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Court bans fail to deter Pride march attempts in Ukraine, Moscow

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — About 100 gay activists and their allies managed to walk for about 40 minutes in Ukraine's first-ever Pride march May 25 with help from the police, Reuters reports.

In central Moscow, authorities weren't so obliging, reportedly pouncing on and arresting between 20 and 30 activists who brought out banners and rainbow flags at a Pride rally outside Russia's State Duma to mark the 20th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality, according to a UK Guardian report

Opponents of both the Moscow and Ukraine events, which were banned, counterprotested and in some cases tried to attack marchers. During the Ukraine event, as in a recent gay rights march in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia that drew a large, violent anti-gay mob, a church activist broke through the police cordon and slapped down banners calling for discrimination against gays to end, the Reuters report says. Police eventually arrested 13 people for trying to break up the rally, which one organizer, Olena Semenova, described as "historic," despite its brevity, the BBC says in its report.

Last year, activists abandoned plans for a Kiev rally after receiving threats of violence. One of its organizers, Svyatoslav Sheremet, of Gay Forum of Ukraine, was beaten by a group of youths who attacked him following a media briefing about the march's cancellation, half an hour before its scheduled start, because of police fears of an attack by ultra-conservative counterprotesters.

In Moscow, where activists yet again thumbed their noses at city authorities' attempts to stop Pride for the eighth consecutive year, police outside the Duma shouted at marchers through megaphones, telling them that the rally was not sanctioned and that they were "disrupting passers-by," The Guardian says. 

"I don't understand why police are hauling people away," the report quotes one activist named Gleb as saying. "We're only asking for equal rights, the same as for everyone else." 

A number of nationalists and Orthodox Christians were also arrested. "Gay people need medical treatment. It's simply disgusting to look at them," Konstantin Kostin, of the Holy Rus movement, said, according to The Guardian. "Russia used to be a great superpower. Now look what's become of us. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman, and this lot want to defile the sanctitude of our country." 

Gay rights activist Nikolai Alexeyev says that when Pride organizers began applying to stage events, he thought it would be possible to "make people listen." He now has his doubts, he says. 

In a first reading earlier in the year, the Russian parliament overwhelmingly approved a federal anti-gay gag bill. It has yet to hold a second reading of the proposed federal bill, introduced by Novosibirsk regional deputies, that mirrors a number of anti-gay gag laws that have been enacted in about 10 other cities or regions, including St Petersburg. The measure calls for fines for violations of up to 5,000 rubles ($165) for individuals and up to 50,000 rubles for officials, while businesses or schools could face up to 500,000 rubles ($16,500) if they break the law. 

Reuters notes that Ukraine's parliament last year shelved the second reading of a bill that would have criminalized the "promotion of homosexuality."  

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