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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 10
Russian Gay activist visits SF despite some opposition
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Russian Gay activist visits SF despite some opposition

by Matt Baume - Courtesy of the Bay Area Reporter

Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev visited San Francisco this week on a speaking tour that faced protest from several local leaders over perceived anti-Semitic comments.

The controversy boiled over last week when Alekseev's California sponsors canceled their support. However, he still traveled to the state, the last leg of his U.S. visit. The sponsors' abrupt pullout stemmed from a blog post written by Alekseev in January, in which he criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for supporting Egypt's then-President Hosni Mubarak.

The post, which was originally written in Russian, translates as, 'The Israeli prime minister urged Western leaders to support Egyptian dictator Mubarak ... And who after this are the Jews? In fact, I always knew who they were.'

In response, Equality California and Robin Tyler Productions, along with numerous other organizations, canceled their sponsorship of the tour. Both the LGBT Center and the Metropolitan Community Church canceled a scheduled public appearance by Alekseev.

Tour organizer Andy Thayer of Gay Liberation Network Chicago then rented a meeting space at Queen Malika Café, but as a precaution did not publicize the location. Attendees were instructed to meet in front of the church, where they received verbal directions to the café.

At the event, Alekseev, 33, told the crowd of approximately 20 that he would address the controversy if asked, but preferred instead to discuss the struggle for LGBT equality in Russia. Last week he released a statement in which he acknowledged writing the blog post but said he is a 'strong believer' in human rights for everyone, 'irrespective of human characteristics, whether it is sexual orientation, race, gender, national of ethnic origin, religion, or any other basis.'

Starting in 2005, Alekseev has organized annual Moscow Pride marches, only to have permits denied and marchers assaulted and arrested.

In response, Alekseev, who is an attorney, brought a case against the Russian government in the European Court of Human Rights for denying his freedom of assembly. In October 2010, the court ordered Russia to permit future Pride events. The next parade is scheduled for May 28, and Alekseev intends to apply for a permit on May 1.

'We can see the Moscow Pride as an investment in the future,' he said. 'If we didn't start Moscow Pride, we would be nowhere now.'

Alekseev also described the challenges of organizing in Moscow. A group of about 30 people organizes events solely by word-of-mouth to avoid communications being intercepted. Protesters swap cellphones and take multiple forms of transportation to events in order to frustrate surveillance.

He also criticized large, well-funded LGBT organizations, decrying the $40 million spent to fight Prop 8 and calling it a 'disgrace' that the Human Rights Campaign has leased Harvey Milk's old camera shop on Castro Street.

'Harvey Milk won the referendum without any money,' he said, apparently referring to the work Milk did to defeat the Briggs initiative in 1978. 'People were not thinking about money, they were thinking about promoting equality.'

At the end of the night, Thayer asked for monetary donations to help fund Alekseev's tour.

No attendees asked about the blog controversy during the lengthy question and answer session, but when asked about it afterwards Alekseev explained that the term for 'Jews' is more nuanced in Russian than in English, and that he used it to refer to Israeli leaders, not to all Jews. He provided a similar explanation last Tuesday at Columbia University, but by then the California sponsors had already withdrawn their support.

Alekseev added that his former sponsors had demanded an immediate response, which he found objectionable. 'All the organizers in California had to do is wait one day to listen to what I said,' he told the Bay Area Reporter, 'but I am the kind of person who doesn't accept ultimatums.'

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Russian Gay activist visits SF despite some opposition
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