NEW YORK, June 30 (By Dan Elias for RIA Novosti) - Amid thousands of marchers, blaring music and outrageous drag queens at Sunday's 44th annual New York City gay pride march, it wasn't easy to stand out, but one float managed to draw special attention this year: the first-ever representing gay people from Russia and several former Soviet republics.
“We’re celebrating the opportunity that we haven’t had in Russia,” said Pasha Zalutski, 31, who now resides in the US and who helped organize the float’s construction. "To be able to be honest with the public about the fact that we’re Russian, and we’re gay.”
The idea for the float came from Russian-speaking gays and lesbians who meet up several times a year at “Red” parties - gay and lesbian
social events that take place across New York. Building the float entailed raising about $5,000 from individuals and sponsors, though some of the participants said Sunday they’d put the last few expenses on their personal credit cards.
Among those onboard the float, a young man from Samara who is one of a handful of people each year granted asylum in the US based on homophobic threats and beatings back home. Arthur Ryabtsev, 24, didn't want to discuss the details of his mistreatment, but said he hoped the float’s entry in the parade sent back a message on tolerance.
“We’re talking more about the people taking note, rather than the politicians or the government," he said, “because it all starts with the people.”
The parade entry comes during a period of several days that saw remarkable divergence in the acceptance of gays and lesbians by the United States and Russia. As the US Supreme Court ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits, Russian president Vladimir Putin on Sunday signed into law a measure banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations" toward minors with significant financial penalties for violators.
While the law’s proponents argue it is aimed at protecting children from harmful influences, critics allege the move is part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.
But Zalutski said new laws won’t change much for Russians wishing to live openly gay lives. “It wasn't possible before passage of the laws,” he said. “I wasn't able to do it in Russia a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, and I wouldn't be able to do it now.”
Gay people from Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union have marched in the New York gay pride parade before, the group RUSA LGBT has marched since 2008, with the goal of uniting Russian-speaking gay people in the United States, and supporting those in their countries of origin. This year the group is calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi due to what they consider to be government abuse and repression.
But repression was nowhere to be found along the New York parade route, and some aboard the float reflected on the stark difference between this day, and those they knew living in the shadows at home. “It’s a huge contrast,” said 26-year-old Olga Glavina of life back in the Ukraine. “It’s really hard there to even say that you are gay. And here, to be openly gay, you can actually be proud of that. Being ashamed versus being proud.”