clamping down on human rights.

It’s not been easy to hold Bok o Bok since its creation in 2007. Venues have been closed down at the last minute by fire inspectors, attendees have been threatened by members the public and in extreme cases, bomb threats have been phoned in to shut down venues.

The start of this year’s festival was no exception when Vitaly Milonov, the author of the “gay propaganda” law, attempted to gatecrash the opening night. Videos have emerged of him allegedly shouting: “Underage children could be inside!”

“We always have to have spare venues reserved for emergencies,” Gulya tells the Guadian. “Spaces cancel on us because they get pressure from the above, or receive bomb threats, or just get scared of the consequences.”

But despite the threats of violence, forced location changes and secret gatherings, Bok o Bok has persevered. Arseniy Vesnin, a journalist and member of Bok o Bok’s jury, told the Guardian: “I hope that the spotlights, projectors and screens of the festival shine a light of enlightenment and kindness.

“Today we all have an opportunity to speak out and we must […] It’s not just the educated and the minorities who need respect, but also those who are ignorant and misled.”

Gulya Sultanova explained what situation the festival finds itself in, eight years since it was founded: “On one side there is pressure and persecution from the city government, and on the other side is the local police, and they are protecting us.” But protection from Russian police wasn’t always readily available, Gulya explained: ““Every time someone is attacked at our events, we go to the police over and over, forcing them to start the case and investigate, and often they can’t charge the guilty ones as they are very public people. So now they try to avoid these situations by properly protecting our events.”

After years of persecution, disruption and hostility, Bok o Bok continues. “We see the positive results of our work,” says Gulya, “we have [a larger] audience, the LGBT community is getting stronger in the city, we see that people are less afraid, we see interest, the general public is now more often approaching us with an open mind, ready to learn.

“This situation in our country won’t change unless we have an active LGBT community. And we are getting there.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin appeared on American television earlier this year and said that his country is just as accepting, welcoming and representative to gay people as the United States.

Speaking to CBS’ 60 minutes, Putin explained that “the problems of sexual minorities in Russia had been deliberately exaggerated from the outside for political reasons.”

Russia has cancelled one of its only LGBT film events.

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The Moscow Premiere, an anti-fascist and LGBT cinema event, was soon to take place, but was replaced with a “positive, youth-orientated” alternative, reports Digital Spy. 

The organiser of the Moscow Premiere, a free event, said he could not work with the new organiser, Yevgeny Gerasimov.Russia LGBT

The festival had previously accepted submissions rejected by mainstream releases and festivals.

Funding was cut at a moment’s notice, and supporters of the festival, and the LGBT community as a whole in Russia have criticised the way the situation has been handled.

The Youth Festival of Life Affirming Film, which will replace the Moscow Premiere, will be unable to show any films featuring LGBT people in positive light, due to Russia’s federal anti-gay law.

Passed in 2013, it bans the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

The cancellation of the Moscow Premiere is being seen as part of a wider crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia.

The Youth Festival of Life Affirming Film is set to take place this coming week.

Russia last week announced plans to entirely block Wikipedia, in its latest crackdown on the internet.

The Russian government recently bolstered its watchdog’s powers to censor the internet – and over the past year a number of blocks have been placed on ‘dissenting’ groups.

Russia’s main support group for teenagers who identify as LGBT, Children-404, was quietly blocked by authorities on Russian social media site VKontakte in April.

Police hurt in Kiev gay march clash

Belfast Telegraph – 6th June 2015 –

Opponents of a gay rights march held in Ukraine’s capital threw smoke bombs and tear gas, and nine police officers were injured in the clash.

The Interior Ministry said 25 people were detained during the violence surrounding the march of an estimated 300 people. News reports said at least four of the marchers were injured.

One of the policemen was in a serious condition with a shrapnel would to his neck, the ministry said.

The march took place in the morning along the Dnipro River in Kiev. Helmeted riot police formed a cordon to keep marchers and opponents at a distance from each other.

The opponents threw smoke bombs and some tried to break through the cordon. Some demonstrators were attacked after the march dispersed.

As in other parts of the former Soviet Union, animosity to gay people persists. The tensions are aggravated by opponents’ claims that Ukraine’s political turn towards the West will promote gay marriage.