LGBT Activists Feel Strong and Motivated as Queerfest Russia Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Anya Anisimova is one of the Queerfest organisers.

This year, the Russian Pride Festival Queerfest celebrated its 10th anniversary. For the third year in a row, the event could proceed without any major pressure from the authorities. “It is evident that our strategies are working, and it is an amazing feeling,” said Anya Anisimova, one of the Queerfest organisers.

The Russian state has in the last few years introduced a set of laws that severely limit the possibilities for the LGBT community to meet, organise, and express themselves freely. A common example is the so called “gay propaganda law”, which forbids sharing of information about “non traditional sexual relations” to minors. This has affected the Russian society notably.

“Russian LGBT people live in a strongly patriarchal, homophobic, transphobic, and in general, xenophobic environment. You live under this double, triple stigma. You learn from childhood that men and women should behave in a certain way, and no other. Many Russian LGBT people believe that hiding their sexual orientation is a normal way to live their lives,” said Anya Anisimova.

“Queerfest provides an alternative, a way to live and feel like a normal human being, with pride and dignity. It declares that we are part of society, part of its social and cultural landscape. But instead of being a protest or a provocation, Queerfest invites everyone to think and discuss together; it builds bridges between the LGBT community and general society by using a language that is easy to understand – that of arts and culture,” Anya Anisimova continued.

The festival – which has been supported by Civil Rights Defenders since the start in 2009 – now gathered more than 2.000 guests from the LGBT community and civil society, as well as members of the St. Petersburg ombudsman office and EU diplomats. From being a small and unknown event, Queerfest today receives support by local media and businesses, and is able to gather artists and activists from all corners of the world.

During the opening ceremony of the Queerfest 2018, the Head of the St. Petersburg ombudsman’s office, Olga Shtannikova, commented on the achievements: “Values and norms are not constant. People themselves can change society, and you do so much in this respect. I would like to see your efforts become the norm”.

However, looking back on the 10-year journey that is Queerfest, one should note that is has not been without challenges. Many LGBT activists have received threats and been subjected to harassment to the level where they have experienced burnout, or left the movement.

“For us as organisers of Queerfest, the greatest challenge was that we would never be able to guarantee anything. Not knowing, whether after a year of preparation, working on the program, inviting participants from all over the world, if the festival would actually happen. Because at the last minute the police would shut down the venue, the venue would force us to leave, there would be a fake bomb threat and the event would be disrupted, or guests would be attacked by homophobes,” said Anya Anisimova.

Amid the challenges, Anya and her team have been determined to keep going, creating a space for the LGBT community to enjoy their rights.

“It became all the more important to not succumb to the countless efforts by the police, the administration, and the homophobic groups to shut down the festival. We kept going, and were able to give the feeling of continuity and hope for the community – that no matter what, we would persevere,” said Anya Anisimova. “We proved to ourselves that we are stronger – more motivated, and more on the side of the truth – than our opponents. And that means that sooner or later, we will win and claim our space in this society.”

Read personal stories by some of the 2018 Queerfest participants in our article series “Voices from Queerfest”.


Civil Rights Defenders has supported Queerfest since its very beginning in 2009. Read more about the festival’s journey here:

 

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