Fighting the gay fight in Russia: How gay propaganda laws actually only help

Published: August 24, 2013

 I can hardly be called an admirer of the current Russian government, or a supporter of the recent political and social policy of the Russian authorities.

This comes as no surprise due to the fact that I was arrested many times for peaceful protests and held in dirty police cells. I was beaten in front of the cameras and without them. I have been denied every single application to hold a public event since I started to organize them in 2006. Nevertheless, for more than eight years I have dedicated my entire life to LGBT activism and human rights, trying by all means to avoid any politicizing of the Russian LGBT movement. But since 2005 times have changed. 
Our methods originally turned out to be new and effective in this country. Not just protesting homophobia and fighting for LGBT rights at dozens of public events, including the annual banned Moscow Prides, we also found clear and transparent legal means to challenge human rights violations in Russia. 
Thus, while the political opposition movement was just protesting on the streets, the Russian Human Rights Project, GayRussia.Ru and the Moscow Pride Organizing Committee sailed all the way through the Russian court system to win the first ever case on LGBT human rights violations in Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. On  October 23, 2010, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that the bans of Moscow Prides in 2006-2008 were contradictory to the European Convention. Surprisingly, this was also the first ECHR verdict on the violations of the right to freedom of assembly in Russia under the current legislation on assemblies. All other cases now pending before the ECHC, including the bans of the marches of fierce opponents of gay rights in Russia, are being tried through the precedent in the case of "Alekseyev v. Russia". 
HAVANA TIMES — Two years ago, almost by accident, I ended up working as a volunteer at Cuba’s National Center for the Prevention of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (CNP). I was unemployed at the time.
Thanks to a friend, I had found out about the MSM (Men Who Have Sex with Men) project at the center. In a few weeks’  time, after completing a number of courses about STDs, safe sex and other issues which gave me a whole new perspective on life, I had become a health promoter.
I learned new and varied ways of having sex which were safe and no less attractive than what I was accustomed to. It seems hard to believe, but I basically changed all my previous habits in order to practice safer sex. I learned a lot at this place and met people whom I love and admire immensely.
My main duties as a volunteer consisted in attending meetings organized by men who have sex with men and to give talks there to provide participants with information about safe sex, the use of condoms and STDs. At the end I also handed out free condoms.
I didn’t always get my message across. There were some who didn’t want to listen (as was their right). In any event, I always tried to teach them something about these issues that are often taboo, by providing people with information that can be very useful and help us improve our sexual health.
It was the first time in my life in which I actually felt proud of what I was doing, perhaps because, in this peer work, I learned to communicate my ideas and almost lost the stage-fright I always get when I have to speak in public.
Had you heard me speak back then, you might not have recognized me. This is because I actually believed in what I was doing. I would feel even more satisfied if, for instance, I managed to get through to a transvestite, because I have an idea of how heavy the burden of discrimination they have to shoulder must be.

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