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.
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.
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.
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.
Sergey sits with a cup of tea just hours before he would be arrested for breaking the ban on Slavic Pride.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Remembering friends and family that have been effected by AIDS candles are lit at a remembrance ceremony the next day.
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.