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Dozens Detained at Gay Rally in Moscow

Policemen, some dressed in plain clothes, detain gay rights activist Daniel Choi, center, near the Kremlin during an unsanctioned gay pride parade in central Moscow, May 28, 2011

For the sixth year in a row, gay-rights activists have tried to stage a parade in Moscow. But dozens of people were arrested after the activists clashed with counter-protesters.

Russian officials have detained three global gay rights leaders, and dozens of others, after they tried to stage an unsanctioned rally near the Kremlin.

Police say a small crowd of marchers, some waving rainbow flags and others carrying signs that read, “Russia is not Iran,” was attacked by an ultra-Orthodox group who had successfully lobbied the Moscow city government to ban the event.

The leader of Russia’s Orthodox Union, Leonid Simonovich, said people should not be allowed to hold a gay pride parade.

He said God once burned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and if something like homosexuality was condoned in Russia, God would burn down Moscow as well. He referred to the Russian capital as a “holy” city.

Witnesses say police aggressively detained the marchers, protesters and members of the ultra-nationalist group before leading them off to waiting vans.

U.S. gay rights activists Dan Choi and Andy Thayer were detained, along with France’s Louis-George Tin.

Many rights activists had hoped they would be able to hold a gay-rights parade after former Mayor Yuri Luzhkov was fired. Luzhkov had likened homosexuality to the devil.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, but homophobic attitudes remain. In October, the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia for banning homosexual parades in Moscow.

Officials say most of the detained have been released.