In a bid for the title of Shittiest Legislative Body on Earth, the lower house of Russia’s parliament unanimously passed legislation banning “homosexual propaganda,” evidently to stop Russia’s LGBT community from preaching the wonders of gayness to kids. And next week, for the first time ever, the New York City Pride march will feature a float representing New York’s Russian-speaking community.
So we called Yelena Goltsman, the founder of Rusa LGBT, expecting all kinds of hoorays and hoorahs, bright tones and fiery rhetoric. What we got: Whoop dee-freakin’-doo.
“What is the big deal with the float? I’m fascinated with the obsession over it,” she says.
Gay Eastern Bloc, the group backing the float and who Goltsman describes as “10 gay men,” stresses on its website that any and all sexual minorities from former Soviet states are welcome to join the party. Pasha Zalutski, translator/gay party planner double threat and seeming spokesman for the project, insists the float will take no political position at all. They’ll be there to party.
Ain’t no harm in having fun, says Goltsman, but she feels focusing on the float is to totally, epically miss the point. “We never thought that having a car that is big would produce so much noise.” But don’t you know what a big car means? (We don’t know if Gay Eastern Bloc does, since they haven’t responded to the Voice‘s requests for comment.)
Goltsman’s group has marched at Pride every year since 2008 with an actual political message: Let’s defeat rampant homophobia in Russian-speaking communities both in New York City and abroad.
We “really have no outlet,” says Goltsman. “They don’t have a place to go and be themselves. For someone to say to a teenager, ‘you’re going to be OK,’ not just in American society but in the Russian-speaking community,” was the reason for starting Rusa LGBT. And she knows from experience.
After coming to the U.S. in 1990, she faced alienation when she came out after having been married to a man. Now Rusa LGBT operates as a social space and an advocacy group tackling hostility toward sexual minorities from former Soviet republics.
And lately, it’s become extra sucky to be gay in Eastern Europe. Homosexuality in the former Soviet Union comes with super awesome perks like all-expenses-paid trips to prison and living in constant fear of lethal violence! If you’re not getting the shit kicked out of you in the street, then your government is trying to criminalize gayness so you can get the shit kicked out of you in jail.
In February, police in Belarus raided gay clubs across the capital of Minsk after some activists tried to register as a gay rights nonprofit. This may not be surprising in a country whose leader once said “it is better to be a dictator than a gay.”
When people flee to New York City, they find that, yup, lots of homophobia among Russian speakers here, too. “There’s no coming out in the Russian-speaking community [here], because there’s such a stigma,” Goltsman says. Her job is just to be visible so that people know there are in fact decent human beings in the world. Her organization regularly gets anonymous phone calls simply to thank them for their work.
Goltsman and her fellow organizers want to be clear that Rusa LGBT is not opposed to the float. It’s just that if people are looking for some sweeping political gesture, they might have a hard time finding it.
But if you are looking to stick a big, glitter-caked finger in the Duma’s eye, Goltsman expects about 100 people for her group’s march this year.