By Mancunian Matters staff
Mancunians are being urged to send a message of solidarity to gay people in sister city St Petersburg as part of this weekend's Manchester Pride celebrations.
Earlier this year, the government of St Petersburg introduced draconian anti-gay laws that in effect ban references to homosexuality.
It means that an event like Manchester Pride would be outlawed in the city.
A planned St Petersburg Pride march and rally has already been banned and both gay and straight people have been fined and arrested.
Now, as thousands of people arrive in Manchester for the annual Pride festival, residents and visitors alike are being encouraged to text their message of support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people in St Petersburg.
After Pride, all of the messages will be sent to an LGBT group in St Petersburg.
Councillor Bev Craig, Manchester City Council’s lead member for lesbian issues, said: "It’s hard to believe that in this day and age that people still suffer state persecution simply because of their sexuality. But, sadly, that is true in many parts of the world, including our sister city of St Petersburg.
"This is a great chance to send a clear message to gay people in St Petersburg that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in their fight for equality. It would be amazing if we could send thousands of messages of support to our friends in St Petersburg so I would ask people to please send a text. It will only take a minute, but it will mean so much. “
Before the governor of St Petersburg signed and enacted the law, Manchester City Council's deputy leader Councillor Sue Murphy, urged him to reconsider. She did this during a meeting as part of a visit to the city to mark the 50th anniversary of the two cities' friendship agreement.
This plea was rejected, but the visit also gave Manchester the chance to build relationships with LGBT groups in the city such as Coming Out. As a city, we have pledged to raise this issue at every opportunity and actively campaign against these oppressive laws.
Leaflets and flags will be given to the spectators at Saturday’s parade and a special banner, carrying a message of solidarity for LGBT people in St Petersburg, will be carried through the streets. It will also be sent to St Petersburg after the festival finishes.
Meanwhile, one of Russia’s leading LGBT activists will be attending Pride to share her experiences of living in St Petersburg.
Polina Savchenko is one of the directors of Coming Out, a St Petersburg-based LGBT group that provides vital support to gay people in the city and lobbies for LGBT rights.
The group hopes to organise a festival in the city next month to celebrate LGBT life, despite the oppressive legislation.
Polina will address the crowds at the main stage in the festival, will take part in the parade and will meet representatives from Manchester LGBT groups.
John Stewart, chief executive of Manchester Pride, added: "While Manchester Pride is a celebration of the contribution LGBT people make to the spirit and diversity of greater Manchester, we must remember that many LGBT people around the world have little to celebrate and much to fight for.
"We are pleased Polina is able to join us at Manchester Pride and share her experience of the regressive laws that have been passed in St Petersburg. I am sure that the people of Manchester will come out in force to show their support and demand change in our sister city."
The theme of this year's Manchester Pride parade is "Queer'd Science" in honour of computer genius Alan Turing whose work in Manchester led directly to the technological revolution that has transformed all our lives.
Turing was also gay, and was hounded to his death by the state. After being arrested for being gay, he was forced to undergo brutal medical treatment to "cure" him of his homosexuality. This led to him taking his own life in 1954. 2012 would have been the centenary of his birth.
Messages can be texted to 86099 and should start with the word PRIDE. People should include their name and where they are from.
Texts to 86099 are charged at your standard text rate. That means if you have texts as part of your call bundle it is free.
Manchester Pride runs until August 27. The parade takes place on Saturday from 1pm from Liverpool Road. For more information on the free parade, and how to buy tickets for the Big Weekend in the Gay Village log onto www.manchesterpride.com
For more information on Coming Out visit www.comingoutspb.ru