You’ll probably be thinking that I’m going to celebrate by bringing you something typically English, but I’m not. St. George may be the patron saint of England but he’s also the patron saint of many other places as well – he even has a country named after him, Georgia (the US state is named after King George II). I’ll stick to Europe and celebrate the lgbt heritage of a city of which St. George is its patron saint, who appears on the city’s flag, and it’s a city that can hardly be called gay-friendly at the moment and has been at the centre of some violent gay rights campaigns and protests – Moscow.
Below is a very simple map of the city with 10 locations of lgbt heritage. Roads are given in white, rivers and water in blue, parks and open areas in green, the Kremlin complex is in purple and Red Square is in (what else) red.
1) OLYMPIC STADIUM AND PARK – Built for the 1980 summer Olympics this stadium was deprived of seeing the likes of lgbt Olympians Greg Duhaime and Louise Ritter compete in steeplechase and high jump respectively. However, elsewhere in the city Cuba’s Rafael Polinario and Brazil’s Jackie Silva did compete in swimming and volleyball respectively. In 2009 the arena was the venue for the Eurovision Song Contest. The only lgbt performer was Alex Panayi, backing singer for the Greek entry. He had previously represented Cyprus as one half of the duo Voice, and has been backing singer in 4 Eurovision finals, including the winning Greek entry in 2004. In the 2009 Eurovision semi-finals held here the Swedish band The Ark with gay singer Ola Salo, finished 18th.
2) TVERSKAYA YAMSKAYA STREET – Sophia Parnok (1885-1933) was dubbed “the Sappho of Tverskaya Yamskaya street”. She was Russia’s first openly lesbian poet. In 1909 she moved to Moscow but never really settled in one place. She lived at 17 different addresses in Moscow between 1909 and 1932. Tverskaya Yamskaya was her Moscow home for the longest period. Sophia’s lesbian poetry caused problems with the Soviet censors who eventually declared her work as unlawful. Sophia died in a village not far from Moscow.
3) PUSHKIN STREET – One of the most influential lgbt writers in Russia in the second half of the 20th century was Yevgeny Kharitonov (1941-1981). He lived during the time of Soviet suspicion of anything different, and Yevgeny’s openly gay writing was certainly seen as un-Soviet. The KGB were always watching him, and they let him know it. The pressure from this constant persecution may have contributed to the fatal heart attack he had in June 1981 as he was walking down Pushkin Street.
4) MOSCOW TCHAIKOVSKY CONSERVATORY – Many Russian musicians have attended this establishment. One of the people regarded as one of the country’s greatest pianists, Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), studied here from 1937. Despite rumours of his homosexuality circulating during his lifetime he remained a very private and discreet man. He met soprano Nina Dorliak in 1945 and she became his life companion in the public eye. The Moscow Conservatory was named after the most famous of Russia’s lgbt composers, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, in 1940.
5) BOLSHOI THEATRE - This venue has seen the world premiers of several famous productions by lgbt Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” in 1877. Among the gay dancers who have been members of the Bolshoi ballet company is Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993), and Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) of Ballet Russes was a guest dancer many times.
6) LUBYANKA BUILDING – Formerly the HQ of the NKVD (in English, the People’s Commisariat for Internal Affairs), and later the KGB. During the period 1936-8 the Head of the NKVD was Nikolai Yezhov (1895-1940). He was personally appointed by the dictator Stalin and immediately began making arrests on fake charges on anyone considered un-Soviet. He was responsible for authorising the arrests and executions of thousands of Russians. In 1938 his new deputy manipulated Yezhov’s downfall and resignation. In 1940 Yezhov was arrested and tortured and “confessed” to incompetence, theft and collaboration with Nazi spies. The only confession he made for which there is evidence is that of being gay. Subsequent Russian biographers follow the now-expected official view that homosexuality doesn’t exist in Russia and dismiss this specific confession. Other biographers (non-Russian) accept it.
7) THE KREMLIN – The palace of the Tsars. Moscow during the 15th to 17th centuries had a highly visible gay culture. Foreign visitors were often shocked and surprised at the openness and tolerance of gay men in their society, from peasants to princes. Vasili III, Grand Prince of Moscow (1479-1533) is a Tsar cited as being homosexual. After 20 years of a childless marriage he denounced his wife as barren and pushed her off into a convent (where she had a son by someone else!). Desperate to provide an heir Vasili remarried but could only have sex with his wife if a handsome, naked soldier was in bed with them. The situation produced a son who later succeeded Vasili as Ivan the Terrible.
8) NOVOPASSKY MONASTERY – From the final decade of the imperial Romanov dynasty one member of the family often regarded as being gay was Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857-1905). He was a brother of Tsar Alexander III, who appointed his Governor of Moscow in 1891. Sergei’s time in office was marked by several contradictory events. He supervised the magnificent coronation of Tsar Nikolas II, which also saw the Khodynka tragedy in which 13,000 peasants were killed in a crush for the traditional coronation hand-out of gifts. Sergei’s first major decision in office was to expel all Jews from Moscow, yet he was patron of several welfare charities. Grand Duke Sergei was assassinated by a member of the Soviet-Revolutionary Party just outside the Kremlin. His remains are now buried in the Novopassky Monastery.
9) STATE CHILDREN’S LIBRARY – In July 2013 sic lgbt activists were arrested outside this library a month after Putin’s anti-gay legislation came into force. Leading the protest was activist Aleksey Davydov (1977-2013). He unfurled a banner saying “Being Gay is Normal”. He and the other activists were arrested and detained in a police station. Davydov had previously led a protest in Red Square. Just 2 months later Davydov died of kidney failure caused by an infection.
10) VOROBYONY GORY – This popular, picturesque location was the venue of Moscow Pride 2009, held on the same day as the Eurovision Song Contest (see Olympic Park above). Moscow authorities had banned all Pride events since 2006. Activists have held Pride protests every year in defiance and have often seen violent clashes with the police. The location of the 2009 Moscow Pride was changed at the last minute to this location but police attacked and arrested many who attended.