Pride marched into Brighton Beach!

Pride marched into Brighton Beach!
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

They made history in Brighton Beach!

Hundreds of marchers descended on Little Odessa for the first-ever Russian-speaking Pride March on May 20. Brighton Beach is known for its conservative values that many of its immigrant residents brought with them from the former Soviet Union, but marchers proudly stood tall as they walked along the boardwalk to show their neighbors that they refuse to hide, said Luis Santiago, from the group ACT UP New York, which is committed to ending the AIDS crisis.

“There was a great spirit of stepping up and coming out. We are here, and you have to deal with it. We are never going to be invisible,” said 60-year-old Santiago, who came out as gay back in his hometown in Puerto Rico at age 17. “I think it went pretty well. As part of our work, we also support fights against different acts of discrimination that make the fight against AIDS more difficult. Homophobia is one of them.”

Santiago said he has hope for the Russian community, because the overwhelmingly Catholic and Spanish-speaking neighborhoods that he is familiar with have recently come a long way with their tolerance toward the LGBTQ community.

“It reminded me a lot of when I came out in the Hispanic community, Puerto Rico in particular, there was that initial reaction of people. But time goes by, and they learn more about what it is to be gay. Barriers are broken down,” he said. “So I did talk to some of the Russian-speakers — just trust that this is going to change because it happened to us. So I hope the same happens with the Russian-speaking communities.”

Marchers were prepared for the few intolerant slurs they received — and many police officers were standing by in case of trouble — but the pride parade went off without untoward altercations, said organizer Lyosha Gorshkov, from RUSA LGBT, a U.S.-based network of Russian-speaking LGBTQ immigrants and their allies.

“We are making some history there in Brighton Beach. We expected some provocation, but thank God it didn’t happen, and we were well-protected by the police,” said Gorshkov, who identifies as queer and moved from Russia to Midwood in 2014.

And the historic day drew important guests — Public Advocate Tish James marched in support, and Broadway star Josh Daniel from the musical Book of Mormon powerfully sang “We Shall Overcome,” said Gorshkov.

“It was great. He showed up, it was amazing and everybody was very excited,” he said.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.