By Lisa Keen
MOSCOW – Hostilities against gays in Eastern Europe became more menacing this month after the leader of a Muslim group in Russia said that gays should be “thrashed” if they try to hold a gay pride march there in May, and other religious leaders jumped on the bandwagon, promising to turn out a million counter-protesters to quash the event.
According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Talgat Tajuddin, the head of Russia’s Central Spiritual Governance for Muslim, promised a backlash against any gay pride event in Moscow this spring, saying that the Prophet Muhammad ordered that gays be killed because “their behavior leads to the end of human race.” Tajuddin compared gay pride events with the controversial cartoons in a Danish newspaper, depicting Mohammad.
“Protests of Muslims can be even sharper than those abroad against scandalous cartoons,” he told Interfax. Riotous protests erupted following the publication of the cartoons in Denmark Sept. 30, and their subsequent publication in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Within days of the Russian Muslim leader’s comments on Feb. 14, numerous other religious leaders in Moscow began condemning the proposed pride march. Top Russian Jewish Rabbi Berl Lazar said a gay pride parade is as offensive to “believers” as the recent religious caricatures that have caused an enormous furor. An official with the Russian Orthodox Church said the church is “obliged to come out strongly against” a pride march “lest an ever growing number of people should be caught in the sphere of sinful influence.”
Interfax reported that the leader of the Russian Pentecostals would join the Russian Orthodox Church, Moslems and Jews, to turn out a million counter-protesters.
The mayor of Moscow has already refused to grant Russian gay activists a permit to stage a pride parade there. A spokesperson for the mayor told Interfax last week that “the city government will not allow a gay parade in any form, open or disguised, and any attempts to organize an unsanctioned action will be resolutely quashed.”
The parade was scheduled to take place in Moscow on May 27, and a spokesperson for the organizers of the pride event has said the group would seek legal recourse should the city try to prevent the march.
“The right to meetings, marches and demonstrations is guaranteed by the Russian Constitution to every citizen of Russia including gays and lesbians,” said the spokesperson, Nikolai Alekseev.
Alekseev called the comparison of the pride event with the religious caricatures “an attempt to incite hatred toward sexual minorities.”
Meanwhile, in nearby Poland, reports of violence against gays has also increased since ultraconservative religious right politician Lech Kaczynski took office in December as president of the Polish government. Prior to becoming president, Kaczynski was mayor of Warsaw, where he banned gay pride marches as “sexually obscene.” More than 2,500 gays marched despite the ban, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation, but were pelted with eggs and hostile taunts from onlookers.
In neighboring Czech Republic, President Vaclav Klaus last week vetoed legislation that would have provided a means for gay couples to register their partnerships with the government. Klaus said the legislation would “legalize the disintegration of traditional institutions on which the society is based.”
Responding to the pride march bans in Poland, Latvia, and other eastern European countries, as well as violent attacks against pride marchers who have attempted to stage their events, the European Parliament passed a resolution in January, calling on member countries – which include Poland, Latvia, and the Czech Republic – to oppose “homophobic hate speech or incitement to hatred and violence” and to treat gays with “respect, dignity, and protection.”
President Bush and other U.S. political leaders – including Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and minority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – welcomed the new Polish president to Washington Feb. 9, but a small group of gays in Chicago waved signs of protest at him there, saying “Gay rights are human rights.”
Thom Lynch, head of the San Francisco LGBT community center and a member of the advisory committee of the international group Human Rights Watch, said he’s been “disappointed there has not been more outrage from the LGBT community in the United States.” But he said he is hopeful that the European Union’s ability to impose sanctions on member countries might influence some nations to combat hostilities against gays.
Michael Cashman, a British member of the European Parliament and president of its intergroup on gay rights, vowed to raise the issue of the hostilities against gays in Eastern Europe with the European Parliament.