In defiance of Russian law, the rights group Coming Out St Petersburg held an LGBT arts festival—and kept it open for ten days.
Despite attempts by politicians and law enforcement to shut them down, and repeat attacks by violent protesters, from September 18 to 27 the LGBT community in St. Petersburg refused to back down.
On the festival’s opening night, lawmaker Vitaly Milonov, a sponsor of Russia’s law against the promotion of homosexuality, and a mob of other anti-gay protestors crashed the event. According to Gay Star News, “thugs” sprayed the area with green paint and released containers of noxious gas, resulting in sixteen people being hospitalized.
Local police also put pressure on every single venue the festival had reserved to cancel their events, with some success—only an hour and a half before the festival was due to begin, organizers received a call that their first-choice location had canceled their contract at the last minute. The festival ended up being forced to relocate several more times, but was able to remain running as scheduled.
Organizers were also able to prevent a repeat of the opening night at the festival’s closing ceremony—over a dozen anti-gay protestors attempted another attack on the event, but security had been increased sufficiently to keep them from causing any harm.
Despite the many setbacks, the assistant director of Coming Out, Polina Andrianova, told GSN that the arts festival was a “great success,” with only one scheduled event having to be canceled altogether.
She explained, “We had openly published the venue, it was open to the public. While a few aggressors came, the security didn’t let them inside the club.
“We know for a fact the club experienced pressure from the police, somewhere around the afternoon, to try and get them to cancel. But they were there with us. We finished on a high note.”
Andrianova added, “I think the amount of pressures that we faced this year is indicative that the festival is important. It is needed, if we incite so much hate then that means we must continue being open and providing information about LGBTI rights.
“This aggression is coming from homophobic propaganda from the government. We must counteract this information coming from this government.
“Despite the pressures, despite the opening night, the turnout was great. Every time we had an open event, a lot of people came. 140 people came just for a lecture.
“It just shows that we’re needed, and we need to show we can stand up to these pressures. It gives the entire community confidence. When people work with us, despite everything, it shows a huge strength about the LGBTI community.
“We will continue for as long as physically possible.”