Slavic Pride – Belarus – May 15, 2010

It was with a bit of sad irony that Sergey Yenin would choose Independence Square to meet me. The 20 year old LGBT activist who now lives in Warsaw has returned once again to Minsk with the task to help organize and lead this year’s Slavic Pride. His goal isn’t an easy one. Officially banned by the Belarusian government, Slavic Pride is illegal, making those that plan to break the government’s ban criminals. But being arrested isn’t the worse scenario the LGBT community can think of. Belarus is still rife with homophobia and several death threats have been received in recent days. Having attended the Prides in Moscow, Sergey knows how bad things can get.  He is exhausted, he is frustrated, he is scared, he is determined.

Slavic Pride, Gay Belarus Here Sergey receives a phone call from a printer who has refused to print the first edition of Minsk’s only LGBT magazine, due to a cartoon satire of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

Between 30 to 40 skinheads blocked the entrance of the Crowne Plaza Hotel today in Minsk in an attempt to stop the viewing of the documentary movie “Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride,” and the official start of Slavic Pride. Police showed up on the scene and the group disbanded about an hour later. During the viewing a bomb threat was called into the hotel, and the participants were moved to another floor.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

Despite a threat from skinheads and a bomb scare, Slavic Pride opens with the viewing of the documentary movie Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride.  Here participants sit on the floor in a much smaller conference room due to the bomb scare.

"Slavic Pride" "Gay Belarus" Sergey sits with a cup of tea just hours before he would be arrested for breaking the ban on Slavic Pride.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus" Members of Gay Belarus paint protest signs denouncing homophobia in the hours before Slavic Pride.  Each member in this photo would later be arrested.

The long hours and sleepless nights start to set in.  Participants met in several locations, from small parks to cafes.  We moved quickly, ignoring other participants we would see on the street to avoid forming a large group.  Text messages received from cell phones with warnings that skinheads had been tipped to our locations kept us on the move.  Here in a park on the outskirts of town, the members of Gay Belarus and Gay Russia meet to discuss the final location of the Pride.  The problem is that both the police and skinheads were trying to find where the Pride would take place, forcing the organizers to choose alternative spots for the march.  Another problem was that the media, which the group needed both for publicity and security, were being confined by the police.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"  "Gay Russia" Frustrated, Nikolai Alekseev, whom I consider to be one of the great Civil Rights leaders of our time, takes a moment alone to collect his thoughts.

He is a man with a lot of weight on his shoulders.  His goal is not only to have a successful Pride, which makes a very public statement, but the safety of everyone involved.  Nikolai is the head of Gay Russia, and has organized the Prides in Moscow, which are some of the most violently protested Prides in the world.  If anyone knows how quickly bad things can get it’s him.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

Finally, word broke that the media had been released and many of the skinheads arrested.  It was time.  Sergey travels by taxi with an Australian film crew Jack Giles and Logan Mucha to the final location for the Pride.  The atmosphere in the taxi is extremely tense.  We don’t talk.  Oddly enough, the taxi driver is singing along to a Spanish pop song.  It was a strange scene.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus" At last, the Pride goes on and the Rainbow Flag is marched down the street.  Participants shout slogans denouncing homophobia and Minsk has its first Pride in history.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

The Pride lasted around 10 minutes before anti-riot police stormed the area.  Between 10-15 participants were arrested.  Sergey is detained for 3 days.  Upon his release he sent me this email.

“I was released today in the afternoon. Now I’m kinda safe and sound, but i’m covered with bruises and bleeding deep scratches all over. the policemen used to beat and mock at me. I spent 2 days in an isolator for administrative criminals. I can’t recall this time without tears in my eyes…”

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

This participant ran from the police as I chased about a half block behind.  For no reason, after the participant had already been detained, the police officer gave him a huge sweeping kick knocking him to the ground.  There would of been more, but I quickly started photographing.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

A mother of one of the participants, who was brave enough to join the Pride and support her son, is obviously upset after police arrest him for giving an interview to local media.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

A skinhead with a carton of eggs stares me down.   Alone, he wasn’t brave enough to throw an egg with me closely watching him.  The other members of the media pictured here gave him slaps on the back and shook his hand after he had made a brief hate speech.  Earlier in the day, I had been kicked by a local reporter, and  it was also reported that a local camera man had thrown eggs himself.  The camera man in brown with the black baseball hat is with Gay Russia, and of course does not hold the other journalists’ views. Update: This man is actually a “journalist” from Minsk.  He says he doesn’t mind homosexuals as long as they stay in their homes and clubs!

"Gay Belarus"  "Slavic Pride"

Friends of those detained gather outside the detention center on a rainy afternoon.  They were unable to bring food, drink, or warm clothes to those inside.

"Gay Belarus"  "Slavic Pride"

Participants go through mock interrogations the day before the Pride is to take place.  Many of the participants are supporters from Russia who have been through all of this before.

"Slavic Pride"  "Gay Belarus"

Remembering friends and family that have been effected by AIDS candles are lit at a remembrance ceremony the next day.

"Gay Belarus"  "Slavic Pride"

After the march a celebration party was held at the only gay club in the city.  Minsk had held it’s first Pride in history.  Extra police were sent to protect the club and no trouble occurred.  The feeling inside was mainly concern for those friends still detained.

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About wwpproject

Charles “Chad” Meacham (Project photographer) Charles was born just outside of Philadelphia, PA, and began traveling immediately after high school. He picked up a camera at the age of 30, and has since been fortunate to win over 20 international awards including those from National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, and PDN magazines. The idea for this project was sparked after attending the 2009 Taipei Pride event, one of the largest pride parades in Asia. For other examples of his work visit: http://www.charlesmeacham.com/ Sarah Baxter (Project Coordinator) Sarah is the “blogging guru” of this project, and is contact person/organizer. Born in Athens, Ohio, Sarah enjoys traveling, and has since taken up residence in Los Angeles, NE Thailand, North Africa, and most recently in Taipei, Taiwan.
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