They’re making history in Brighton Beach — and they’re proud!
Marchers in the country’s first-ever Russian-speaking pride march — Brighton Beach Pride — will be making their way through Little Odessa on May 20 to show the enclave of conservative Russians that they’re here and they’re queer.
The seaside neighborhood is home to large groups of Russian-speaking immigrants who fled their communist countries in the 1980s and ’90s around the fall of the Soviet Union, and many still hold onto the motherland’s homophobic views. But marchers want to change that, said one of the organizers from RUSA LGBT, a U.S.-based network of Russian-speaking LGBTQ immigrants and their allies.
“Some people, who live in Brighton Beach, have not adopted all American values, including tolerance towards the LGBTIQ community. Our members, who settle down there experience a lot of issues with homophobia and transphobia — LGBTIQ people experience slurs, and discrimination,” said Lyosha Gorshkov, who identifies as queer and immigrated from Russia to Midwood in 2014. “That’s why we have to stand up for ourselves and raise our voice.”
Many in the Brighton Beach community — which voted overwhelmingly for President Trump, and where residents of Trump Village applauded that their home bears his name — still hold on to some of the conservative values from back home, said Gorshkov.
“They came from a different background and different historical period of time,” he said.
But many LGBTQ millennials from the former Soviet Union are still immigrating to Brighton Beach today because of the comfort of living in a neighborhood that speaks their language — and they deserve to feel safe and welcome in their local grocery store too, said Gorshkov.
“We are marching on Saturday because we want Brighton Beach to be tolerant and more accepting place for all people,” he said.
But the discrimination unfortunately doesn’t end with the older population, said Gorshkov, because some of the younger immigrants who have settled down in the neighborhood brought with them the intolerance they grew up with back home.
“It’s not only about the old generation — the people who are coming recently, not LGBTQ, but coming from former Soviet countries and the very young generation who inherited homophobic intentions from the countries of their origin now,” he said. “But we live in New York, and we want Brighton Beach to be a part of New York.”
And the neighborhood’s residual prejudice feels especially unjust, said Gorshkov, because many of those living there today are Russian Jews who fled from persecution themselves.
“Many people, who came here in 1970s and ’80s, were predominantly Jewish people, who fled from the Soviet Union escaping from persecution,” he said. “But some of them exhibit intolerance to gay people, black people, Muslim people and others. With our march we try to break through the wall of intolerance towards LGBTIQ people.”
And the horrifying news that’s coming out of Chechnya about its government torturing and detaining gay people makes this march even more imperative, said Gorshkov.
“It’s a pretty tough topic right now,” he said. “We are trying just to acknowledge this issue being here in the United States, because we do have people from Chechnya who come here and we want to support them as well.”
But Gorshkov hopes the first march of its kind will make his neighbors more accepting and open-minded so they can all live there harmoniously together, he said.
“I hope it will be a sunny day with a lot of happy faces, a lot of enjoyments, a lot of encouragements,” said Gorshkov. “We are not invisible — we are here, we are queer — we live in the same neighborhood, go to same stores, go to same medical facilities and you have to respect our rights.”
“Brighton Beach Pride” at the Riegelmann Boardwalk (3 Riegelmann Boardwalk near Ocean Parkway in Brighton Beach, rusal