Athens Pride – June 5, 2010

Athens Greece, Walk With Pride, Athens Pride, Human Rights, Gay RightsSo we arrived in Athens, Greece after a somewhat horrific time at the Moscow airport.  I’m exhausted.  I would spend the entire day with the members of Gay Russia, and then often return to our hostel and work on my computer till 4am.  When we arrive at our hotel, Sarah tells me the bad news.  The members of Athens Pride have said they are too busy to meet with us before the Pride. Coming from Moscow, where we were granted total access, in much more difficult situations, I’m frustrated.  The next day, I eat something I shouldn’t have and spend the next two days sick in bed.  My energy level is low.

Athens Pride, InterPride, Gay Rights, Human RightsThe day before the Pride there is a press conference.  We get there early in hopes of meeting one of the organizers for a 10-15 minute interview.  It’s here we meet Stefano, who is kind enough to answer all of our questions, and to give us a general idea about the community here in Athens.  But soon enough, a bit more frustration sets in.  I guess they don’t have a photographer there, so I am being asked to take photos and give them away on the spot.  I’m not huge on press conference photos, but I do what I can and send them copies later that night.

Athens Pride, Walk With Pride, Gay Rights, Athens GreeceThe Pride goes on.  It’s a good party-like atmosphere, and the participants are extremely friendly.  The route goes through some of the busiest parts of Athens, and directly in front of their Parliament building.

Athens Pride, Gay Pride, Greece, Riot Police, Human RightsThe Athens Riot Police may be some of the most experienced in the world.  They were very professional, and there was absolutely no violence.

Athens Pride, Gay Pride, Religion, protestor, Athens GreeceThis woman showed up to share her feelings on Jesus.  One of the many things I have come to admire about the LGBT communities that I’ve met is their sense of humor.  She isn’t yelled at, or pushed away.  Instead, she is invited up on one of the floats and spends the entire Pride trying to preach to the beats of Lady Gaga and Madonna.

Athens Pride, Gay Pride, Gay Rights, Transgender, Athens GreeceA participant of the Pride takes a rest next to a much more traditional resident of Athens.

Athens Pride, Gay Pride, Human Rights, Gay RIghtsAfter the march, everyone heads back to the park where it all began for a stage show and dancing.  The organizers have hired photographers to take pictures of the stage area, and I am denied even 5 minutes on the stage to take pictures of the crowd, “We do not need your photos.”  I’m told by one of the volunteers.  A few of the organizers we met at the press conference are standing just feet away.

Athens Pride, Gay Pride, Human Rights, Athens Greece

The next day I receive an email from the Athens Pride organizers asking me for more photos.

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Moscow Pride – May 29, 2010

Gay Russia, Moscow Pride, Human Rights, Gay Rights, Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT, Peter Thatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, Sarah Baxter, Charles Meacham, Walk With Pride

Despite breaking Russia’s Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, Moscow’s Mayor, Yury Luzkov, has for the last 5 years banned any form of gay prides. However, a small community of LGBT activists lead by Nikolai Alekseev have held illegal Prides since 2006.  They have been met with violent protests from right-wing extremists and police brutality.  Nikolai has lead the movement both in the streets and in the courtrooms.  Here waiting on a court appearance Nikolai Alekseev, and Alexey Golitsin wait outside a courtroom while the lawyer for the prefecture contemplates life.

Moscow Court

With a degree in law, Nikolai has argued for LGBT Rights over and over in Russia’s courts. The defense gives absurd reasons why there can be no Pride in Moscow.  Even the judge was laughing at the city’s lawyers, who argued that there was no place in Moscow to hold such an event due to a Putin rally being held the same day. Unfortunately, the appearance is only a formality, as the verdict had already been handed down by higher powers. However, the European Union is scheduled to rule on the case next year, and everyone is positive they will find the ban a violation of the EU’s Human Rights Convention. Which calls on member countries to allow and protect the protests of minority groups.

Gay Russia, Moscow Pride, Human Rights, Gay Rights, Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT, Peter Thatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, Sarah Baxter, Charles Meacham, Walk With PrideNikolai’s work will reach much further than the LGBT community. The rights they win will affect every minority group in Russia. To date, only Gay Russia has taken the initiative to take the violations to the EU courts.

Gay Russia, Moscow Pride, Human Rights, Gay Rights, Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT, Peter Thatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, Sarah Baxter, Charles Meacham, Walk With Pride

Despite years of violent protests by both skinhead groups and police, this year’s Pride avoided any beatings or arrests. A bit less intimidating, this woman asked my friend Vlad what was going on in the courthouse. She admitted to being against homosexuality and tried to lecture him on morality.  He spent the next 40 minutes talking to her about his life.

Gay Russia, Moscow Pride, Human Rights, Gay Rights, Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT, Peter Thatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, Sarah Baxter, Charles Meacham, Walk With Pride

Having met Nikolai in Minsk, he granted me the incredible opportunity to spend almost every waking moment with him during my stay in Moscow. In this photo, an A-Team of LGBT activists made up of Peter Tatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, and WWP’s Sarah Baxter work from the make-shift press office in a rented Moscow flat.

Gay Russia, Moscow Pride, Human Rights, Gay Rights, Nikolai Alekseev, LGBT, Peter Thatchell, Andy Harley, Andy Thayer, Sarah Baxter, Charles Meacham, Walk With Pride

The press conference held at The Holiday Inn was a huge success. This year’s Pride received an incredible amount of positive attention from the major news sources in Russia, and the big international news agencies.

Nikolai works from several phones, and all of them are constantly ringing.

Maria Yefremenkova, who runs Gay Russia in St. Petersburg, has a quiet moment just before we leave for the Pride.

LGBT activist, Anna Komarova prepares her protest sign in the living room of the rented flat.  Above, another young protester grabs some much needed sleep under a sign that reads “Rights to Gays.”

Participants including French LGBT activist Louis-Georges Tin, (second from bottom), make their way to the Pride.  Louis-George is the driving force behind the International Day Against Homophobia and IDAHO Foundation.

Moscow Pride 2010

In defiance of the city’s ban, a 20 meter Rainbow Flag was taken out and marched for 600 meters down a main city street while anti-homophobic slogans were chanted by the 30-40 participants.

Moscow Pride 2010, Peter Tatchell

Despite being physically beaten by skinheads in earlier Moscow Prides, U.K. based activist Peter Tatchell makes a statement to the media during the march. Peter would be arrested the next day in Red Square for making a solo protest.

Moscow Pride 2010, Volker Beck

Volker Beck, a German member of the EU Parliament, is the only politician who has supported Moscow Pride since day one. He has a long and distinguished career working for Human Rights.  In 2006, Volker was badly beaten by a right-wing extremist protester. The man responsible is known and has even gloated to media about his actions. The Russian government has yet to take any actions against the extremist.

Moscow Pride 2010

Then just as quickly as it started, the flag was rolled up and everyone bolted in different directions. I followed a group of friends to a small bus and we were driven away to safety.

The flag is rolled up and put away for safekeeping. Lots of cheers, lots of laughs, lots of hugs.

Moscow Pride 2010

Moscow Pride 2010

Exhausted, many of the participants headed back to safe houses, celebrated, and then went to sleep.

Moscow Pride 2010

Later that night everyone met up for a celebration. For the first time in history, Moscow Pride happened without any violence or arrests. Sitting on the floor is Russian cameraman Vladimir Ivanov, who has documented Gay Russia since the beginning.

Moscow Pride 2010

When you go through something like this you get close to the people around you very quickly.  They are an incredible group of people fighting the good fight.

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GayFest – Romania – May 22, 2010

GayFest, Bucharest, RomaniaA young woman holds up the Rainbow Flag at the height of GayFest.  The building behind her is Romania’s famous Parliament Palace located in downtown Bucharest.  I can’t help but feel that her pose is such a symbolic stance of freedom that the LGBT community in Romania is just really beginning to enjoy.

GayFest, Romania, Gay Pride, BucharestThe more media the better.  One of the reasons Prides are held is to create public awareness.  Media also provides some security as police and protesters sometimes think twice about violent acts when a camera is pointed at them.  Both the media and police were very friendly and professional at this event.

GayFest, Romania, Bucharest, Gay PrideAfter Minsk, I felt strange photographing the party atmosphere of GayFest.  I think it’s great that this can happen in Romania,  and I know that the road here hasn’t been easy.  But my thoughts were still with Sergey and everyone back in Belarus.

GayFest, Romania, Bucharest, homophobiaUnfortunately, there was a “Nationalistic” march just hours before the Pride.  While this group was very vocal, they were not violent.  However, in previous years, arrests were made due to protestors carrying knives, smoke bombs, rocks, and other weapons.  Out of all the LGBT groups I have spoken to, not one has said they would deny them the right to march, and the freedom of speech.

GayFest, Romania, Bucharest, Family Values, Gay Pride, homophobiaGayFest, Romania, Bucharest, Family Values, Gay Pride, homophobia

"GayFest", "Romania", "Bucharest", "Family Values",  "Homophobia"

A “Family Values” march took place the day before the Pride.  With Gay Adoption Rights a huge concern for the LGBT community, it brings to question just what values are these traditional families teaching?  I saw children no older than 10 carrying signs condemning homosexuals.  Hatred and intolerance…nice values.

It is always very helpful to have VIPs attend a Pride.  If the government is under pressure to protect important guests things are usually much safer for everyone involved.  In Bucharest, the gay Rev. Diane Fischer gave a great speech on how God loves everyone, and the British Consulate made their support and presence well known.

GayFest, Romania, Bucharest, Gay Pride, HomophobiaBut despite the VIPs and all of the police protection the march took place along empty streets in almost complete isolation from the general public.  It was only in a small park along the very last stretch of the march that a handful of on-lookers gathered and viewed the march from at least 200 meters away.  This was in complete contrast to the “Family Values” and “Nationalistic” marches that took place earlier, which made their way through some of the busiest streets in Bucharest.

GayFest, Romania, Bucharest, Family Values, Gay Pride, homophobiaAs I was walking home, feeling pretty good about everything here in Romania, a small boy, no older than 8 years old, ran up and handed us a few rolled up pieces of paper.  One of them was in English, and is pictured above.  I didn’t feel so good anymore.

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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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Baltic Pride – Lithuania – May 8, 2010

Baltic Pride

This year Baltic Pride was held in Vilnius, Lithuania, making it the country’s very first Pride march.  There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the event.  As it was the country’s very first pride march, no one really knew what to expect.  In addition, much political maneuvering went on to try and get the march cancelled with the courts lifting its suspension only a day before the Saturday march.
Lithuanian Police protecting Baltic Pride

However, this pride had a lot of support from the EU, with many VIPs in attendance, and backing from large organizations like Amnesty and ILGA-Europe.  This pressure for the march to run smoothly encouraged the government to provide approximately 800 policemen to secure the safety of the event.

Anti-gay prayer service

The morning of the event, a prayer service was held asking God not to let the Pride march happen.

Participants of Baltic Pride Due to security reasons, participants of Baltic Pride boarded large buses to take them to the event, and to safely return them.

Baltic Pride

While 350 participants took place in the Baltic Pride Equality March, thousands of people gathered to watch, and some to show their displeasure.  The Neris river acted as a barrier on one side, while police secured the perimeters from protestors.  Many of the protestors on the South side of the river, spent the whole day just sitting on the bank staring across the river.

Nazis protesting Baltic Pride

Among the agitators was a small group of Nazis, yelling homophobic slogans.  Even though it is against the law to fly the swastika in Lithuania, the police would not remove the flag as the symbol had minor changes from the original.

Pride Supporters at Baltic Pride

Despite the protestors, the event ran smoothly, much to the relief of all those involved.  The final message was that next year another Baltic Pride would be held, this one in Estonia.

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Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – Australia – Feb. 27, 2010

Sydney Mardi Gras

While the first Sydney pride parade started as a small protest march in 1978 in commemoration of the Stonewall riots, it has since developed into a huge and inclusive gay-themed Mardi Gras party.

Sydney’s Mardi Gras was very different than the other pride festivals that we had documented.   There were press passes, press meetings, police barricades, lots and lots of other photographers, news channels, etc..etc.  The true enormity of it really  hits you as you look out at the huge crowds gathered.

Sydney Mardi Gras Crowd

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Manila Pride – Philippines – Dec. 5, 2009

Manila Pride March

This image is from Manila Pride 2009.  Members of the LGBT community, and their family, friends, and supporters took part in this march through the Malate district of Manila.  The parade was organized by Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, with the theme “We Dare, We Care.”

Manila was host to Asia’s very first gay pride parade, back in 1994.  The pride event is now held annually the first week in December to coincide with Human Rights month.  Only in the last two years has the march come under fire from a Christian evangelist group, led by American ex-patriots.

March Protestor

Full of hateful words, these protesters warned of God’s wrath.

Manila March Protestor

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