On a hot, sunny day in St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday, courage was wrapped in a rainbow flag. It was in the city’s famous Field of Mars where around 100 activists faced the threat of violence and discrimination as they gathered for the eighth annual Gay Pride rally. While 100 protesters may not seem like a lot for those who’ve seen thousands amass at Pride events in the United States, it was a revolutionary act in Russia, where homosexuality is still punished with fines and arrest.
Under rainbow flags and banners, the largest crowd of activists since 2010 stood firm and showed their pride while riot police watched them nearby. For many, though, the risk was too great to show up in solidarity. “Everyone has his own reason to come to the pride,” Sveta, a lesbian activist, told Moscow Times. “Many of my friends didn’t come because they were afraid to be discriminated at work, to lose their job or get expelled from university.”
In the past several years, Russia has undergone a vehemently anti-LGBTQ facelift that resulted in a so-called “gay propaganda” law that was established in 2013, which punishes distributing information they consider to be “homosexual propaganda” with a fine of up to 500,000 rubles (or $8,000).
The law has put a target on the LGBTQ community there as well as in neighboring countries like Chechnya, where an ongoing and underreported gay purge has sent gay men to concertation camps. The Pride rally this year was a small victory in the fight for LGBTQ equality, though. In 2010 and 2011, Russian LGBTQ activists filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights against the Russian government and actually won, with the court deciding that Russia had violated their right to assembly by blocking previous gay pride rallies and ruling that the gay propaganda law was discriminatory.
Still, there is a long way to go in the country, but with disappointment comes hope and, in Russia, there is definitely hope. The prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny has made repealing the anti-gay propaganda law part of his presidential election campaign where he’s set to square off against Vladmir Putin next year.