05/30/2011, Melanie Nathan, 4.03 PM (PST)
Moscow: One of the most courageous voices of GayRussia, a group that organizes direct LGBTQI action, is Anna Komarova. Anna, a genderqueer activist was one of the eighteen LGBTQI rights protesters arrested, as they tried to stage the banned Moscow Gay Pride parade on Saturday. All were roughly manhandled by the police and Anna Komarova was arrested together with 14 other Russian gay activists, after he was forced to the ground by police and kicked in the head.
Three arrested were foreigners including international gay rights supporters, Andy Thayer and Lt. Dan Choi from the U.S., and Louis-Georges Tin from France.
I interviewed Anna Sunday after I heard of his beating and he provided me with this exclusive interview. “ I’m an a-gender (genderqueer, transgender), a member of the organizing committee of Moscow Gay Pride. I use clothes and my language to express my gender identity: I use feminine name and masculine grammar gender. So use masculine grammar gender when you write about me, please. My work corresponds to my temperament and besides that I think that it’s impossible to get any other rights without an opportunity of realization of the basic right of freedom of assemblies in Russia and anywhere else.”
I asked Anna about the events leading to the Pride abuse and what he had personally experienced. What I found very interesting is that he reflects minimally on his injuries and more on the cause itself – an expression of extraordinary commitment and bravery.
In Anna’s own words:-
“We have been fighting for Moscow Gay Pride since 2005. All of our actions in Moscow weren’t authorized by Moscow authorities; we were arrested and beaten by counter protesters many times.
The head of the organizing committee of Moscow Gay Pride was kidnapped by special government services for three days in 2010. But anyway we won our case in European Court of Human Rights about Moscow Prides 2006-2008 in 2010.
The St. Petersburg authorities began to authorize LGBTQI actions after the decision of ECHR. So of course we were expected and hoped Moscow Pride 2011 would be authorized this year.
After the rejection of Moscow Pride by the authorities following the ECHR decision we decided to organize Moscow Pride just like we did it in the beginning in 2006.
First, participants gathered near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden near the walls of the Kremlin at 1pm. Then at 1.30pm a second event took place in front of Moscow City Hall on Tverskaya Street. The participants arrived at the various places in small groups.
As usual we onlyhad a few seconds to unfold our slogans and it was clear that after that we would be arrested or attacked by counter protesters. I led a group of 2 persons: Lt. Dan Choi and Andy Thayer, Gay liberation Network, Chicago.
We were arrested immediately after media noticed us not far from Alexander Garden. I took my slogan “trans rights are human rights” out of my pocket, and before I could unfold it, unfold it I was immediately attacked by police from behind. They turned out my arms and thenI found myself on the ground.
Then somebody kicked me in my head, two to four times and then I was led by police to the car. There were a lot of counter protesters in the car and another two women. One of them was Elena Kostyuchenko, a correspondent for the famous Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who came out at the day of Moscow Pride.
She took part in it and was badly beaten and injured by counter protesters and she is still in hospital. At the car I sent an SMS to Dan Choi to learn about him and Andy. They were arrested too. Then we spoke a little bit by our mobiles.
Everything was quiet both in my car and in their police station (they were singing songs with Louis-Georges Tin loudly there .
Later at the police station a police officer at first tried to insist that I give information and evidence that was against myself. I refused. Then they filled in all the forms. Finally, they brought me to a hospital to get medical help for my wounds. I was freed at about 8 p.m.
I don’t feel any fear now. I never hide neither my gender or any other identity nor my face from newspapers. And there is St. Petersburg LGBT Pride in June. I’m waiting for it.”
This speaks not only to homophobia, transphobia and genderqueerphobia, but also to the significance of the the oppression of the basic right to assemble. Yet the most insidious aspect of this event is that it seems on all accounts that it was indeed an attack by the police authorities against the Protestors. There are also reports indicating that the police may well have sided and possibly collaborated with the counter protestors.
“We witnessed a high level of fraternization and collusion between neo-Nazis and the Moscow police. I saw neo-Nazis leave and re-enter police buses parked on Tverskaya Street by City Hall,” reports British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell”
” The Russian TV presenter on channel ‘TV-Centre’, Olga Bakushinskaya, blogged that she also saw right-wing extremists at City Hall sitting in police buses and liaising openly with the riot police, the Omon.
This was a peaceful demonstration – where activists sought to unfurl their banners to advocate for Russian gays and lesbians, and LGBTQI. Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right all members of the OSCE committed to, and is stated in the Moscow declaration and as recently as the Astana summit.
The US State department has condemned the attack – yet US Activists are hoping to hear from Secretary Clinton herself. I can only wonder though if protocol prohibits such statement from the Secretary, given the fact that two Americans were involved in a protest on foreign soil. We will have to find out!
In the meantime a tip of the hat to Anna and his comrades as they plan to keep LGBTQI visibility and basic rights their mission.
UPDATED 11.46 PM PST-
ANDY THAYER’s Note to me-
Hey Melanie — Thank you so much for doing this interview! Anna is truly one of the unsung heroes of Moscow Pride. I am frankly more than just a little bit embarrassed when so much attention falls on us internationals when, frankly, Anna and his fellow Russian organizers risk so much more, and put enormous time into organizing Moscow Pride in the bargain.
Re: Sec’t of State Clinton commenting on Pride, nothing prevented her from doing so in the days before the event, when it could have prevented a potential tragedy. I frankly think the Democrats are hypocrites and I’m completely over their cynical crap. Even though GayRussia reached out to them well before Moscow Pride, they said only that they “would monitor the situation”; their post-event message denouncing the violence loses all its power not only due to the timing, but the fact that Clinton’s name is noticeably absent from it.
Anna was kicked in the head 3-4 times. A Lesbian woman, Elena Kostyuchenko, as of this morning was still in the hospital, with no word on if she will make a full recovery. We were lucky no one was killed on Saturday. Clinton’s State Dept getting around to issuing a statement AFTER the attack? The cynicism of it just makes me want to puke.
On a more positive note, I too did a long interview with Anna, on Sunday, and just spent the plane ride home transcribing it. I’m glad to say that you and I covered very different ground, so I won’t be too mad about you beating me to the punch ; )
You are an amazing author Melanie.
Its an unfortunate truth that through adversity comes attention. These LGBT people paid a high price for celebrating each others diversity. They definitely deserve all the attention we can give them.
At least now Russian gender gifted people can be acknowledged as alive! In years past we didn’t know much about who they were. Obscurity was there only defense. So we now have articles like this to learn who they are but they have paid a high price for the exposure.
Thank you for writing this. I feel lucky to have found you:)
That is very kind of you and thank you too for your writing. Keep up the good work. Mel.
Moscow police are a tough bunch whatever they arrest a person for but this type of treatment is unnacceptable to me.
Your write up does a great job in illustrating that “how they do anything is how they’ll do everything” and in any statist society the danger is for everyone who is anyway different, not just because of gender or sexuality. I hope more of mainstream Russia will realise that when they allow these LGBT people to be oppressed they are also allowing themselves to be oppressed and that if they allow their countrymen/women to be beaten for voicing a point of view then they are implicitly condoning that treatment upon themselves too.
My heart goes out to Anna and the others who are fighting for their rights. I love Russia, but I hate the way they treat gay, lesbian and transgendered people. I wish I could scoop them all up and bring them to San Francsico, where they would be free to be themselves.