Last week, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) activists in Moscow tried to hold a “Day of Silence”, part of a series of annual events to take a stand against homophobia. The voices of LGBTI people in Russia, in fact, are being silenced faster than ever in the two years since the adoption of the anti-LGBTI “propaganda” law.
Оne such example happened just last Sunday. Moscow police dispersed a small peaceful public event called a “Day of Silence” which was organized by local activists to protest against stigmatization of Russia’s LGBTI community and commemorate victims of homophobic and transphobic violence. Only two dozen activists participated in the event, which wasn’t advertised anywhere or even discussed publicly for security reasons.
But when they came to a small park in central Moscow to hold the demonstration, they saw two police cars with four policemen and one so-called “orthodox activist” known for his aggressive attitude towards LGBTI people.
The activists later told me that the policemen asked everyone for their IDs and informed them that the event was “unauthorized.” The activists had leaflets about discrimination against LGBTI people, and the police warned that they “would get in trouble” if they tried to distribute them to passers-by. For security reasons, the activists ended up moving to a different, albeit remote, part of Moscow, where they held the event.
The Day of Silence was the concluding event of the Week against Homophobia, an annual series of talks and other events in Moscow. Across Russia, activists traditionally mark the Day of Silence by distributing leaflets on the streets and putting tape over their mouths to symbolize the silencing and stigmatization of the LGBTI community.
This year’s Week against Homophobia was marked by unprecedented security measures. All lectures, film screenings, and discussions were announced only 24 hours in advance, and only to a small circle of activists who then could invite others they knew personally. Needless to say, finding a space for these events was challenging since most of the venues approached refused to host them.
In recent years, numerous LGBTI events have been attacked by homophobic vigilantes or dispersed by police. Another recent example is the detention of a women’s rights activist in central Moscow for unfurling a rainbow flag at a public demonstration. As I write this, activists from a LGBTI group in Murmansk are reporting that unidentified people pepper sprayed those inside the organization’s office.
In Russia, the voices of LGBTI people are continuously silenced and the public space for their activism is shrinking at an alarming speed.