Side by Side: Homosexuals and Homophobes

Graphic artist Victoria Lomasko has travelled Russia, drawing stories to show a side of Russia that is hardly ever seen. In this extract from Other Russias, she shares her experience at the Side by Side LGBT film festival. 

Other Russia image

A Dangerous Opening

Police got word of a bomb threat to the movie theater several minutes before the festival’s opening ceremony at the Warsaw Express shopping and entertainment complex. While police combed the building for a bomb, festivalgoers socialized outside in the chilly wind.

“There are homophobes on the corner. They’re really creepy.”

A gang of big skinheads gathered a few meters away from us. As Gulya later explained, these were nationalists from an organization called Soprotivlenie (Resistance). One female moviegoer standing next to me was visibly nervous.

“Now they’ll start throwing rocks at us, like during the [LGBT] rally at the Field of Mars. Now they’re going to fire air guns at us!”

Among the gay activists was Dmitry Chizhevsky, with a black bandage on his face. He had recently been attacked at an LGBT community center where he’d been shot in the eye with an air gun.

Side by Side organizers asked festivalgoers not to wander off by themselves.

Five Bomb Threats over Ten Days

On five separate ocassions, the police received false threats that bombs had been planted at Side by Side festival venues. Loft Project ETAGI Art Center and Jam Hall Cinema were each threatened once, and the Skorokhod cultural center, twice.

The police and an ambulance came each time, and everyone was evacuated from the buildings where the alleged bombs had been planted. At ETAGI, the staff, hostel guests, and the patrons of its cafés, bars, and shops were kicked out onto the street along with LGBT activists.

The people responsible for the false bomb threats were never found.

Other Russia 2 Image
Side by Side co-organizer Manny de Guerre: “No venue will ever work with us again.”

Manny’s worries were justified. After the bomb threats, both the Zona Deistviya co-working space at ETAGI and Jam Hall Cinema terminated their agreements with Side by Side for the remaining screenings.

One day, the festival program was disrupted entirely. No screenings were held, and a discussion entitled “Young People’s Freedom to Access Information on LGBT Issues” was canceled.

Lena Klimova, a journalist and founder of the internet project Children 404, an online community for LGBT teenagers on Facebook and VKontakte, was supposed to take part in the discussion. She had traveled hundreds of miles for the festival.

Other Russia 3 Image
Lena Klimova: “In our city, many people don’t even know the word LGBT.”


At Side by Side, I noticed that the LGBT community was not free of sexism, either. Spotting my jury member badge, one young gay man asked me what movies I would be voting for. Hearing that I had chosen Blue Is the Warmest Color and Lesbiana: A Parallel Revolution, he said, “Those films are so boring. And lesbian sex is disgusting to watch.”

Most of the films shown at Side by Side were shot by male directors and dealt with gay love. Lesbiana was the only feature film at the festival made by women about women. The screening room was half-empty: the men did not attend.

Other Russia image 4

After-Party at the Malevich LGBT Club

Sitting among gays and lesbians at a private LBGT club, I mulled over my impressions of the festival. I had felt frightened several times during the clashes with homophobes, and I felt glad to be heterosexual. I would not be forced to live my entire life in a constant state of anxiety.

Toward the end of the festival, Gulya Sultanova said, “We’re just a festival, but it feels like we’re running a military operation.”

LGBT activists are just people. Why must they live as if they were invisible or criminals?

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more