After suffering through another quashed pride march, intimidation from the authorities, and an alleged government-sanctioned kidnapping, Nikolay Alexeyev needed some good news. The 32-year old Russian gay activist got just that on October 21, when the European Court on Human Rights ruled that Russia violated the European Convention on Human Rights when it banned three Moscow gay-pride festivals.
The decision came shortly after Alexeyev, who was a plaintiff in the case, says he was detained without explanation by Russian government agents after he tried to board a plane for a routine trip to Geneva on September 15. He says he was abducted to the Russian city of Kashira and pressured to drop his lawsuits in the European Court, all while being verbally assaulted as a “faggot” and “pederast”. Alexeyev refused to back down, and he says he was booted out of a car in a rural area two days later.
The news spread abroad via Facebook, the Moscow-born activist says.
From Vancouver to San Fransisco to Berlin, supporters set up vigils and protested at Russian consulates.
I did not know so many people would care.
Less than two weeks later, on October 1, Alexeyev was back in action, organizing a picket at the Moscow office of Swiss International Air Lines, which he blames for being complicit in his apprehension at a Moscow airport.
A sea change seems to have taken place since the May 2009 gay-pride march, where 20 activists, including Alexeyev, were arrested and some were assaulted by the police. Alexeyev´s newest protest was officially sanctioned; Yuri Luzhkov, the city´s antigay mayor since 1992, had been fired by President Dmitry Medvedev days earlier, and the police actually protected gay protesters for the first time ever.
Alexeyev are encouraged by the recent changes, but remains aware of how deeply integrated homophobia is in the fabric of his nation.
Russia emerged from communism 20 years ago, just a few weeks after the fall of the USSR, the ideology we lived with for 70 years disappeared. The government tried to make use of the Russian Orthodox Church to impose Orthodox values on the society. The gays are a designed enemy for the church.
Still, he´s very appreciative of the progress, the realization of which has been nearly the singular focus of Alexeyev´s life since 2001, when he was kicked out of the prestigious Moscow State University for selecting gay rights as the focus of his Ph.D. thesis.
I was out of my mind after being sacked from the university, I decided then to fight against the system.
And he has seemingly succeeded on a unpresidented scale. Alexeyev´s good friend Peter Tatchell, a leading British gay rights activist says:
He is risking his life for the sake of liberty and freedom – for LGBT people and for all Russians.
As the most visible crusader for gay right in his country, Alexeyev recognizes that he´s assuming the mantle as Russia´s LGBT figurehead. He knows that a lot of countries lacks a parallel leader figure at the moment, and the reason, he says, may have to do with the high stakes.
America showed the way with Harvey Milk, but let´s remember his fight left him dead.