The first Brighton Beach Pride, led by RUSA LGBT, a group for Russian LGBTQ émigrés, drew 300 marchers to the uncharted territory — for gay demonstrators — of the boardwalk in a Brooklyn enclave of Russians and other Eastern Europeans on Saturday, May 20. The overcast skies greatly diminished the number of regulars on the boardwalk and beach, but the marchers shone with elation at every step.
“We are doing something historic here,” Lyosha Gorshkov, co-president of RUSA LGBT told the crowd at the rally. “I was forced to leave my country [Russia] because of being LGBT. I had no place to go. I had no friends. Now all of you are my friends. We have to make Brighton Beach safe for all of us!”
Journalist Masha Gessen, who also fled the anti-LGBTQ Putin regime and has been warning Americans about the dangers of Trump’s authoritarianism, said, “This is what pride looks like! Pride is political! Over the last few decades, people may have forgotten that. Pride is about going into a place that can be frightening. It was wonderful to see people waving at us.”
With Chechen crackdown, torture in mind, émigré community shows pride in Brooklyn
Locals in their apartment buildings and in restaurants on the boardwalk were indeed waving to the marchers, clapping, and taking pictures with their cell phones. Some were amused and a few looked a little agitated as they spoke to the media, but there were no incidents.
Ann Northrop, a longtime lesbian and AIDS activist, said, “We are all pioneers here today. It takes vision and courage to be here today, whether in Brooklyn or in Russia, but we have the privilege of bringing a message of freedom and justice all around the world.”
Northrop invited students from the Social Justice club at Leon M. Goldstein High School in Manhattan to this event after speaking to them in their school, and they joined the march along with representatives of ACT UP, Queer Nation, Out in Rockaway, Queens Pride, Rise and Resist, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Dignity/ New York, the Alliance for Positive Change, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.
Public Advocate Letitia James told the crowd, “We are Russian and we are gay and we are welcome here! I am the only elected official here, but as you grow they will all come out! You will put steel in their backbones. I was there when we first marched in Bedford Stuyvesant and they said we couldn’t. Now everyone comes out for Pride in the ‘hood. And everyone will come out for Pride on the beach. I will always stand up for the marginalized.”
Anvar Latipov, an asylee from Uzbekistan and a volunteer at RUSA LGBT, said, “What’s happening in Chechnya is terrifying.”
He added that given his experience in Uzbekistan, “I know how scared they are. They cannot accept themselves and they cannot be accepted by society.”
Elvira Brodskaya, a Russian asylum seeker also with RUSA LGBT, said, “We can’t be free in the motherland. Here we can be free!”
Yelena Goltsman, the founder and co-president of RUSA LGBT who emceed the rally, said, “In 2008, few people would come to our group. Look what we have today! The difference between 2008 and now is huge. Believe in something and go there!”
No one was pretending that all problems for these LGBTQ émigrés were solved when they were allowed to live here.
“We’re surrounded by Russians, but it’s like they’re all frozen in time with these old Soviet values,” Gorshkov, who now lives in nearby Midwood, told the New York Times. “I get nonstop abuse from everyone in the neighborhood: women in my building, men outside of bars, even children.”
But for one afternoon at least, he and his comrades were able to walk through their home turf proud of who they are.