BRIGHTON BEACH, Brooklyn (PIX11) — Members of the LGBTQ community within the Russian-speaking diaspora in New York City readied their banners, placards and outfits slapped with rainbows. Their pathways all led to Riegelmann Boardwalk where the sixth annual Brighton Beach Pride March took place on Sunday.
Since 2017, RUSA LGBT, an organization of Russian-speaking LGBTQ people and allies, has been holding the event, advocating for solidarity with queer immigrants and combating gender-based violence, among other causes. This year, its members are putting emphasis on ending Russia’s war against Ukraine, taking up the banner, “Free Ukraine = Free World.”
“The war in Ukraine has affected the community and shaken the community,” said Lyosha Gorshkov, co-president of RUSA LGBT and organizer of the Pride March.
Gorshkov said there is a division within the Russian community in the city, between those who side with Putin’s administration and those who are against it. Not only that, but the ongoing war has understandably created rifts between Russians and people with ties to other post-Soviet states, even within the LGBTQ community.
“It makes Russians feel helpless because none of them in our community support the war but they cannot stop it,” Violette Matevosian, development coordinator of RUSA LGBT, said. “That is why we are marching this year together with the emphasis on the Ukrainian community specifically, as they are the most vulnerable and need the most support.”
The message matters. Where it’s conveyed does, too. Gorshkov explained why the Pride March, which he called his “baby,” is held in Brighton Beach, which he referred to as the “heart of Russian-speaking diaspora in immigration and exile.”
“People have closed the borders of Brighton Beach for the exclusive community, which is homophobic, sexist, racist and intolerant to a lot of things,” Gorshkov said.
There are community leaders who agree.
“Gay people really have a hard time in that community,” said Sharon Kleinbaum, the senior rabbi at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah — the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue — in Manhattan.
According to Gorshkov, a significant number of Russian asylum seekers who flocked to New York City and sought assistance from RUSA LGBT decided to reside in Brighton Beach since many of them do not speak English.
“They face the same treatment they face in the countries that mistreated them,” he said. “So that’s why, for us, it’s significant to be there, to be present, to make sure that we are visible and we are providing the place for those who have not come out yet, probably who have not yet had the strength to march in solidarity.”
Matevosian, who has attended previous Brighton Beach Pride Marches, said they have noticed residents opening up more toward the LGBTQ community.
“We feel less alienated and we see how more and more people are waving at us while we are marching with Pride flags,” they said.
Gorshkov said that although there are still residents in the neighborhood who remain unwelcoming, the past six years of holding the Brighton Beach Pride March have made it possible for the LGBTQ Russian diaspora to gain friends, partners and collaborators from different industries, giving members of the community access to opportunities.
But more importantly, the Pride March allows the community to celebrate, to be free and to fight for their rights.
“It’s for us, it’s for ourselves to reaffirm our own identities, to reaffirm our place … that we are not going to be defeated, we are not going to give up and we are not going to surrender to that bigotry and ignorance,” Gorshkov said.
This year’s Brighton Beach Pride March kicked off at the Coney Island Wonder Wheel. RUSA LGBT invited everyone to join.