Queerfest Celebrates Four Years

The international Queer culture festival (Queerfest), held in St Petersburg 20-29 September, is like the light at the end of the tunnel for the Russian LGBT-community after a year when homophobic laws were adopted in Russia. This is the fourth annual event that Civil Rights Defenders organises together with the Russian partner Coming out.

The festival invites the public to 10 days of seminars, discussions, photo exhibitions and concerts against discrimination of LGBT. It draws a number of renowned people and cultural actors to one of the largest celebrations of its kind in Russia.

“The Queerfest increases positive visibility and contributes to overcoming negative stigma of LGBT people. This is crucial in a society where the public debate is permeated by homophobic statements and discussions, which in turn just fuels the already misinterpreted image of LGBT,” said Cecilia Rosing, Eurasia Programme Officer, Civil Rights Defenders.

Civil Rights Defenders has supported the event since its beginning in 2009, and seen it grown in scale and scope every year. Small but yet important steps have been taken by the media, the public and the authorities, to a more tolerant attitude towards the event. The media reporting on the festival has become less homophobic. The Queerfest raises the awareness about LGBT issues among local authorities and the public, bringing together 1,500-2,000 people each year.

However, with aggression and harassment on the rise, more is at stake this year. Coming Out is threatened by huge fines and harassment by the authorities under the new law. Nevertheless the defenders of LGBT rights are strong in their desire to make the festival a success.

“So far we have seen that the “propaganda laws” are primarily used to obstruct activities organised by the LGBT community. We urge the Russian authorities to not make the Queerfest yet another example of this discriminating behaviour,” said Cecilia Rosing.

In 2011 and 2012 laws forbidding “LGBT propaganda” were adopted by local parliaments in several parts of Russia, most recently in the traditionally liberal city of St Petersburg.

“The propaganda of homosexuality” law condones homophobia and stigmatization of LGBT people. We already see a significant increase in aggression and violence toward the LGBT community,” said Polina Savchenko, Director of Coming Out, the main organiser of the event. “Until the public learns about us and stops being afraid of us, such absurd and populist laws are going to be possible.”

This year it becomes even more important that celebrities and “high-ranking” people attend the festival. That makes it harder for authorities to hinder the event and increases the security for those participating. Lena Katina, the former T.A.T.U. singer, will fly from Los Angeles to hold the traditional closing concert. Among other big names, this year´s event will feature Spanish world-famous photographer Diego Verges, Swedish artists Anna Viola Hallberg and Annica Karlsson Rixon, Flemish Minister Pascal Smet, Swedish Minister for Gender Equality Nyamko Sabuni and State Secretary to the Minister of Education, Bertil Östberg.

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