4 min

A Vancouverite’s eyewitness account

MOSCOW-Hello all! First let me say we are all safe and sound here in Moscow and filled with a sense of extreme honour to have been a part of the first actual Pride march here in Moscow.

On Friday we were anxiously trying to get in touch with Nikolai to find out what the plan was for the weekend. He had already shared with us the fact that no decision had been made officially as to when they would assemble to have the annual attempt of Pride in Moscow. This was to help ensure that what they did would not give any of the anti-gay groups too much opportunity to counter-assemble against us.

We were told that there would be a meeting on Saturday that would explain the plans for the Sunday and we could attend that meeting. In order to maintain a level of secrecy, we would be given a call on Saturday to be told the location on the meeting. So the adventure began.

On Saturday, we were contacted about 3 pm and told that the meeting was happening and given a landmark to go to and told to call again once we reached that location. When we arrived it was a large building complex and we were told to say to the guard at the gate that we were going to a birthday party.

The short of the meeting was that the decision had been made this year to try and create a positive event instead of the traditional violent gathering of the previous two years. So, though the website officially listed City Hall as the gathering place for the event, it was not where we were going to meet.

I should mention at this point that the city government here denied all of the approximately 150 applications that were made to have a gathering.

As Nikolai spoke to his team, I watched them all listen with a sense of excitement and commitment to this cause. Nikolai said that though he trusted everyone one on the team completely, to ensure a successful execution he would not share the actual meeting spot with any of them.

All we were told was the Metro station to meet at and the time. Someone would contact us and take us to the meeting place from there.

We were to go in no more than twos or threes and not to acknowledge each other when we arrived.

Sunday morning we got off the subway and immediately recognized one of the other organizers. We walked past him without acknowledging him and walked onto the platform of the station.

We then also saw a couple of others, all alone and not acknowledging each other.

There were also four police officers walking the platform, though this was not unusual, as police are everywhere here.

Though when one of the officers stopped to speak to one of the organizers our hearts started racing.

We kept trying to look like dumb tourists. We looked at our subway map hoping we just looked lost.

As we stood there, another dozen or more police appeared on the metro platform.

Just as our panic seemed too much to handle, one of the group approached us and said to follow him, and we happily did.

Once outside he explained we were going to a café and that we would wait there till the appropriate time. We arrived at the café and sipped our cappuccinos, all the while in constant contact by text message with our friends who had gone to the fake, publicly designated meeting spot.

As the time approached, we recognized other people from the meeting the day before in the café and hanging out on the street and the sidewalk – all anxiously waiting for the signal to gather in front of the building.

Finally, we saw the key person answer her phone, get up and start to move. In what seemed like a split second, there was assembled a group of 15-20 people.

The Moscow Pride banner came out, as well as a bunch of Pride flags. Nikolai appeared as though from nowhere with a contingent of media and press in tow. He spoke and led the team in chants of protest and celebration. And then came the moment that Nikolai and his team had dreamed of for so long: WE MARCHED.

It may have been just a short distance (not even a whole city block), but nonetheless we marched. No one to stop us; no protestors, no police, no hate.

The feeling that emanated from the group was tangible. A sense of freedom, a sense of success, a sense of true PRIDE!

Then, as quickly as it began, it ended. People gathered the flags and banners and put them into plastic bags and dispersed as quickly as we had gathered.

My friends and I decided to go to the other (decoy) event to see what was happening and how our other crew had made out. Our concern was growing, as we had not heard from them for a while.

We arrived at City Hall to see groups of Orthodox priests and nuns with symbols of religion, as well as nationalists and skinheads and some people who just looked like the guy or girl next door.

We cautiously approached the group and I have to say I have never felt so fearful in my life. The level of tension and hate was tangible and I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

We spotted our friends and separated to gather them and meet again at a pre-arranged meeting spot.

But Bob and Morris never made contact with Graham and Lola. They were talking to some gay activists when Bob was jumped from behind. Morris quickly grabbed the guy, who then swung and punched Morris in the nose. They got out of there as quickly as possible and managed to rejoin us, visibly shaken, at the meeting spot.

Shortly after, Graham and Lola arrived and we all sighed in relief.

They had witnessed a Moscow Pride banner being hung from an apartment beside City Hall. Nikolai and his group had strategically planned and rented a flat in the building a few months before just for the purpose of hanging this banner.

The banner only hung for a short while before it was targeted with eggs and eventually torn down.

The sad part is the four men in the apartment were now stranded there. We learned this later in the evening as we gathered again with the Pride group to celebrate their success of the day.

The feeling of joy that was in the room – including from the man who was covered in bruises and a few Band-aids from being beaten – was also mixed with anxiety as some of the group tried to find a lawyer to help get the men out of the apartment where they were being held without electricity.

I am still moved to tears as I relive these events in my head. I have never felt such a sense of humility as I did this day. As I personally work on the events of our own Pride, I think I may never have the feeling I had with my Muscovite friends when, for the first time ever, they marched with Pride in the streets of Moscow!