Marching With Russians in the NYC Pride Parade During Moscow’s Darkest Hour

July 1, 2013 | Marina Galperina

Nothing says “Free Pussy Riot!” quite like Putin pasties on a hairy barrel chest. We’re crammed in tight just off Fifth Avenue prepping for the Pride Parade and my giggling, balaclava’ed neighbor flicks the pasty-Putin’s nose. The tassels spin. Hours earlier in St. Petersburg, 40 gay rights activists were attacked by 200 nationalist thugs. They were pelted with eggs, rocks and fists, and then rounded up by the riot police for gathering “illegally.”

As women in Soviet “Pioneer” schoolboy uniforms give me a mock salute on the corner of 40th and Madison, Putin signs the “gay propaganda ban” in Kremlin. The ban makes mentioning homosexuality in a public space a crime punishable by a fine and — if you happen to get the shit beat out of you in broad daylight — demonstrated, vicious apathy from cops. Meanwhile, the NYPD marching band is warming up with “Y.M.C.A.”

Ukraine’s working on a “gay propaganda ban” of their own, Anna Kirey from the Human Rights Watch tells me. “They’re accomplishing exactly what they set out to do — instilling fear into the general population,” she explains. Ukraine’s ban seems particularly ominous, menacing with a 6-year prison sentence.

There were three “Russian” groups at the NYC Pride Parade yesterday — a few representatives in the Human Rights Watch section, the very diverse Russian-Speaking American LGBT Association and NYC Pride Parade’s first ever “Russian” Gay Eastern Bloc float.

I wanted to interview the float maestros first, but they were busy touching up sheer army print tule wrapped around the “From Russia With Love” truck. The synergy of high heels, toy Kalashnikovs, speedos, crosses and machine gun rounds draped as sashes over hard, shiny bodies was a statement enough. It’s relatively the same statement that the Queer Arab Collective was prepping thirty feet away. It’s the same statement that the Israelis were twerking over a block away, poised awkwardly directly behind the Human Rights Watch. The nationalistic pageants of pride would commence shortly. [Insert your variably-intolerant country’s name here], represent!

“You have to see our dedushka,” Ukraine-flag swinging Gleb says, winking handsomely. The sparkle-spangled dedushka is about 75 and doesn’t appear to speak a Slavic language, but he’s got enough anti-Putin placards for everyone.

Over two million attend to watch NYC Pride Parade yearly, over 13,000 participate and there are roughly 150 people in the RUSA LGBT section, possibly more than had illegally gathered in the entire country of Russia that day.

We’re off. A few blocks in, I’m self-consciously rubbing my sentimentally leaking tear ducts. It’s my first pride parade this side of the barricades. It’s better than a press pass. Turns out that two miles of very densely-packed Manhattan cheering from both sides of the road can be very asserting and cathartic. Hi, Mom!

As Midtown becomes the Flatiron District becomes the West Village, the crowd changes. The Midwestern-ish and the young professionals thin out, replaced with queer families, bears and bubble-blowing teenagers. Churches give us cookies and little cups of water. The truck in front of us is live-geo mapping our #virtualpride tweets to a streetview of a matching route in Moscow. The van behind us is blasting everyone’s favorite Russian lesbian-lite mascots t.A.T.u. and the very popular Ukrainian babushka-drag act Verka Serduchka. Christopher Street is packed and howling, overflowing porches spill into the path of our victory lap.

Defeating DOMA added an extra pep to everyone’s step this year, almost as if the LGBT of America isn’t systematically oppressed, but hey, there’s definite progress, a progress Russians can’t begin to hope for.

There’s a Russian expression meaning, approximately, “God helps those who help themselves,” but without the God part. Something to the effect of, “Rescuing someone who is drowning is the business of the one who’s drowning.” It’s one that Anton Krasovsky said to me earlier in the day, when I asked him how US-based rights groups can help in heavier oppressing countries.

“This is not just about LGBT rights. This is human rights… It’s not going to get better, not under the current government, only worse,” Krasovsky said. A prominent political journalist and former editor-in-chief of pro-Kremlin cable channel Kontr TV, Krasovsky came out on air, because Russian people were being violently murdered and treated like terrorists for being gay. He was fired. Kontr TV was shut down.

“What is happening in America serves as an example of how a society could actually be built,” Krasovsky said. In other words, Russia will just have to watch US’s baby steps while floundering in a cluster-fuck of confusion and corruption.

We’re done and after the third time the cops prevent me from hopping back into the parade against the current to catch the Russian party float, I perch under a stranger’s soaking umbrella and watch dozens of corporate and political groups parade by. Gay cyclists, volleyball players, wall climbers. Gays of Google, Shutterstock and CitiBank. Gays for Quinn, Weiner, Whoever.

“That’s just getting ridiculous,” someone scoffs on this walking barrage of IRL banner ads, but if just one corporation identified themselves as an LGBT ally, if one political candidate publicly supported Gay Rights in Russia, if any visibility was allowed at all — then, maybe, the masses would respond in kind. Or maybe, this is just capitalism being capitalism, riding the rainbow coattails. In either case, no one left limping or bleeding yesterday.

(Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork, see more in the gallery)