Each year at the Pride Parade in Vancouver, near the front of the parade they put a few important people, people they want to honour — local heroes, figures of the movement, that kind of thing. They ride in cars, waving, and their names are displayed. But their stories aren’t.
Last year, Cleve Jones led the way. I knew his story from watching Milk, but it took a friend of mine yelling excitedly to me to connect the name to the story. These are important people that everyone watching a Pride Parade should know about — there needs to be a better way to share that.
This year, thankfully, I knew who would be leading the way, and I knew his story. A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to watch a documentary made by local filmmakers in the queer community. Called Beyond Gay: The Politics of Pride, it documented Vancouver Pride Society president Ken Coolen going to different cities around the world to see and participate in their various Pride Parades, in preparation for running Vancouver’s. From the huge celebrations of Toronto and New York, to the unbridled fun surrounded by danger in Brazil, to the march in Warsaw where their very lives were in danger from bystanders, and a shoulder to shoulder rank of police officers in riot gear lined the street to protect the parade.
By far the most touching story of the film, though, was that of Nikolai Alexeyev, who has been trying to organize a Pride Parade in Moscow for several years, but always gets put down by the extremely religious, homophobic mayor.
In previous years, the Moscow Pride group had attempted to get permits dozens of times for a march, and then when not allowed (for various bullshit reasons), attempted to march anyway — only to get physically assaulted, arrested, and detained. Sometimes bystanders would physically attack them without provocation, and it was the marchers thrown in jail while the attackers weren’t even stopped.
This past year, Nikolai achieved a great success.
With secret meetings worthy of a spy movie and the most extreme caution, they set up a secret march. Everyone expected them to march by city hall, so when the time came (with violent bystanders and police ready to put to a stop to any activity) they simply unveiled a banner from a nearby building (where group members had locked themselves inside for their own safety) announcing their support of LGBT rights.
Meanwhile, Nikolai and others had summoned press to a completely different part of the city, where right at the same time as the banner was unfurled, they unveiled their signs and pride flags, made a speech to the press, and walked a block.
A block. Then, they quickly hid their signs and flags once more and split off in different directions to disappear into the city, not to meet up again until later that night. They came and went like a flash mob.
Meanwhile, back at the original location, a group member explained to press and bystanders that a march had just taken place elsewhere — the group had succeeded in holding a parade.
Someone in the crowd shouted, “Who are you with?”
“LGBT,” said the representative.
And he was punched from behind. Then — all of this caught on camera — the crowd proceeded to start a vicious beating on him.
Finally, the fight was broken up by police, and all involved were arrested.
Meeting later that night — the representative bloodied and bruised — the entire group toasted to what a complete success it had been.
Looking at the parade we had this weekend, at the fear and violence in Moscow, we might wonder why.
But they marched. For the first time, though it was only a block, they marched.
And the people who were arrested from the fight? The attackers were detained. The gay man was set free.
For them, this was a huge success, and worthy of celebration.
The ones who had unveiled the banner were, while the others toasted, still locked in those rooms. It took another day before they could safely leave.
So when Nikolai Alexeyev rolled by this weekend, holding aloft his Russian flag, I cheered as loud as I could.
His story is a sobering reminder that, while we celebrate in Vancouver, being gay is still a crime in huge swathes of the world. There’s still a fight to be fought, and we can never forget that.
Spread our stories. Show the world. Forge our future.