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Parade Divides Russian Gays

State Duma, Moscow, Russia, video still 2004/12/1
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This article was written by CBS News Moscow bureau chief Beth Knobel.

The Indigo Bookstore is a little piece of gay pride right in the heart of Moscow. The shop has been open for a year, offering books, clothing, magazines and gifts. It's a quiet corner for Russia's small but growing gay community.

Business is growing, and the store has never had any major hassles from anti-gay groups. But the staff has asked for extra security, because they're worried that the store could become a target for attack after the first-ever gay pride parade is held in Moscow on Saturday.

"This gay parade is actually making our life much tougher," says Ed Mishkin, one of the founders of Indigo. "This is the first time in my life actually that people are scared of being gay in Moscow."

The march will take place as part of a two-day conference on homophobia in Russia. It's timed to the 13th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia by then-president Boris Yeltsin. In Soviet times, homosexual activity was illegal.

"We are going to check what's the level of tolerance — not only of the society by also of the authorities," says Nikolai Alekseyev, the organizer of the march and the conference.

He knows discrimination against gays firsthand — having left Moscow State University because professors would not allow him to write a major paper about homosexuality.

He says that above all, the gay parade will be a human rights action. "We want to give [Russians] a message — that we are the same citizens as you are," says Alekseyev. "We are absolutely the same and want the same rights."

The ironic thing about the parade is that it's actually tearing apart the very community it's supposed to be bringing together. Many of the biggest opponents of the gay parade are gay themselves.

Mishkin, who also edits the gay magazine Kvir and runs the gay.ru Web site, says the parade won't bring anything but unwanted attention to gays.

"All Russian gay and lesbian organizations are against it, I would say," says Mishkin. "There is no exception. Only foreigners are going to participate in this parade.

"We think there are other ways to fight homophobia in this society," he adds,

Moscow city officials don't see the need either; they have banned the event. "The Moscow government is not even going to consider allowing a gay parade," said Sergei Tsoi, press secretary to Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Tsoi claimed that the event has "evoked outrage in society, in particular among religious leaders."

Some federal authorities also have criticized the idea of the gay parade.

"If they want to hold their orgy, let them hold it somewhere away from Moscow, at a specially designated place," Deputy Irina Savelieva told a meeting of the Russian parliament last week. "I think it is high time to stop displaying political correctness and allowing scum to defile the center of Moscow."

That sort of language hasn't phased organizers, who say they will hold the parade anyway. Alekseyev cites a constitutional right to assemble in the Russian constitution as their basis for ignoring the ban.

He said 500 people had registered for the conference, but it was unclear how many might show up for the parade. The number doesn't really matter, according to Alekseyev. "What is the most important is that some people are not scared, and the go on the street and express themselves," he says.

Alekseyev says marchers will try to gather on a square right outside the headquarters of the former KGB on Saturday. But it's not yet clear if Moscow police will try to stop the demonstration if it happens.

The parade may leave people bursting with pride, or with their hopes deflated.

By Beth Knobel