The first-ever Russian float made its debut appearance at New York's Gay Pride on Saturday with organisers drawing attention to the ongoing plight of LGBT communities in Russia and other Soviet Republics. The float, organised by a group of New York-based Russia-speaking gays and lesbians, also displayed messages calling for a boycott of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi where local courts have banned Pride House, dedicated lodgings for LGBT athletes.

Pasha Zalutski, the main organiser of the float, told RIA Novosti: "We're celebrating the opportunity we don't have in Russia so that we can be honest with the public about the fact that we're Russian and we're gay." Zalutski, 31, moved to the US from his native Belarus after winning in the Green Card Lottery in the early Noughties. The float, paid for by individuals and sponsors, was the culmination of a series of Soviet-themed parties organised by Zalutski.

Gay Pride celebrations across the globe coincided with a violent rally in St Petersburg where activists protesting for gay rights clashed with anti-gay nationalists. Dozens of protesters were arrested for violating the city's "gay propaganda" law, which bans the propagation of homosexuality to children. A day after the rally, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to take the law nationwide. He is also expected to sign a bill that will ban the adoption of Russian children by same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples in countries where gay marriage is legal. Against this backdrop, anti-gay sentiment in Russia has surged in recent months with two men brutally murdered in what have been described as homophobic attacks.

Artyom Langenburg, online editor of lifestyle magazine Sobaka, who attended the rally with his boyfriend and three heterosexual friendstold told The Calvert Journal: "My boyfriend and I, and three of my heterosexual friends knew that we would be in danger beause the degree of homophobic hysteria spread by the authorities in the last three or four months has increased dramatically. We had to go. The more we hide away scared, the worse it will be for the LGBT community."

According to Langenburg, "Cossacks, a couple of Orthodox priests and Neo-Nazi activists" hurled stones, eggs and empty bottles at protesters. He said: "It was an unforgettable experience. A mixture of terror and unbelievable enthusiasm, hopeless anger and vulnerability, and a feeling of fraternity with a few dozen strangers."

Meanwhile back in New York, Russian LGBT, a group separate to the one behind the float, organised a virtual march for those in Moscow, where Gay Pride events have been banned for the next century. The online march was developed by ad agency M&C Saatchi New York along with gay rights groups NYC Pride and RUSA LGBT, both based in the US. In a show of solidarity, while New Yorkers marched across the city, Muscovites took steps along a virtual route. 

Source: RIA Novosti/NPR