Democratic Party chairman in San Antonio calls gays ‘termites,’ likens Stonewall to Nazi Party

Dan Ramos sought Stoneawll Democrats’ endorsement during his campaign for chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party in 2010. But now he thinks Stonewall is “the equivalent of the fuckin’ Nazi Party.” (QSanAntonio)

It isn’t overly surprising to hear that a county party chairperson in Texas called gays “termites” and likened the Stonewall Democrats to Nazis. But it is a little surprising that it came from a county chairperson in the Democratic Party. Dan Ramos, the embattled chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party, made the statements Friday in an interview with the San Antonio Current:

While the LGBT community has long found support within the national Democratic Party in its search for equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals, Ramos called the gay-rights movement a “very sinister movement” that is out of touch with San Antonio’s values.

In an interview with the Current today, Ramos blamed homosexuals in the party for both undermining his authority and for the poor election results in Bexar County in 2010. “They are all connected to the gay Democratic Party, the so-called Stonewall Democrats. Just like termites they managed to get some of their people in key positions,” he said.

The party faithful has been largely divided over Ramos since he was elected to office in May, 2010, but his chief detractors are all homosexuals, Ramos said.

Ramos said he opposes homosexuality on religious grounds and doesn’t believe gay-friendly Democrats like Stonewall reflect the values of Bexar County voters. “I liken them to the Tea Party — the Tea Party and the fucking Nazi Party — because they’re 90 percent white, blue-eyed, and Anglo, and I don’t give a fuck who knows that. Just like the blacks … they’re American, but you can’t get your way just because you’re black.”

The LGBT news website QSanAntonio reports that Eduardo Juarez, co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio, issued a statement today to the group’s Board of Directors in response to Ramos’ remarks.

“Mr. Ramos’ alleged comments blaming and condemning LGBT Democrats are so plainly ludicrous and divisive, they do not even merit a response,” Juarez said. “We Democrats are too busy right now working on real and important tasks at hand, including the task of uniting our party.”

QSanAntonio also reports that Ramos’ statements are especially surprising given that he sought the Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement in January 2010 when he ran for the position (photo above).

The Bexar County Democratic Party has been rocked by scandal in recent years, with its former treasurer awaiting trial on charges that he embezzled $200,000. The party was unable to fund a campaign in 2010, and Ramos reportedly has been a divisive figure ever since he took over as chair. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, has filed legislation that would allow state parties in Texas to remove county chairs for “incompetency or official misconduct.” The bill reportedly is aimed at getting rid of Ramos.

UPDATE: Boyd Richie, chair of the Texas Democraticy Party, issued the following statement calling for Ramos’ resignation late Saturday.

“From virtually the first day he took office, Dan Ramos has kept the Bexar County Democratic Party in a constant state of turmoil. He has consistently refused to follow the Bexar County Democratic Party Rules and the Texas Democratic Party Rules, failed to call or attend meetings required by the local Rules, failed to recognize properly established local committees and officers, refused to elect Precinct Chairs in the manner required by the Rules and the Texas Election Code, and failed to assist Democratic candidates seeking office.

“I will not dignify Mr. Ramos’ most recent outburst by restating it, but I will make it clear that the bigoted attitudes he expressed are totally contrary to the Beliefs and Declarations of the Texas Democratic Party. I am shocked and outraged that an individual who claims to be an officer of the Democratic Party would hold such positions and I’m appalled that he would make such absurd statements.

“For many months, Democratic Party officials and activists have petitioned the State Party to intercede in the Bexar County situation. Until recently I resisted those requests because I believed that the best remedy would be one crafted and agreed to by Democrats inside Bexar County. Just yesterday I sent a letter to Mr. Ramos and other concerned individuals inviting them to a sit-down to discuss the problem. I no longer believe that such a meeting would be useful or have any purpose. What is necessary is for Dan Ramos to immediately resign and allow the Bexar County Democratic Party to move forward with new, more unifying leadership.”

Also, Daniel Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, sent over an open letter to Ramos that we’ve posted after the jump.

—  John Wright

Bigot of the Day: Voddie Baucham

Voddie Baucham

Voddie Baucham is a preacher at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas. On Saturday, he addressed the opening session of the 2011 National Religious Broadcasters, an annual gathering of Christian broadcasters that’s taking place in Nashville. According to The Christian Post, Baucham urged them “to not buy into the ‘gay is the new black’ propaganda, but instead to remain committed to defending biblical marriage on the airwaves.” Baucham lamented that some broadcasters have become reluctant to bash gays on the air:

“The reason is the homosexuals have effectively co-opted blackness…to where now, we actually believe gay is the new black and we actually believe homosexual marriage is a civil rights issue,” he explained.

“I’m insulted that people equate not just a sinful behavior but a behavior that’s a special category of sin called abomination with the level of melanin in my skin,” he said.

On a more positive note, the Rev. Cindi Love will appear Tuesday at the National Religious Broadcasters. Love, a former Dallas resident who now serves as executive director of Soulforce, reportedly is the first gay or lesbian leader invited to NRB. According to a press release, Love will participate in a Public Policy Debate on the church’s response to the gay rights movement. The panel will be moderated by socially conservative radio host Janet Parshall, and Love will square off with Joe Dallas, “former homosexual” and “ex-gay rights activist” and co-author of The Complete Christian Guide to Understanding Homosexuality.

“I’m grateful that the NRBC has offered me the opportunity to debate a prominent opponent of LGBT rights before an audience of Christian broadcasters,” Love said. “Christian media has played a major role in spreading and heightening anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. and around the world. The most recent horrific example has been in Uganda, where the use of media as a tool by American evangelicals to spread misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric about LGBT people and support anti-gay legislation has created a climate of hatred, violence and fear for the country’s LGBT population. By participating in this debate, I intend to confront the rhetoric that has cost lives around the world, and attempt to open up an honest dialogue that has been absent for far too long.”

—  John Wright

Anti-war activist and LGBT ally Cindy Sheehan takes controversial position on DADT repeal

Cindy Sheehan

Activist Cindy Sheehan came out against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Sort of.

Ever since I first met Cindy Sheehan in 2004, she has been controversial. She was the first Gold Star Mom — the mother of a fallen soldier — to come out publicly against the war in Iraq. When I interviewed her then, I asked what her goal was. At the time, her main focus was that what happened to her shouldn’t happen to another mother.

She rapidly became the center of the small anti-war movement. For her efforts, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

After she demanded a meeting with President George Bush, who refused to meet with her or any other Gold Star Mom, she camped out in a ditch off Prairie Chapel Road outside the Bush “ranch” in Crawford, about 19 miles from Waco.

“Camp Casey,” named after her son who was killed, moved from the ditch to Bush’s backdoor neighbor’s property. That neighbor couldn’t stand the president or his policies either.

In today’s Al Jezeera, Sheehan wrote, “Don’t go, don’t kill.” She makes the interesting argument that the gay rights movement, which is a human rights movement, shouldn’t measure progress based on anything related to the military. She emphasizes that she is as much a marriage-equality advocate as she is a peace activist.

She reasonably asks whether enacting the bill “is going to stop the current systemic harassment of gays in the military?”

Her choice of forum is as controversial as she is. Her opinion is interesting and worth debating. She’s really saying — of course gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve. And now that you have the right, don’t do it.

When Sheehan was in Dallas for the protest against the groundbreaking of the Bush Library, she told me she’s thinking of a run for president. She promised we’d be among the first to know when she makes her decision.

—  David Taffet

HRC accused of ‘spitting in face’ of Milk’s memory

Cleve Jones, others criticize organization’s plans for ‘Action Center’ at site of slain gay rights leader’s Castro Street store

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — On the surface, the new tenant at the storefront where Harvey Milk waged his historic political campaign would seem like the last organization to anger people in the gay community.

The Human Rights Campaign, the United States’ largest gay rights lobbying group, wants to open up an information center and a gift shop in the building that would pay tribute to the slain gay rights leader.

But Milk’s friends and admirers are so incensed at the group taking over the slain San Francisco supervisor’s stomping grounds that they would rather see a Starbucks there, underscoring the tensions that exist within the various factions of the gay rights movement.

The organization is a frequent target of criticism from gay rights activists who consider its mainstream, “inside the Beltway” style ineffective. They believe the organization’s philosophy of incremental progress in the gay rights movement runs completely counter to the uncompromising message of gay pride championed by Milk.

“It’s spitting in the face of Harvey’s memory,” said AIDS Memorial Quilt founder Cleve Jones, who received his political education at Milk’s side in the 1970s.

“What’s next? Removing the Mona Lisa’s face and replacing it with the Wal-Mart smiley face?” asked Bil Browning, the founder of a popular gay issues blog.

The Washington-based nonprofit organization announced last week that it was moving its San Francisco “Action Center” and gift store into the site of Milk’s old Castro Camera.

It’s a historic site in the gay rights community. A sidewalk plaque outside that marks the spot’s historical significance and encases some of Milk’s ashes is a popular stop for visitors making pilgrimages to San Francisco gay landmarks.

In the 32 years since Milk was assassinated at City Hall along with Mayor George Moscone, the building has housed a clothing store, a beauty supply shop, and most recently, a housewares emporium.

HRC President Joe Solmonese said the new location will stock items bearing Milk’s words and image, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local elementary school named in Milk’s honor and the GLBT Historical Society. The organization also plans to preserve a Milk mural the previous tenants installed, Solmonese said.

“People are rightly protective of the legacy of Harvey Milk, and we intend to do our part to honor that legacy,” Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said. “Bringing an LGBT civil rights presence to the space that has previously been several for-profit retail outlets is a worthwhile goal.”

Not according to activists like Jones and Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for Milk — the 2008 Sean Penn movie about the first openly gay man elected to a major elected office in the U.S.

During his life, Milk railed against well-heeled gay leaders he regarded as assimilationists and elitists — Black devoted two scenes in Milk to the subject. Some of the leading activists he crossed swords with went on to launch the Human Rights Campaign, which sometimes is criticized for focusing on lavish fundraisers and political access at the expense of results, Jones said.

“He was not an ‘A-Gay’ and had no desire to be an A-Gay. He despised those people and they despised him,” he said. “That, to me, is the crowd HRC represents. Don’t try to wrap yourself up in Harvey Milk’s mantle and pretend you are one of us.”

The Human Rights Campaign has been struggling to regain its credibility with gay activists who favor a more grassroots approach since at least early 2008, when the group agreed to endorse a federal bill that included job protections for gays and lesbians, but not transgender people.

The disillusionment grew later that year with the passage of a same-sex marriage ban in California. Although HRC donated $3.4 million to fight Proposition 8, the devastating loss provoked young gay activists to take to the streets and to question the organizing and messaging abilities of established gay rights groups.

Since then, HRC has been accused of taking too soft an approach with President Barack Obama and the Congress that until last month’s election was controlled by Democrats. To some, the group’s failings were epitomized by the U.S. Senate failure last week, for the second time this year, to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military.

Black said HRC’s failure to talk to anyone close to Milk before it leased the Castro Street storefront demonstrates that it is out of touch. He and Jones think the space would be put to better use as a drop-in center for gay and lesbian youth, or if HRC partnered with another local nonprofit to ensure its sales benefit San Francisco.

“If any LGBTQ political organization is to move into Harvey’s old shop, there is a higher standard to be met, because such a move begs comparisons,” Black said. “Because it has become a tourist destination, whoever moves in that’s a political organization is in some way adopting Harvey as their own.”

HRC creative director Don Kiser understands the concerns and says he is open to suggestions, but thinks the criticism is overstated. The group obtains about one-third of the new names on its mailing lists from visitors to its retail stores in San Francisco, Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Washington. Each tourist who goes in to buy a Harvey Milk T-shirt or an HRC tote bag is a potential activist, Kiser says.

“They live in small towns in Texas and flyover states. Those are the people we need to help find the spirit that Harvey Milk had,” he said. “If they can go back and take a little of the spirit the Castro has, we will see sea changes.”

—  John Wright

ELECTION 2010: Gay marriage surfaces as an issue in state races

DAVID CRARY  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — This election will be the first since the 1990s without a measure to ban gay marriage on any state ballot, yet the divisive issue is roiling races across the country during a time of tumult for the gay rights movement.

In Minnesota, New Hampshire, California and New York, gubernatorial campaigns have become battlegrounds for rival sides in the debate, with the Democratic candidates supporting same-sex marriage and the Republicans opposed.

In Iowa, voters will decide whether to oust three state Supreme Court justices who joined last year’s unanimous decision making the state one of five where gay marriage is legal.

And in Rhode Island and California, Democratic candidates are seeking to become the fourth and fifth openly gay members of Congress. The Californian, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, has a husband and 4-year-old twins, and would be Congress’ first openly gay parent.

The races are unfolding on a rapidly shifting gay rights landscape, with activists elated by important court rulings, irked at setbacks in Washington and jolted by high-profile cases of anti-gay violence and bullying-provoked suicides.

The mixed emotions have been evident in recent days as a federal judge ordered a halt to enforcement of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The Obama administration says it agrees with the judge that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Yet to the frustration of gay activists, the administration appealed the ruling, saying it preferred that Congress repeal the policy.

“It’s the best of times and worst of times,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights.

“Culturally you see a huge increase in acceptance of gays and lesbians, and in the federal courts you see for the first time a willingness to embrace the Constitution as a vehicle for securing equality for gay people,” Socarides said. “Yet in our nation’s politics, we see essentially the opposite.”

He said President Barack Obama has failed to deliver on his pledges to gays regarding marriage recognition and repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“The president made a conscious decision coming in that these were second- and third-tier issues,” Socarides said. “People were very excited by him. But he overpromised and underdelivered.”

Obama said Thursday, Oct. 14 that the military policy “will end and it will end on my watch,” but he acknowledged the constraints of the legal process.

Republicans have not emphasized social issues as much as in recent elections, calculating that dismay over the economy and frustration with the Democratic agenda will be enough to post big gains. The GOP’s recent “Pledge to America” did not call for a federal ban on gay marriage or broach the issue of gays in the military.

“Even the most conservative Republicans understand that these issues don’t work on their behalf nearly as effectively as they did a few years ago,” said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, a major financial backer of campaigns opposing same-sex marriage, said the GOP would be unwise to soften its stance on the issue.

“We’re not saying the No. 1 issue in every state is same-sex marriage,” he said. “We are saying it’s an important issue, and Republicans abandon it at their peril.”

A look at some of the notable races:

CALIFORNIA:

The high-profile races for governor and Senate coincide with legal wrangling over Proposition 8, the ballot measure approved by California voters in 2008 that banned same-sex marriage.

A federal judge ruled in August that the ban is unconstitutional. The case will be heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December. Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for governor, supports same-sex marriage and has refused to defend Proposition 8 in court. His GOP opponent, Meg Whitman, opposes gay marriage and has pledged to defend the ban.

The Senate race has a similar split: Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer supports same-sex marriage and Republican challenger Carly Fiorina opposes it.

Proposition 8 supporters organized a bus tour across the state intended to rally Latino support for Fiorina based on the marriage issue. They also released a TV ad in Spanish highlighting Boxer’s support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

___

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

Last year, Democratic Gov. John Lynch, who said he opposed gay marriage, signed a bill legalizing it after lawmakers approved provisions affirming religious rights.

Lynch is up for re-election, facing a Republican who opposes same-sex marriage, and the National Organization for Marriage is running ads against the governor depicting his signing of the bill as a betrayal of voters.

Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center said Lynch has a solid lead over GOP nominee John Stephen in the center’s latest poll, while voters seem relatively at ease with legalized gay marriage.

“When the economy is bad, it tends to blow social issues out the door,” Smith said. “Voters are more concerned about what’s on the table than what their neighbor is doing.”

___

MINNESOTA:

There’s a similar dynamic in the race to succeed Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. GOP candidate Tom Emmer opposes same-sex marriage, while Democrat Mark Dayton and independent Tom Horner support it.

The National Organization for Marriage has run TV ads for Emmer, highlighting the trio’s stances on marriage. The ads infuriated some gay rights groups because they used the image of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs says Dayton appears to be leading, but the race is up for grabs. According to Jacobs, few voters consider gay marriage a vital issue, and Emmer has not emphasized it.

“In past years Republicans have used gay marriage as an issue to mobilize their base, to bring out conservatives,” Jacobs said. “This year they don’t need it.”

Brown, the National Organization for Marriage’s president, disagreed.

“When marriage becomes an issue, as it has in Minnesota, people understand what’s at stake,” he said. “This could be a decisive factor in governor’s race.”

___

NEW YORK:

The Republican candidate for governor, Carl Paladino, was considered an underdog from the outset in his race against Democrat Andrew Cuomo.

Now Paladino’s task may be even harder after his recent entanglement in gay-related controversies. He railed against gay marriage in a speech to Orthodox Jewish leaders, then called the bumping-and-grinding at gay pride parades disgusting.

Under fire from gay rights advocates, including the Cuomo campaign, he apologized, costing him his support from a leading rabbi. Meanwhile, news reports surfaced that Paladino was once landlord of two gay clubs in Buffalo.

___

IOWA:

Polls show Iowa voters evenly split on whether to oust three Supreme Court justices who were part of the decision legalizing gay marriage. If the effort succeeds, it would be the first time since Iowa adopted its current system for appointing judges in 1962 that voters opted to remove a Supreme Court justice.

The targets include Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, who said the three wouldn’t undertake a counter-campaign because they don’t want to set a questionable example for judges by campaigning and raising money.

Brown said removal of any of the justices would be a “game-changer” with national impact.

“Judges will have to sit up and take notice that they can’t just arbitrarily make up the law,” he said.

—  John Wright

2 arrested in anti-gay beating at famed gay bar

JENNIFER PELTZ  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — A patron at the Stonewall Inn, a powerful symbol of the gay rights movement since protests over a 1969 police raid there, was tackled to the floor and beaten in an anti-gay bias attack over the weekend, authorities said Monday, Oct. 4.

Two men were arrested in the early Sunday beating, which came little more than a day after a group of male friends bidding an affectionate good night to each other were attacked in another anti-gay assault elsewhere in Manhattan, prosecutors said.

The attacks came amid heightened attention to anti-gay bullying following a string of suicides attributed to it last month, including a New Jersey college student’s Sept. 22 plunge off the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with a man in his dorm room was secretly streamed online.

But the attack prosecutors described at the Stonewall Inn especially galled and saddened gay rights advocates, some of whom wondered whether a place known for a defining moment in the history of gay rights might spur a new push for tolerance.

For the Stonewall’s owners, the episode was a sharp and upsetting contrast to its legacy.

“We at the Stonewall Inn are exceedingly troubled that hate crimes like this can and do still occur in this day and age. Obviously the impact of these men’s violent actions is even deeper given that it occurred on the premises of the Stonewall Inn,” an owner, Bill Morgan, wrote in an e-mail.

The victim was using a restroom at the Greenwich Village bar around 2 a.m. local time Sunday when a man at the next urinal, Matthew Francis, asked what kind of an establishment it was, prosecutors said. On being told it was a gay bar, Francis used an anti-gay slur and told the victim to get away from him, assistant district attorney Kiran Singh said.

“I don’t like gay people. Don’t pee next to me,” Francis added, according to the prosecutor.

Francis, 21, then demanded money, punched the victim in the face and continued beating him after a co-defendant blocked the door, tackled the victim and held him down, Singh said. The victim was treated at a hospital and was released, she said.

Francis said nothing at his arraignment Monday. A defense lawyer said that Francis wasn’t the aggressor and that the episode wasn’t motivated by bias.

“Mr. Francis is not a violent person. Nor did he try to rob anyone,” said the attorney, Angel Soto. “There may have been a fight, but it certainly wasn’t a hate crime.”

Francis was held on $10,000 bond. His co-defendant was awaiting arraignment.

Just before midnight Friday, Oct. 1 several male friends hugging and kissing each other good night in Manhattan’s gay-friendly Chelsea neighborhood were confronted by a group of more than five people who used an anti-gay epithet and told them to go home because “this is our neighborhood,” according to a court document filed by prosecutors. Two other men lashed out with fists as Andrew Jackson hurled a metal garbage can into one victim’s head, prosecutors said.

Jackson, 20, was arraigned over the weekend on hate crime assault and other charges. His lawyer, Anne Costanzo, declined to comment Monday.

The Stonewall Inn became a rallying point for gay rights in June 1969, when a police raid sparked an uprising in an era when gay men and women were often in the shadows. Stonewall patrons fought with officers, and several days of demonstrations followed, in an outpouring that became a formative moment in the gay rights movement.

“The riots at Stonewall gave way to protests, and protests gave way to a movement, and the movement gave way to a transformation that continues to this day,” President Barack Obama said at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month reception at the White House in June 2009.

The Stonewall riots’ influence also is reflected in the names of some gay resource organizations, including student groups at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa.

For the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which works to combat attacks on gays and others, assaults like this weekend’s remain all too common problems. But the attack at the Stonewall Inn reverberates with a particularly disturbing resonance, executive director Sharon Stapel said.

“Even in a bar like the Stonewall Inn, which started a huge part of the gay rights movement — even the Stonewall Inn is not immune to this sort of violence, despite all of the work that they do to create a safe and tolerant atmosphere,” Stapel said. “It’s incredibly sad.”

But she said she hoped the incident and the atmosphere of concern about anti-gay harassment would spark new conversations about how to respond.

The Stonewall Inn has raised money for the Anti-Violence Project and other groups, and managers strive to make the bar inclusive, Morgan said.

“We do our best to run a nice, welcoming establishment where anyone can and should feel safe,” he said.

—  John Wright

Russian gay activist says he was seized by agents

Nikolai Alexeyev safe in Moscow after he says agents abducted him at the airport last week, demanded that he drop human rights complaints

JIM HEINTZ  |  Associated Press

MOSCOW — A prominent Russian gay rights activist who vanished from a Moscow airport last week said Saturday, Sept. 18 that he was back in the capital after being held for more than two days by men he believes were state security agents.

The disappearance of Nikolai Alexeyev from Domodedovo Airport sparked concern in Western Europe, with the French Foreign Ministry publicly calling on Russia to respect his freedom of movement and a German parliamentarian saying that country’s diplomats were working for his release.

Alexeyev is widely known in the international gay rights movement for his repeated efforts to organize parades in Moscow. The city, whose mayor Yuri Luzhkov has publicly called homosexuals “satanic,” routinely bans the gatherings, most of which are harshly dispersed by police within minutes.

Alexeyev told The Associated Press by telephone on Saturday that he was heading to board a Geneva-bound plane on Wednesday, but was stopped by airport officials after passing through passport and security control and told his baggage needed further inspection. He said he was taken to a small office and that the officials told a Swiss Airlines representative to offload Alexeyev’s checked baggage.

Swiss spokeswoman Andrea Kreuzer said the company was informed Alexeyev hadn’t properly passed security checks. The state news agency ITAR-Tass on Friday quoted a Domodedovo official as saying Alexeyev had been detained after refusing to remove his footwear at the security check.

Thereafter, he said, he was spirited out of the airport by four men who were not in uniform and didn’t identify themselves and was driven to a police station in the city of Kashira, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the airport.

Once there, the men insulted him, using “all the slang words for homosexuals in the dictionary” and demanded he withdraw suits he had filed with the European Court of Human Rights protesting Moscow’s banning of gay rights rallies.

The men also confiscated his cellular telephone, he said.

Russia’s Interfax news agency on Friday reported that it had received text messages from Alexeyev’s phone claiming he was seeking political asylum in Belarus and withdrawing the European court suits. Alexeyev said the texts were sent after his phone was seized.

The next night he was taken to Tula, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Moscow, and by this time “I really thought something bad was going to happen; it was really frightening,” he said.

But the men took him to the outskirts of the city around dawn on Saturday and released him, after which he made his way by bus to Moscow.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, but anti-gay feelings remain strong.

Moscow’s bans on gay rallies and Luzhkov’s comments have drawn wide criticism from abroad.

Gay activists have announced plans to rally outside the mayor’s office on Tuesday, Sept. 21 to protest his recent use of the word “fag,” which a court subsequently ruled could not be deemed offensive.

Luzhkov, who has been under increasingly strong pressure to resign in recent months, unexpectedly announced Saturday that he would take vacation next week in Austria and the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted a Kremlin source as saying “he needs time to think.”

—  John Wright