Oscar winning MILK team attends Side by Side LGBT Film Festival in Russia, bomb threat disrupts opening

For months, GLAAD has been working with Russian LGBT advocates to being attention to the country's anti-LGBT actions. Russia banned adoption of Russian children to countries with marriage equality. Then, the Duma passed a law banning so-called "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors." Additionally gangs of thugs have targeted gay men and transgender people for attack, torture, and humiliation, as videos of the attack are posted on the internet with impunity.

GLAAD's work with the LGBT Russians have given us an insight to a resilient and defiant community, continuing to gather. A few months ago, we brought you images of the Queer Pride Festival in St. Petersburg, where LGBT Russians and allies gathered to celebrate LGBT Russian culture.

Today is the beginning of another LGBT gathering in Russia. The Side by Side LGBT Film Festival is opening in St. Petersburg, featuring LGBT-themed films from around the world. The opening night of the festival was delayed for 90 minutes because a bomb threat was called in. According to Queer Russia, while the attendees were being evacuated, "Aggressive opponents of LGBT also gathered near the cinema, but police is holding them back. After checking, the building is still going to host the first screening."

Attending this year's festival is the team behind the award winning film MILK. Director Gus Van Sant, Producer Bruce Cohen, and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

On November 30, the festival will show a very special screening of MILK, followed by a discussion with Van Sant, Cohen, and Black. They are photographed here at the 2009 GLAAD Media Awards, along with producer Dan Jinks.

Bruce Cohen, who has been outspoken in his support for LGBT Russians, was excited about the opportunity to use his film to stand in solidarity with them:

“For over a century, our countries have both valued cinema as a means of expanding cultural understanding. Time and again we've broken down the barriers between us by sharing our cinematic achievements. Our hope in screening the 2009 Academy Award winning film Milk -- about the late civil rights leader, Harvey Milk -- is to encourage respectful conversations that might create deeper understanding. Cinema has that power. For this reason, we would like to bring our film to your country and participate in the meaningful dialogue we feel certain this screening will create between the people of our great nations.”

In the past year Russia has attracted considerable attention from those in the entertainment industry. Celebrities have been watching closely the developments concerning LGBT and human rights abuses in Russia with horror, astonishment and incomprehension, and asking what they can do to help. Many of the filmmakers, whose work is making up the festival's program, have also come forward in a sign of solidarity and issued statements of support to Side by Side and the LGBT community in Russia.

GLAAD continues to offer support to LGBT Russian advocates. Our task is to raise their voices in the media and popular culture on issues of LGBT equality and basic safety in Russia.

"When asked, the Russian LGBT advocates stated that they need our solidarity. They needed us to be present, be out and be outspoken at LGBT events like the Side by Side Film Festival," said Wilson Cruz, GLAAD's National Spokesperson. "Bruce, and Lance, and Gus are using their film, as well as their very presence, to show solidarity, spark discussion, and call for a Russia that embraces all its citizens."

Take a look at the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival to see the listing of films, statements of support from other filmmakers, and the legal battle Side by Side has had to endure to hold this year's festival. Updates about ongoing threats against the Side by Side LGBT Film Festival will be shared on Queer Russia.