Tag Archives: Vykhod (Coming Out)

Queerfest: The Art of Being Yourself (Petersburg)

The St. Petersburg Times
September 14, 2011
The art of being yourself
By Sergey Chernov

Consulates of the U.K., the Netherlands and Sweden are supporting a major gay rights cultural event that opens in St. Petersburg this week, as national statistics show that homophobic attitudes are on the rise in Russia.

Called Queerfest, the ten-day festival, featuring music, dance, art, lectures and debates, was launched by Vykhod (Coming Out), the local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights group in 2009.

“I am looking forward to visiting this year’s St. Petersburg Queerfest because I believe that gay people should be able to live without fear of discrimination or criminalization,” said British Consul General Gareth Ward in an email this week.

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people make a big contribution to British cultural life — St. Petersburg’s sister city Manchester has a famous gay pride event. This can be an important and fun way of celebrating diversity and tolerance in Russia as well.”

Homophobia is a problem in many countries, Ward went on.

“The U.K. is a world leader in supporting LGBT equality, but we are not complacent,” he said.

“Last year the U.K. government passed an ambitious program to tackle prejudices. In Russia, homosexuality was decriminalized in the 1990s, but there is a long way to go to remove social stigmatization and hate crime. Civil society groups such as Vykhod are leading the way.”

Ward will speak at the opening of Queerfest on Thursday, Sept. 15, along with the Netherlands Consul General Yennes de Mol.

The Swedish Consulate has also backed the event by sending a letter of support, which can be read on Queerfest’s web site.

The motto of this year’s festival is the “Art of Being Yourself.”

“It’s dedicated to the subject of self-expression through art by different people, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Vykhod director Igor Kochetkov said.

“We want to approach this subject both through works and speeches of artists and through discussing the issues of the freedom of expression and its borders with human rights activists, representatives of public and religious organizations, and journalists.”

The festival’s diverse program includes photo exhibitions by World Press Photo award-winning Italian photographer Mattia Insolera and the Moscow-based contemporary artist Serge Golovach.

The festival will open at the KvARTira gallery at 130 Nevsky Prospekt, where Queerography, an exhibition of work by various photographers, will be held, as well as several other events.

One day of the festival will be devoted to feminism, while another will concentrate on human rights issues.

Queerfest will end with a rock concert called Stop Homophobia! at the Avrora Concert Hall on Sept. 25. Headlined by Moldovan folk-punk band Zdob Si Zdub, it will feature Cuibul (also from Moldova), the Moscow band FiLLiN and St. Petersburg’s own Iva Nova, Monoliza and Snega.

Last year, the festival came under pressure from the authorities when the state-owned House of Artists canceled a photography exhibition — and the festival’s planned opening — at the last minute, allegedly after getting a telephone call from City Hall’s Culture Committee.

The exhibition and the opening were hastily moved to a new location, the underground vegan establishment V-Club, and journalists were asked not to disclose the site until a specific time in case the authorities attempted to shut it down there as well.

“The cancellation caused a big stir in the press and eventually the Culture Committee was forced to speak on behalf of tolerance,” Kochetkov said.

Although the Culture Committee has never admitted to issuing a ban on the festival, Kochetkov said he was told about the order by the House of Artists’ director himself.

Kochetkov said that this year, the festival’s organizers invited representatives of the Culture Committee to the opening. “They asked us, ‘Is the venue state-owned?’ We said, ‘No.’”

As of Tuesday, this year’s preparations had gone smoothly, though Kochetkov said that last year the problems did not start until two days before the opening.

According to Kochetkov, representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church flatly refused to participate in debates, although local television presenter Valery Tatarov, who has been criticized for making homophobic statements, readily agreed.

Kochetkov welcomes Tatarov’s participation in the debates, emphasizing that the presenter has not called for violence against homosexuals.

“We wouldn’t invite people who incite violence, because they should be dealt with by the law, first and foremost,” he said.

On Saturday, the Orthodox Church described homosexuality as “a sinful distortion of human nature” on its web site, calling gays and lesbians “spiritually unhealthy.”

Queerfest’s organizers cite a Levada Center poll that showed that homophobia is on the rise in Russia.

Compared to a 2005 poll, the 2010 poll showed that the number of people who think that gays and lesbians should be “let be” dropped 5 percent during the past five years, while the number of people who think that gays and lesbians should be given medical treatment or isolated from society increased by 4 and 6 percent, respectively.

Seventy-four percent of the respondents said that homosexuals are morally corrupt or mentally handicapped people, 24 percent suggested that they should get psychological help, 39 percent think that they should be forced to undergo medical treatment or be isolated from society, while 4 percent believe that such people should be “liquidated.”

“These figures show that society has grown less indifferent to the very fact of the existence of people of different orientations, and that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people have to fight for their right to be themselves,” Kochetkov said.

“To fight, above all, ignorance and cruelty — things that are dangerous for everybody. This means that we are fighting not for our narrow interests, but for the common cause, to make our society more human and free.”

All Queerfest events are open to the public, except for the opening, which is invitation-only. For a full program, see www.queerfest.ru.

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State-Sponsored Queer Bashing in Saint Petersburg

The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1610 (71), Friday, September 17, 2010
By Sergey Chernov, Staff Writer

The St. Petersburg authorities kicked a gay art exhibition out of the high-status Union of Artists Exhibition Center, where it was scheduled to open Thursday, organizers said Wednesday. City hall’s culture committee denies any involvement.

The Union of Artists Exhibition Center was one of the venues where Queerfest, organized by LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) rights organization Vykhod (Coming Out), was due to be held.

Vykhod director Igor Kochetkov said the culture committee put pressure on the venue to cancel the exhibition.

“We had two phone conversations with the Exhibition Center’s director, who said he got a call from the culture committee stating categorically that the exhibition shouldn’t be opened,” said Vykhod director Igor Kochetkov.

Kochetkov said that in the official cancellation letter the Exhibition Center listed “complaints from certain public organizations and potential visitors” as the grounds for the decision.

“It’s not only a breach of the agreement, because the agreement can be broken only by force majeure, but it’s also not clear how there could be complaints if nobody has yet seen the exhibition and we haven’t yet placed the works there,” Kochetkov said.

Culture committee press officer Irina Nacharova denied her committee had anything to do with the cancelation.

“The culture committee is absolutely loyal to LGBT festivals and events,” she said.

“The Union of Artists is an independent public organization, and it’s absolutely their decision what kind of exhibitions to hold, when and what to cancel. “

“The only thing is that the plan was to hold a children’s exhibition and this kind of exhibition at the same time, which is perhaps not quite appropriate. But there weren’t and couldn’t be any bans, because it’s a public organization and it takes its decisions independently.”

Union of Artists Exhibition Hall director Alexander Saikov denied getting a call from the culture committee when he spoke by phone on Thursday.

“The thing is that we have an exhibition of children’s works in the next room, almost 800 participants, and because the organizers published their information on Internet, people found out about this and started to write complaints to state bodies and us as well demanding not to open this exhibition,” he said.

“Later, it turned out that, when we had talks on Aug. 8, we were shown one sort of exhibition materials, but in reality it turned out to be entirely different. If I had known that the content of the exhibition would be like this, we wouldn’t have even planned to hold it, for sure.”

However, an employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Thursday that the ban came from the culture committee.

The exhibition and the opening were hastily moved to a new location – the Vegan Club on 50 Ligovsky Prospekt, and journalists were asked not to disclose the site until 6 p.m. Thursday, in case the authorities attempted to shut it down there as well.

Queerfest, which is being held for the second year in a row, has not had any problems before.

“It went quietly last year because we consciously played down the fact that it was promoted by an LGBT organization,” organizer Kochetkov said.

“This year, the concept of the festival is devoted to equal rights of self-expression for all the people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. As far as I understand, that’s what caused this pressure.”

Queerfest has been supported by a number of international figures, including Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit, Belgian-Italian singer Lara Fabian, British author Sarah Waters and U.S. film director John Cameron Mitchell.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am to have so many Russian followers, readers and friends. That many of them are gay, lesbian or transgender gives me especial pleasure,” wrote British actor and writer Stephen Fry.

“It has not been easy to be out and proud in Russia of late and it takes a very special kind of courage to stand up for yourself in such an atmosphere of enmity and ignorance. I think it is a very Russian quality to be so brave, to have such integrity and such a proper sense of pride and self.”

In 2008, the Side by Side gay film festival was thwarted by the St. Petersburg authorities when two film theaters broke their agreements and canceled the events.

Queerfest runs through Sept. 25. Check www.queerfest.ru for updates.


Here is a translation of the official statement made by Queerfest organizers:

The opening of the International Queer Culture Festival in Saint Petersburg has been threatened with cancellation. The directors of the exhibition center of the Saint Petersburg Union of Artists, where the opening and several other festival events were to have taken place, unexpectedly informed festival organizers that they were canceling their rental agreement with us. We were told by telephone that the reason for this was an insistent recommendation made by the Saint Petersburg administration’s culture committee that the exhibition center not permit the event, which the committee regards as “propaganda of homosexualism.”

If the culture committee really did make such a recommendation, then we regard this an act of censorship, which is forbidden by the Russian Federation Constitution. There are no legal grounds for government officials to interfere with the holding of the festival.

We have underscored on several occasions that the International Queer Culture Festival poses no threat to national security and public order, to the health and morals of the population. The fact that certain people, by virtue of their personal convictions, are unhappy with any social and cultural activity on the part of open gays and lesbians, cannot be grounds for arbitrary bans. In fact, it is the government’s duty to ensure that all citizens enjoy an equal right to voice their opinions and express themselves culturally in any manner not proscribed by law.

We call on the Saint Petersburg authorities to refrain from actions and statements that encourage the violation of human rights and Russian law.

You can find more detailed information about the festival program on our official web site: http://www.queerfest.ru

Press materials: http://queerfest.ru/index.php/mass-media-2/for-the-press/?lang=en

Contact us:


Igor Kochetkov, director, Vykhod (Coming Out): +7 911-902-1193

Polina Andrianova: +7 904-609-9706


For our own part, we think it would be more than appropriate for you to let the “loyal” folks at the culture committee know what you think about all this. Here are their contacts:

Telephone: +7 (812) 312-2471
Fax: +7 (812) 710-5515

Press Office
Telephone/fax: +7 (812) 571-0589

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Filed under art exhibitions, censorship, feminism, gay rights, open letters, manifestos, appeals, Russian society

“Put Away Your Bubbles”

Bubble-Blowing Youths Attacked
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1556 (27), Tuesday, April 20, 2010
By Sergey Chernov

Young people who gathered to celebrate spring with an annual bubble-blowing flash mob in St. Petersburg were attacked by an organized gang of men, thought to be neo-Nazis, and then dispersed by the police Sunday. Organizers believe the attackers mistook the flash mob for a gay pride event.

It was the third year running that the event, known as both “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Piter,” was held in the city. It presents itself as “non-political,” and mostly attracts teenagers.

“It has nothing to do with the gay community, or with any political, ideological or any other organization,” said Yulia, Dream Flash’s organizer, by phone on Monday. She requested that her last name be withheld from publication.

“It’s simply a celebration of spring, with the idea that a group of people come together and walk around the city center blowing bubbles and enjoying spring. There was also supposed to be an amateur photography competition, so there were two goals — to have a good time and take pictures of bubbles.”

As an estimated 500 stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob, a flare was thrown into the crowd as an organized group of more than 30 men ran toward the participants and started attacking them. Several people had fallen to the ground before the attackers retreated at the sight of the OMON riot police approaching. At least one of the attackers was arrested.

Later reports said that at least one person was suffering from a concussion and another had been wounded by a rubber bullet from an attacker’s gun, but these remained unconfirmed on Monday evening.

During preparations for the event, a gay activist began advertising a gay pride event within Dream Flash several days before the planned event.

“These are two different events; they are not connected to each other at all,” Yulia said.

“When I found out about it, I started to correspond with them, asking them to separate the two events, but they refused, because they thought our event was very suitable for them, and that we were ‘gay friendly.’ We corresponded for three days but it led to nothing.”

Valery Sozayev, the chair of the gay rights organization Vykhod, described the actions of the gay activists behind the promotion of their event as a “provocation.”

“Soap bubbles are rainbow-like and iridescent, and that’s why people use a lot of rainbow symbolism at [bubble-blowing] events, but it has nothing to do with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) community,” Sozayev said.

“Obviously, part of the LGBT community joins the event in every city where it takes place, but they do so as everybody else does, without positioning it as an LGBT event.”

Organizers and participants believe that neo-Nazis were behind the attack.

“I suspect that it was representatives of ultra-right organizations who found out that gays were going to come to the event and decided to stop it,” Yulia said, adding that she came across a group called “Stop the Gay Parade” on Vkontakte, the Russian Facebook-like social networking site.

“I wrote to one of the organizers, gave him my phone number and asked him to contact me, explaining that innocent people might suffer because of their initiative, but the organizer didn’t reply,” Yulia said.

Several minutes after the attack, the OMON police declared the event an “illegal meeting” and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park, with the help of two police vehicles.

“Put away your bubbles,” one police officer commanded through a megaphone.

“I said to them that we had talked to a representative of City Hall, who said that our event was not subject to any law, because — and I quote — ‘We can’t forbid you to walk around the city.’

“Unfortunately, I was not provided with any written confirmation of this conversation, and the only thing I could do in the situation that arose yesterday was to agree with the police’s actions and ask everybody to leave.”

According to Yulia, she and two other organizers were among about 30 participants who ended up in a police precinct and were released after about five hours, after being charged with walking on the grass (a charge denied by the organizers). At least three people who filmed the event were detained, two of whom later complained of police aggression and violence.

The police spokesman did not answer his phone when called repeatedly Monday.

All photos by Sergey Chernov. See his complete photo reportage of the bubble-blowing riot here.

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Say No to Racism… And Show Us Your Papers

The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1523 (85), Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Federal Migration Service Busts Anti-Racism Marchers
By Sergey Chernov
Staff Writer

The March Against Hatred, an annual rally against neo-Nazi and racist violence held on Saturday, was raided by the Federal Migration Service. Officers started to single out participants of African descent and check their residency permits as the demonstration reached Ploshchad Sakharova, where the platform for the speakers had been installed.

Ella Polyakova, the local head of the Soldiers’ Mothers organization climbed the platform to demand that immigration officers, who left a minibus marked “Immigration Control” parked on the square, stop harassing rally participants.

“It appears that tolerance doesn’t exist in this city, while racism is flourishing,” she said.

“As we were marching with our friends, whose skin happens to be a different color, grey-jacketed men tried to drag them out and […] check their passports. We said, ‘Check everyone’s passports then.’”

She invited protesters to demand that the immigration officers either leave or join the rally and “protest hatred with us.” The crowd responded with applause. 

Organizer Alexander Vinnikov, the chairman of Russia Without Racism and a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council, described the raid as “racist” and “illegal.”

“The immigration service decided to use our march to catch illegal foreigners — there was an ‘Immigration Control’ bus waiting for us on the square, and three officers who began a check,” Vinnikov said by phone on Monday.

“The people who were exposed to this totally illegal procedure asked the organizers for help, and we demanded the police put an end to this disgraceful behavior. No concrete measures were taken, but the three men … spent the rest of the time standing still.”

Vinnikov said the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council would be looking into the legal aspects of the raid and would make a statement. 

“They grab Africans — it’s a purely racist approach,” he said.

“There’s a March Against Hatred going on — against Nazism, fascism and xenophobia, and a state body appears immediately and starts behaving in a racist manner. They grab people who have lived in St. Petersburg for 20 years and who are all Russian citizens — simply because they have a different skin color.”

Vinnikov said the goal behind the raid was to intimidate the public and prevent them from taking part in protests.

“It’s sheer boorishness — dumb, primitive, bureaucratic boorishness and xenophobia — and it was done right during the march,” he said.

“It’s done with only one goal — to make people afraid so they would not go to this march. There’s no other reason.”

According to Vinnikov, African students were previously warned not to take part in the March Against Hatred on the threat of having their visas canceled. Similar unofficial orders were given to the House of National Cultures, the City Hall-backed organization that encompasses more than 40 ethnic communities in St. Petersburg, he said.

The St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast Federal Migration Service did not answer the phone when called repeatedly Monday.

The sixth annual March Against Hatred, one of the few protest marches authorized by City Hall, began at Yubileiny Sports Palace, from where the protesters, heavily escorted by the police, marched two kilometers to Ploshchad Sakharova, close to the Strelka of Vasilyevsky Island.

Protesters carried portraits of three murdered human rights campaigners: Scholar and hate crimes expert Nikolai Girenko, in whose memory the march was launched in 2004, journalist Anna Politkovskaya and liberal politician Galina Starovoitova. Large groups of both anarchists, many with their faces covered with scarves or masks for security reasons, and gay rights activists carrying rainbow flags stood out.

The meeting on Ploshchad Sakharova to wrap up the march, whose official organizers included Russia Without Fascism, African Unity, Memorial, Soldiers’ Mothers, Yabloko, Solidarity and the gay rights group Vykhod (Coming Out), began with a list of victims of racist and neo-Nazi murders in St. Petersburg being read out.

The protesters expressed perplexity about UNESCO awarding City Hall’s Tolerance Program an honorary mention last month for “its constructive efforts to inculcate mutual respect and tolerance in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society and to prevent and eradicate all forms of discrimination,” and criticized the Russian authorities for inspiring or indulging hatred toward certain nationalities.

“We, participants of the Sixth March Against Hatred, declare our categorical rejection of a social order based on fear and hatred of anyone who is different,” the organizers said in the rally’s resolution, stressing that Russia is heading toward “isolationism, which will inevitably lead to the growth of xenophobia and great-power chauvinism.”

Among other things, the protesters demanded that police officers who provide protection for extremist nationalist groups, thus provoking nationalist pogroms and murders, be removed from the police force.

The police said 150 people took part, but a video recording showed at least 400 protesters marching.

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