Russian LGBT community continues to hold QueerFest, despite anti-propaganda law

The recently cancelled-but-still-held-anyway World Congress of Families is not the only LGBT-related event happening in Russia. The Russian LGBT community is continuing to gather, including at the 2014 International Queer Festival, or QueerFest.

QueerFest is an annual ten-day platform for constructive dialogue and artistic expression through open discussions, seminars, exhibitions and performances accessible to the general public across a number of venues scattered throughout Saint Petersburg, Russia. QueerFest aims to create a space without homophobia, sexism, xenophobia or other forms of prejudice in order to truly empower the LGBT community in Saint Petersburg, and thus promote social change in Russia.

QueerFest 2014, starts on September 18 and runs through the 28th. It will feature the live performances and independent projects of a number of international artists who have chosen to contribute to the cause. Among them are Swedish singer and songwriter Jenny Wilson, Israeli dancer and choreographer Idan Sharabi, German contemporary photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, Danish minimalist sculptor Henrik Olesen, and Ukrainian flash-fiction author and poet Linor Goralik.

The International Queer Festival is organized by the Russian LGBT organization Coming Out. Coming Out is devoted in its entirety to advocating for the recognition of universal human rights under the banner of tolerance and diversity, free from all forms of discrimination, particularly on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It operates in a variety of ways to guarantee freedom of expression under all circumstances and to promote the integration of vulnerable minorities in society.

The organization has been under heavy scrutiny for its LGBT advocacy. Earlier this summer, the Russian government named Coming Out as a "foreign agent," meaning it was considered to be a spy organization harmful to the country. A Russian judge claimed that “Coming Out” violated the right of “persons with traditional sexual orientation," and that the brochure for the organization is propaganda material.

Last year's program went relatively smoothly, despite the presence of Russia's "anti-propaganda" laws, but organizers of QueerFest 2014 remain concerned for this year:

“We expect bomb threats, visits from extreme right group members and orthodox activists, “provocations” with minors, and harassment of the organization. Threats already fill the internet," says Polina Andrianova, one of the festival organizers. "And yet, it feels that we’ve already succeeded, as the spirit of celebration and pride is in the air and will be with us these ten days. Everything is so gloomy throughout the year, it feels good to set aside a time when the LGBT community, our supporters and allies, can join together to openly and publicly celebrate our work, our identities, and our lives!”

GLAAD encourages media to highlight the programs at QueerFest, and monitor the reactions from anti-LGBT figures, both in Russia and abroad.