Despite harassment, St. Petersburg QueerFest closes on high note

The following is a closing statement from the organizers of the St. Petersburg QueerFest. You can read a recap of the opening ceremony, as well as an overall timeline of harassment, venue changes, and a bomb threat.  

Saturday, September 27, Russian "QueerFest" closed with a discussion on art and civil citizenship, and a final concert “St. Petersburg against Homophobia”, visited by 300 people. Despite the extreme pressures on the festival from right extremists, the police, and the cancellation of venues, the sixth annual "QueerFest" ended on a high note of success.

From the very opening ceremony, which had to change location in the hour prior to the event due to a sudden cancellation of contract from the venue (apparently, the arch above the entrance door was about to collapse), it became clear each day would be a struggle to stay public, visible, and safe. In the next ten days, the festival faced 4 last-minute venue cancellations, over 40 venue refusals, one bomb threat, and frequent visits by aggressive men (24 complaints were filed with the police from victims of the attack at the opening). Organizers discovered that venues were pressured by the police, whose main argument was that “public disturbances” would ensue for which the venues would be held responsible, and with threats of checks and audits.

Several events had to take place in “closed” formats with online feed. However, the festival’s goal being open dialogue with the public, going “underground” could not be a solution, and the last main three events were open for everyone. Of those, the lecture by Linor Goralik on teaching tolerance to kids was attended by 140 people, over 25% heterosexuals. Overall, over 1000 people visited festival’s events, while 800 more joined online. Festival received a lot of media coverage, and gained new allies.

Thanks to the resilience of partners (the European University of St. Petersburg, the Norwegian University Center, the Institute for Regional Press, the club Infinity), who stood up to the threats of the police, the incredible endurance of the festival’s volunteers working around the clock, and the faith of the LGBT people of St. Petersburg and their allies, who kept coming to the events regardless of the threats to safety, the festival reached its goals of empowering LGBT people and reaching wider audiences with the message of tolerance.

“The fact that so much effort was made to close us down speaks to the relevance of our event, and the fact that we made it is a boost for LGBT community’s confidence. We showed that together we are strong enough to persist, as long as we are needed,” says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival’s organizers.

We thank all of our partners and colleagues who provided support, attended events, and made the festival happen.