Yesterday dozens of people gathered in front of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side to protest the country’s homosexual propaganda law, and get rid of any spare Russian vodka that might be clogging their bars. The rally, though contained by the NYPD, was a loud reminder that that country’s animus toward LGBT people runs deeper than just this most recent law.
The protest featured speeches from the whole spectrum of participants, from people who came to the U.S. seeking asylum from the Russian government as sexual minorities, to American bar owners lending their support to the Russian vodka boycott. The over-arching theme was that there was a deep societal change need to fix the problem–many of those who fled Russia for New York did so long before the law came into effect last month.
Roman Mamonov, a broadcast journalist from Moscow, came to the U.S. last October after receiving death threats from viewers over his sexuality. He asked the crowd to “pressure the Russian government,” hoping that scorn from the international community might move the Kremlin.
Several other speakers denounced the law within an international context, highlighting what they saw as the complicity of the International and U.S. Olympics Committees in not joining the boycott against the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Chants of “Putin says you can’t be gay/Sochi sponsors stay away” punctuated the proceedings.
Natasha came to the protest because she, as an asylum-seeker–not for being gay but for being an outspoken activist who left Russia last November–already feels a threat to her well-being. Declining to give her last name as her asylum application is still pending, Natasha said that she hoped the protest would show the Russian government that the law had not chilled LGBT activism.
“I’m here because I want to show that Russia is not safe for people who have different ideas from the government,” she said.
Bob Fluet, owner of Boxers NYC in Chelsea, said he pulled vodka off the bar’s shelves last week, in the full understanding that the boycott was not about to topple the Russian government.
“We know that we cannot cripple the Russian government,” said Fluet. “We can bring attention to the issue, and it’s working. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.”