When gay rights activists released a rainbow balloon from a Saint Petersburg park, the predictable happened.
City police herded activists into a waiting bus. Then black-shirted nationalists attacked the bus.
Saint Petersburg, Europe’s fourth largest city, recent banned public displays of gay propaganda. Now Russian legislators want a nationwide ban. The goal is to keep homosexual life behind closed doors away from children.
Russia is a target of the international gay rights movement. At a gay parade in Berlin last month, 700,000 watched as a cannon shot confetti at the Russia’s embassy.
This flow lampooned Russia’s ruling politicians President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
But 1300 kilometers to the east, in Saint Petersburg, no one is laughing. Artem tracks down gay rallies and breaks them up. To him, gay parades and posters, talk shows and art shows all undermine traditional Russian value.
“I can not tell the difference between different types of filth. Simply put there will never be norms of tolerance for any in our country.”
Once Artem has gone, Olga and Irina step from behind the bushes.
“We are not trying to tell people to be like us. We are not telling people that is good or bad. We just want them to know that we exist. We just want equal rights. We want to get married.”
Next year, Olga and Irina plan to move across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki, there Finland will allow them to register their partnership and adopt a child.
Olga Lenkova works with “Coming Out”, a Saint Petersburg gay rights group. The new law is changing gay life in Saint Petersburg long seen as Russia’s most liberal big city.
“Part of the community just goes back into the closest and tries to hide even more than they did before. And part of the community becomes more active than they ever were or becomes active for the first time.”
Now Lenkova looks for outside supports. Next month, Madonna performs here, the American pop star has denounced the city’s gay gag law as a ridiculous atrocity. But with poll showing big majorities of Russians are approving bans on gay life in public, Russian police may be pumping rainbow balloons for a long time to come.