Queerfest St. Petersburg: International Festival of Queer Culture Now in its Seventh Year

On 17 September the seventh International Festival of Queer Culture kicks off in St. Petersburg, Russia. Running until 27 September, the festival is a unique human rights event created to develop openness in a society that often targets marginalised groups. The event has been plagued in its short history by bomb threats, violence and last minute cancellations of venues by the authorities.

Despite the difficulties faced by organisers the event continues to grow striving to provide a safe space for LGBT people. The central aim of the festival is to “fight against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and xenophobia” through the medium of culture, art and beauty, a means that is readily identifiable by all aspects of society. Civil Rights Defenders is delighted to be able to support the event once again in 2015.

”We underscore the fact that the police must honour freedom of assembly and speech of the LGBT community and therefore provide protection to all events held during the Queerfest. Last year the police coerced many of the venues to cancel contracted events. We call on the authorities in St Petersburg to ensure that all homophobic attacks, hate speech and extremism is swiftly dealt with”, says Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.

The programme is a veritable feast of cultural events as St. Petersburg welcomes artists, photographers, performers and human rights activists from different countries including the USA, Sweden, Netherlands and Denmark. Queerfest will conclude with a concert featuring the popular Swedish performer Moto boy.

In 2014, the opening of Queerfest attracted over 160 participants. However it was marred with hate speech and some of the participants were physically attacked. The space in which LGBT human rights defenders can operate in Russia continues to be squeezed and several LGBT activists have been fired from their positions as lecturers in universities.

On 11 June, 2013 the State Duma unanimously approved The Russian LGBT propaganda law which refers to a Russian Federal law ”for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” with only one Member of Parliament abstaining. President Vladimir Putin officially signed the Bill into law on the 30th of June 2013.

The distribution of ”propaganda” among minors considered by the Russian authorities to be in breach of ”non-traditional sexual relationships” is punishable by fines. Businesses and organisations can also be forced to temporarily cease operations if convicted under the law, and foreigners may be arrested and detained for up to 15 days then deported or face fines.

”Our greatest weapon is that we don’t give up. We come back year after year, with our positive message of solidarity, freedom, and diversity. We believe that we are on the right side of history, and that will make us stronger than our opponents who are driven by ignorance and hatred,” said Polina Andrianova from the LGBT group ‘Coming Out’ who is the festival’s organiser and a long-term partner of Civil Rights Defenders.

Civil Rights Defenders urges the authorities to provide their full support to the festival and ensure that participants can fully exercise their rights to freedom of association, assembly and speech, free from any form of discrimination.

For further details about the ten days of Queerfest including the extensive programme please click here.

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