Bil Browning

State Dept Responds to Dan Choi Russian Incident

Filed By Bil Browning | May 29, 2011 9:15 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Dan Choi, Moscow, pride parade, Russia, State Department

You know you're doing your job as a troublemaker well when the US State Department issues a statement about an incident and you were involved. This just in from Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner after Lt. Dan Choi was arrested in Moscow for working with local and international activsts to stage a gay pride parade.

Concern about Freedom of Assembly in Russia

We note with concern that in Moscow on Saturday, May 28, a peaceable demonstration of Russians advocating for the rights of gays and lesbians, joined by international supporters, was forcefully disrupted by counter-protesters, and that Russian security forces then detained people from both groups, including American citizens. Some protestors were seriously injured according to media reports.

Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right all members of the OSCE committed to, including in the Moscow declaration and as recently as the Astana summit. As nationwide legislative elections approach, constraints on the ability of Russian citizens peacefully to gather and express their views will be closely watched in evaluating the integrity of the electoral process. We call on Russian authorities to work with municipal officials to find better ways to safeguard these fundamental freedoms.

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Jay Kallio | May 29, 2011 10:42 PM

We should be picketing the Russian Consulate at 9 East 91 St in NYC, to demand the Russian government give a valid march and rally permit and police PROTECTION for the LGBTQ Pride events in Moscow. We must not sit back and let our peaceful LGBTQ events be defiled this way.

It's always important to get a variety of perspectives.

From the Petrelis Files:

Sunday, May 29, 2011
20 Russians at Moscow Alexeyev Pride;
Gay Organizer Skips Action

Permit me to say I'm glad another effort was made at staging a small gay pride march in Moscow on Saturday, and that no one was killed. I deplore the rough treatment and arrest of the activists by police forces and homophobes, and wish a speedy and full recovery to Russian journalist Elena Kostyuchenko, a straight ally, who suffered a head injury that sent her to the hospital.

I also have to pipe up about the 800-pound gorilla in the room.

The dearth of gay Russians, and their allies in the feminist, socialist and liberal movements, either backing the sixth attempt by Nikolai Alexeyev to stage a pride march or showing up, needs wide discussion. Why? Because after a half dozen similar occasions the tactics and strategies employed by Alexeyev have not evolved and produce the same dismal results.

Rejecting working in coalition with other gay or allied organizations or individuals, who are collaborating together throughout the year on street actions, Alexeyev applies for and is denied a parade permit.

He imports foreign friends with marquee names, in some cases paying their travel expenses, puts them before the cameras and hostile crowds at a very small pride march, violence erupts and occasionally gay blood blows, generating sensational coverage, and the larger gay local gay community is not engaged, creating even deeper distrust of Alexeyev's motives and goals.

The ensuing media attention omits facts about all the other public displays of gay visibility, including flashmobs and rallies, including recent IDAHO May 17 actions in thirty Russian cities and towns. Western gays are left with false impressions about the vibrant and open LBGT community across Russia, because readers of blogs and newspapers only see the sensational shouts and arrests of Alexeyev's foreign pals.

In St. Petersburg, where there is a coalition of activists working in concert, just two weeks before the Moscow march, the local daily paper wrote about this great gay happening (except for the release of the balloons) and ran a photo by Sergey Chernov with the headline "Police Protect LGBT Activists":

The Rainbow Flash Mob — an extremely rare authorized LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights event — took place without incident due to heavy police presence Tuesday, despite threats from nationalists and the arrival of tough-looking opponents at the site.

More than 100 participants holding rainbow flags and posters with slogans such as “Homosexuality Is Not an Illness” and “Different Love, Equal Rights” released 300 balloons into the sky to mark the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The event was organized by the local LGBT rights group Vykhod (Coming Out). ...

My estimate, having read voluminous Russian, French, German, American and British blog and news accounts of the pride attempt, is that only twenty or so Russian gays participated as protesters or observers with cameras in the actions in Moscow. Compare the Moscow numbers with the St. Petersburg numbers, and see that gay street actions can take place in Russia with local backing and engagement.

Speaking of locals missing from the pride march, the Moscow News reported on Alexeyev not making an appearance at his protest:

Nikolai Alexeyev, leader of Russia’s gay rights movement, was conspicuous by his absence at Saturday’s latest attempt to stage a Gay Pride march in Moscow.

The cast of defiant gay rights protestors, jeering far right counter demonstrators and grim-faced riot police was a familiar one, but Alexeyev’s unexpected absence left a big gap at the heart of proceedings. ...

The paper didn't say why he was missing-in-action and no explanation is offered at his blog, his GayRussia site or his Facebook page.

From St. Petersburg, lesbian activist Polina Savchenko shared her thoughts on the QueeRussia listserv regarding key issues:

LGBT community for the most part ignores the Moscow pride because: 1) people do not understand the goals of the parade or how the parade will help them. They do however see its harmful effects, and 2) people do not have any trust in the Moscow pride organization because the organization has never addressed THEM, asked for their opinion, assessed their needs.

Presence of foreign supporters is great! It's always good to show that international community is watching. However, the proportion of foreign supporters to Russian participants should never be so lopsided. Gay pride should demonstrate the PRIDE of LGBT people in who they are and what they have achieved in the struggle for their rights. When it does not actually include the local community, it is no longer a pride event but is something entirely different.

The U.S. news site Global Post ran a fascinating profile of Alexeyev written by their Moscow correspondent, shedding much light on his tactics, including paying travel expenses for two of his guests from abroad:

Alexeyev has won high-profile champions abroad, from leading British gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to Dan Choi, the former U.S. soldier who became the face of the battle against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He flew both of them to Moscow to attend Saturday’s rally. ...

Yet within Moscow’s activist society, Alexeyev has won more enemies than friends. He has shrugged off potential partnerships ...

[His blog and FB page are a] treasure trove of rants against U.S. justice, with particular attention paid to Jews, and once an outpouring of serious hate against Lady Gaga after the pop star declined to meet him. Recently he has derided the “illegal prostitute” sent to discredit former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss Kahn. ...

I'm not sure his needless provocations are what's needed when trying to obtain marching permits in today's Russia, and if after six tries you're still coming up with the same violent results with little local support, it is more incumbent than ever that other gays besides Alexeyev speak up and that Westerners list to them and give them a platform on our web sites.

The Moscow News reported the views of another local gay leader, who reinforces what many know to be the truth about Moscow pride:

But other people have different reasons for staying away, “First of all, stop calling it a ‘gay pride march’,” Ed Mishin, publisher of gay magazine, told The Moscow News. “It is a meeting organized by one person, not widely supported by the gay community.

“In St Petersburg last week there was another successful gay meeting. With rainbow flags and balloons, everybody was happy. A few years ago St Petersburg even had the real gay parade with no hatred from townspeople.

“And Alexeyev’s problem (the guy who ‘tries’ to organize the meeting) is a lack of will to speak with the authorities and negotiate, not the problem of Russian society in general,” he wrote in an email.

American gays would be wise to look beyond just Alexeyev and his Putin-esque behavior when considering Russia's LGBT community and organizing strategies.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 30, 2011 1:38 AM

Our brothers and sisters in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries have incredible courage.

I'm glad that leaders with the stature of Thayer and Thatchell and others were able to attend and I think it's time be build an international defense campaign with demonstrations, petitions and by soliciting endorsements for free speech and getting LGBT groups, national and international, to demand recognition by the Russian government or our right to demonstrate and organize.

It's clear from Thatchell's remarks that the Militsiya were cooperating with the neo-fascists. ""We witnessed a high level of fraternisation and collusion between neo-Nazis and the Moscow police. I saw neo-Nazis leave and re-enter police buses parked on Tverskaya Street by City Hall. Our suspicion is that many of the neo-Nazis were actually plainclothes police officers, who did to us what their uniformed colleagues dared not do in front of the world’s media. Either that, or the police were actively facilitating the right-wing extremists with transport to the protest."

The courage and combativeness of our Russian brothers and sisters are shining examples for other sectors of Russian society anxious to break the shackles of a society still largely ruled by Stalinists who, irrespective of their pretenses, have always been a right wing party. It's a wonder that the USSR survived as long as it did because the regime they instituted after defeating and murdering the Bolsheviks was corrupt and inept beyond belief.

The difference between pre and post Stalinist Russia is that corruption, neo-fascist thuggery, racism and bigotry are now practiced by capitalists instead of bureaucrats.

Kathy Padilla | May 30, 2011 8:22 AM

"Our brothers and sisters in the former USSR and Warsaw Pact countries have incredible courage."

Agree. While I'm in awe of our countrymen & the actions they're taking here - shouldn't at least a little of this coverage inform us of the leaders there, their actions, risks - what they have to say? What they may have to worry about going forward as they continue to live there? Part of me wonders how much of that is because some only like to report about Americans and part of me wonders if it's just more trans erasure in history happening on the fly as the leader is reportedly trans.

Who was injured, are they okay, and was Dan among them?

Scott Burkey Scott Burkey | May 30, 2011 9:31 AM

Yes, Jillian, Dan received minor injuries to his head. Reports on other sources, and Dan's twits from the event, report some bleeding and his ear ringing for some time afterward. There were several reported minor injuries, but no details and no names have been released in the media I've been following. Correction: Elena Kostyuchenko, a Muscovite attending the event, no firm info on how or if she was hospitalized.

I am so ashamed of my maternal homeland - it can no longer be ignored that the same racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic thugs that helmed the USSR are the ones in charge today. "In with the new boss, same as the old boss" is an old maxim, and could never be more apt for what we see in post-Soviet Russia.

Scott Burkey Scott Burkey | May 30, 2011 9:42 AM

...and before I space it off again - Hey, State! You call that a response?!? I have a doctorate in politico-ese, and I call bullshite. If the violence and police/mayoral/neo-nazi collusion had been directed at an ethnic or religious minority I can envision Secretary Clinton herself delivering an outraged condemnation - but no, it was "just us fags, dykes, and trannies" so we get this toothless twaddle from some third-string water boy. Thanks. I'll remember this, along with every other hypocritical, condescending, and gutless item on my very long list. Elections are a year away, and I'm a jaded, cynical old Queen with a big mouth.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | May 30, 2011 10:12 AM

Kathy, there are no 'reply' buttons on my screen so I hope you see this. You ask if "shouldn't at least a little of this coverage inform us of the leaders there, their actions, risks - what they have to say?"

I agree. Although I think that we should be wary of issuing judgments or interfering with the internal affairs of the Russian (and other) movements. I remember there was a big problem when some, including Petrelis, (2) decided to call for an international boycott of Jamaica without consulting Jamaicans, who, if memory serves, were against the idea. They feared more reprisals.

For myself, I'd tend to rely on the Gays Without Borders site, New York's Gay City News and Direland to get information. I think Petrelis' ham fisted approach of condemnation is wrong. I have a lot of respect for the work of Tatchell and Andy Thayer and look forward to hearing more from them about the march. I prefer the approach of putting the Russian government under pressure with demos, etc., while publically supporting our sisters and brothers. Our Russian brothers and sisters are perfectly capable of deciding which leaders and organizations best represent them and they don't need American guidance and direction to do it.

I haven't heard anything about the last question you raised.

Brad Bailey | May 30, 2011 5:52 PM

Lonnie, thanks for the detailed inside info on the Russian community's internal politics. I appreciate your taking the time to post it. I wondered why the Russian Television YouTube channel hadn't posted an article on the Moscow march. Now I know why.

Eric Payne | May 30, 2011 9:10 PM

I'm going to be unpopular here.

Dan Choi knew the probably consequences of traveling to Moscow for the sole and simple purpose of protesting.

I'm really ambivalent toward his actions... and toward the actions of the Russian police (secret or otherwise) taken against Choi.

The actions of Dan Choi have done nothing to make a bad situation better. His actions did nothing to bring hidden abuses to light, as the abuses of Russia's police against that country's gay population have been known to the West since the mid-80s, when a Russian gay activist (damn, I've forgotten his name... I interviewed him in the 80s; my actual interview with him was at 8 AM in San Jose... I arrived with coffee and that day's copy of the Mercury-News, detailing the overnight collapse of the USSR. He'd heard nothing about it until I showed him the paper)toured the US on speaking engagements and fundraiser dinners.

Choi's was a presence unneeded in Moscow... so why was he there?

I can see how this could easily become a very sticky situation for the US State Department.

While I applaud the courage of our Russian friends and their stand in Moscow, for the life of me, I cannot understand why Dan Choi or any other Americans would go there to march in their parade!

We have huge fights and needs here in the States. The t-publicans and religious right are lining up against us in all 50 states. They are assaulting us from all directions, legally, politically, socially and almost calling for our deaths. IN THE CLEAR. There is no guarantee that we will succeed here.

To my mind, our best chances would be to focus our efforts here. Then address the rest of the world when we aren't losing the battle at home!