June is Gay Pride Month in the United States, but this year protests are mingled with the celebrations amid concern hard-won civil rights could be under threat from the Trump administration.
In Los Angeles, Alexei Romanoff, a long-time LGBTQ civil rights activist, served as grand marshal of this year’s gay pride parade and festival. Romanoff, 80, has dedicated his life to normalizing the image of same-sex couples along with advocacy for protection against AIDs.
Romanoff's mother brought him to the United States from Russia when he was 4 years old. At the age of nine, he made a startling discovery: he was attracted to boys.
Seventy years ago, homosexuality was considered a psychiatric illness in America. If you acted on your impulses, you could have been sent to a hospital or jailed for "lewd conduct."
Romanoff recalls what happened to two friends of his, partners who were together at a bar years ago in Silver Lake, California.
"They were in a bar, and Sal was sitting in a chair and Steve was standing over him, and they were talking to a couple other people, and they were drinking," he says. "[Steve] looked away and talked to someone, and his glass tipped, and it spilled a little onto Sal, and...he brushed his chest off, Sal’s chest. And there were two vice officers in there, and they arrested them for lewd conduct.”
On New Year’s Eve in 1967, just at the stroke of midnight, policemen burst into the Black Cat gay bar and arrested 14 people who were celebrating with a kiss. In response, hundreds of gays and supporters took to the streets in what is thought to be the first mass gay rights demonstration. Romanoff was one of its organizers.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we had to do something to change the status quo,” he says.
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Over the last 15 years some states have legalized same-sex marriage. Alexei and his partner made their relationship legal in 2008. They say that marriage was necessary for them to protect each other legally.
“We found that out once when I was in a hospital, I nearly died from a ruptured aneurysm," says David Farah, Alexei's spouse. "I was taken to the hospital by ambulance, Alexei followed and he was denied admission to me in the emergency room because he wasn’t my spouse”.
In June of 2015, same-sex marriage became legal in the whole country. But there are still no laws prohibiting discrimination against sexual minorities.
“In the majority of the States of the U.S., it is legal to fire me or to deny me housing because I am gay," Farah says.
Last weekend's gay pride parade and festival in Los Angeles, during which Romanoff proudly served as grand marshal, not only celebrated gay pride, but also called for civil rights for all — gay, women and immigrants.