WHEN Leonid Kazakov, of the St Nicholas' Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in San Francisco, learned that his establishment was to be picketed by gay activists, he fled, taking a bunch of parishioners with him.
Members of Gays Without Borders and BoycottRussianVodka.com arrived at the church, sitiuated in the heart of the gay Castro area, on August 25 for a peaceful picket only to be told that the rector, kitted out in his frock and fancy hat, had fled accompanied by members of his flock.
The picket was held to protest the Russian government’s continued crackdown on LGBT Russians, and included holding a brief silent vigil to remember the LGBT citizens of Russia who were killed because of hatred, harmed by the anti-gay propaganda law, or now suffering because of the politics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In June, the Russian government enacted its “anti-gay propaganda” law that bans any pro-LGBT statements or demonstrations in public or private and on the Internet. The Russian government has effectively made being openly LGBT and pro-LGBT a crime. That law has launched protests and boycott calls around the globe.
When protesters arrived at 10:30 am they were greeted by half a dozen uniformed San Francisco Police Department officers in four squad cars parked in front of the church. The picket was set for 11:00 am, which was the usual end time of the worship service and protesters hoped to finally communicate with church leaders and parishioners after weeks of not having our emails or voice mails returned.
A gay neighbor came over and told the protesters that he had seen the rector and congregants leave the church roughly 30 minutes earlier and drive off to an unknown location. The church and the rector’s home were locked. There were no members of the church present at any time before or during the action.
Prior to starting, another gay neighbor who lives directly across the street from St Nicholas was given an enormous rainbow flag and he hung that flag from the front of his home. It flew in the breeze during the picket. With the attention of residential and business neighbors, as they leaned out their windows and stood on the opposite side of the street, and passing drivers honking their horns in approval, the action began.
Holding several rainbow flags and "Boycott Russian Vodka" signs, activists formed a human chain in front of the church. Turning their backs to the church, the moment of silence was observed.
Activists included Joseph Rose, pictured, chanted "Gay Russians under attack, what do we do? Act up! Fight back!" and "We're here, we're queer, we're Russian. Get used to it!"
Joining the American protesters were several gay and straight Russians whose last names are being withheld for confidentiality reasons. One gay Russian named Vladimir, who has resided in the US for more than 20 years, conveyed his support for all efforts on behalf of Russian LGBT people.
Among the protesters was human rights activist Melanie Nathan who addressed the plight of LGBT Russians and the need for the ROC to curb its dogma of stigmatising and demeaning gays.
Once the speeches, chanting, and moment of silence were over, lyrics to the gay anthem "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" were distributed. Everyone cleared their throats then raised voices in unison and sang this powerful song of love and dreams. The activities lasted for 45 minutes. An estimated 50 persons participated at some point in the action.