Over 300 LGBT rights activists gathered in St. Petersburg Wednesday to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and to denounce the violent persecution of gay men in Chechnya.
Armed with rainbow flags, signs and balloons, the demonstrators called on Western governments to provide asylum for LGBT Chechens.
Though police routinely disrupt unauthorized LGBT rallies with violence and arrests, officials permitted the demonstration to go on as planned and it ended with no trouble from either side, according to 76 Crimes.
Johnny Dzhibladze of Coming Out LGBT, Igor Kochetkov of the Russian LGBT Network, Alexey Sergeev of the Alliance of Straights and LGBT for Equality and Yelena Kostyuchenko of Novaya Gazeta (who first broke news of gay persecution in Chechnya) delivered speeches at the rally.
“It’s difficult to draw any conclusions in our context, when so much depends on the political will of those in power,” said demonstration organizer Yosef Kristian. “But… our strategy is ’constant dripping wears away a stone’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.”
More than a month after reports of an anti-gay purge in Chechnya first surfaced, Russian president Vladimir Putin finally approved an investigation into the allegations last week.
Putin signed off on the inquiry even though he previously stated that he had no reason to believe claims that the Chechen government had built at least six concentration camps specifically for gay men and encouraged families to kill their LGBT children.
Even as much of the world’s leadership has acknowledged the violence in Chechnya (with the notable exception of President Donald Trump), Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continues to deny the purge, stating: “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist.”