In Russia 5 million people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) feel the effects of homophobia. Often they are forced to hide a big part of their life out of fear of violence and aggression. A 2010 Levada-Center poll showed that 75% of Russians consider gays and lesbians to be "deficient", and almost 40% favor forced hospitalization and isolation, 4% are for physical elimination.
We cannot allow this problem to be silenced. People can hear us and see us, and that means that
the Festival has an opportunity to share our values of non-violence and respect – for everyone,
regardless of gender identity or sexuality – with the society at large.
We invite you to watch a video filmed during Queerfest 2011. It was the start of the interactive
project ART OF BEING YOURSELF, created by the media artist Kseniya Khrabrykh, in cooperation with the LGBT-organization“Coming Out”.
Festivals of queer culture are held throughout the world: in Sweden and Denmark, USA and Canada, and, recently, in Eastern Europe.
Creating a space without xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia – a space that would connect the
queer community with the rest of society.
Forming a united artistic platform for members of the queer community and other people to openly and actively participate in the social life of Saint Petersburg.
Motivating artists to be more politically engaged and encouraging them to take a more proactive
position in their civil lives.
Debunking the stereotypes about the LGBT community.
Creating a public space without homophobia, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination to encourage open dialogue between members of different groups, organizations, minorities, and
The History of QueerFest
In autumn of year 2009 for the first time in Russian history Saint Petersburg hosted the International Festival of Queer Culture.
The event had enormous cultural significance not only for the queer community, but also for the
modern art enthusiasts.
During the ten days of the Festival different venues of the city hosted plays, concerts, and discussions. Art exhibits were held, poetry battles were fought, night parties were thrown. Artists,
actors, and musicians of differing styles and aesthetic philosophies participated, from all over the
map: from many cities in Russia, from Ukraine, Latvia, Spain, Israel, and USA.
3000 people attended the event. We want to believe that every one of them felt like a part of a
common culture. The Festival was not only the beginning of a dialogue: it posited the question of
LGBT visibility in Russia, pointed out the necessity of re-evaluating the societal stereotypes.
Svetlana Yaroshenko, sociologist:
I like the idea of “different” people, the ones that don’t fit the norms, coming together. Everyone can find themselves in this situation. But often people think like it’s something exceptional. I would like this difference to not be a fashion or game of equality, but rather the object of practical dialogue.
When the desire to be seen and heard is combined with the ability to see and hear the other, and is
combined with compassion and cooperation without judgement. You need practice for that. I think art can help.
The simple fact of the Festival taking place gave us hope for further growth of this civil rights and cultural initiative, that could become a tradition in the future.
In 2010 the Queerfest encountered more hostile conditions.
The main partner of the photo exhibit “And others”, the Exhibit Centre of Artists Union of Saint Petersburg broke off the rent agreement 24 hours before the opening and informed the organizers that none of the QueerFest events would be welcome on their territory.
A team of volunteers, headed by Solmaz Guseinova, put together the exhibit in the new space (the V-club) in a single night. Despite these difficult circumstances, the well-organized and tireless work of the volunteers allowed the Festival to open on time and in full.
During the 10 days of the festival different venues of the city hosted discussions, concerts, poetic
meetings, and master-classes – all under the banner “The Art of Being Yourself”. A conference on
gender was held at the same time; the discussion resulted in a publication of the book “Is Queer a-la Russe Possible?”
The closing event of the QueerFest was a huge rock-marathon: 12 bands performed in the club
Orlandina to support the ideas of acceptance, equal rights, and non-violence. From the stage came
the words about every person's right to express love, regardless of sexuality or gender identity.
A popular Swedish musician J. J. Johanson, who came especially to support the LGBT community
of Saint Petersburg, won the hearts of the audience with his clear voice and touching songs.
The Queerfest was attended by 2700 people. According to the organizers, the festival not only
achieved its goals, but surpassed all expectations.
“If even just one person took time to think on the idea that a person being different doesn’t mean
he or she should be discriminated against, then we won,” - said Polina Adrianova, leader of the LGBT
organization “Coming Out”.
In 2010 the Festival of Queer Culture was supported by, a TV host and a journalist Vladimir Pozner, British actor and playwright Stephen Fry, mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit, Belgian singer
Lara Fabian, journalist Vladimir Panyushkin, musical critic Artemiy Troitsky, and many other
notable personalities who affirmed the importance of our project and its stated goals.
2011 was the year QueerFest attracted the attention of press. Previously the media preferred
covering gay parades, scandals, and provocations, distorting the image of the LGBT community
for their readers, but in 2011 from the opening day the Festival got reasonable informational and
analytical coverage on radio and television (more than 100 publications). This was a new and
important step for us: we managed to get the real facts to the media and change the way Russian
media talks about LGBT. Apart from civil rights and educational efforts working with the media is
the first and the most important step for forming opinions in society.
Polina Adrianova, leader of LGBT organization “Coming Out”, at the Queerfest opening:
The problem of social exclusion is there, and it’s very real. But people who never experienced
it find it very hard to understand it and accept it as their own. Art helps them to live that experience
as their own, and that causes them to think and feel empathy. The language of art is accessible for
every human being, and that’s what helps us understand each other.
In 2011 photo exhibits, open discussion and debates, meetings with artists and musical
performances were attended by 2000 people.
An important victory of that year was that in 2011 for the first time there was open and direct
dialogue between the LGBT community and the supporters of traditional values. Before that, any
attempts of LGBT activists to open a discussion were met only with refusal to talk about anything.
After agreeing on the discussion, most of the participants admitted the importance of the problem and expressed their opinions and their fears. As remarked one of the participants of the debate “The concept of human rights in traditions of Russian culture”, journalist and writer Valery Panushkin, “discussions like this should happen not once, not twice, but hundreds of times, every day: on this issue, on that issue – on all sorts of issues”. Providing a space for the discussion is QueerFest's main goal.
Another important thing happened that year: the Queerfest had its first feminist event. Before 2011 Russian LGBT activism rarely met with feminism, even though the problem of gender discrimination directly affects lesbians, gays, transgenders, and bisexuals.
Feminists from many countries and schools of thought gathered together to discuss their views, sparking the interest of the public and the media. The result of the discussion was the publication of
the book “I’m a feminist. Do you want to talk about it?”, edited by Maria Sabunayeva, in autumn of 2011.
The “Queerography” exhibit, curated by Nadya Plungyan was a compendium of photographs, collages, video and film in which the authors talked about the first-person perspective of being
marginalized and socially excluded. It took over four of the festival venues in Saint Petersburg. The
main space of the Queerfest was dedicated to feminist art.
As it happened in 2010, the things didn’t run smooth. Right before the opening the administration of “Nepokorennye, 17” demanded that a series of photographs by a Moscow photographer Olga Akhmetyeva be removed from the exhibit. It was a series of male portraits where the men were depicted outside of the stereotypes of masculinity, from the point of view of male vulnerability. At the same time “scandalous” depictions of a gay pride parade on display right next to them caused no objections. Thanks to the organizer of the exhibit, Sasha Semenova, the photographs by Akhmetyeva were moved to the space of the art gallery “March”.
“Queerography” included not only well-known names (Mattia Insolera, Serge Golovach, Steven Bekley, Lida Mikhailova), but also young artists of Russia and Ukraine: Kir Esadov, Mikaela, Polina Zadirako, Karina Sembe, Smart Mary, Elena Maksimova, Ekaterina Gaidukova and others. “Pain”, directed by Marina Vinnik and nominated for the Kandinsky Award, premiered in the feminist art space. One of the displays of the exhibit was dedicated to documenting the political actions and demonstrations of the LGBT community.
At the closing rock concert the queer community was supported by Moldavian bands Cuibul и ZDOB SI ZDUB, as well as a number of Russian bands: SNEGA, FILLIN, MONOLISA, IVA NOVA.
During the 11 days of the festival the residents and guests of the city had the opportunity to join in the discussion of sex, gender, sexuality, and discrimination that LGBT people face.