Russian gay leader Alekseev coming to Dallas

Nikolai Alekseev

According to information I received this morning Russian LGBT activist Nikolai Alekseev is coming to the U.S. at the end of February for a short tour that will include a stop in Dallas. He will be in Dallas March 3-4, but speaking venues have not yet been finalized.

Alekseev is probably best known to Americans as the man who organized Moscow’s first gay Pride parade, which city officials then banned that year and each subsequent year, threatening organizers and marchers with arrest when they persist in marching anyway. Alekseev himself has been arrested several times, including once last year when he was taken from an airport as he was leaving for a visit to Switzerland and held for three days. He was released after a flood of international protests against what his supporters called a kidnapping.

One of his primary opponents in his activism has been Moscow’s rabidly homophobic former mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who once called gay Pride marches “satanic.” Since Russian President Dmitri Medvedev fired Luzhkov last year, Alekseev and other activists hope that they will be able to hold a Pride march this year without threat of violence or arrest. Moscow’s gay Pride march this year is scheduled for May 28.

Alekseev has also been instrumental in organizing LGBT activists around Russia and in other countries, and has used the European court system to fight back against anti-gay oppression. Last year, Alekseev won the battle when the European Court issued a sweeping ruling in his favor.

Alekseev’s U.S. tour was organized by the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network, and he will be accompanied by GLN’s Andy Thayer. Supporters hope the tour will raise Alekseev’s profile here in the U.S. and bring more international scrutiny to the plight of LGBT Russians, thereby providing even more protection for them by increasing international scrutiny on the way Russia treats its LGBT citizens and activists.

Watch Dallas Voice for an interview with Alekseev at the end of February.

—  admin

The real Russia

Forget Cold War images of cold, gray Soviet sameness. The Golden Ring shows glorious Old World beauty

BRETTON B. HOLMES  | Contributing Writer

CHARM INITIATIVE  |  The towns along the Golden Ring, including Rostov, enchant visitors with their medieval architecture, such as churches like this one. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)
CHARM INITIATIVE | The towns along the Golden Ring, including Rostov, enchant visitors with their medieval architecture, such as churches like this one. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)

The Cold War has been over for 20 years, but for many Americans, Russia remains a mystery. From movies, we imagine a skyline of gray, Stalin-inspired buildings and murky green waters of the river that runs through the city.

Much of this misperception results from our failure to understand the country’s history. And a chance to explore that history can lead to some of the most awe-inspiring travel one can find.

Russia’s history reveals a deeper partnership with the West than many might expect. It’s actually two countries at odds with each other. The people show great fortitude and graciousness, and are among the most welcoming of cultures. Russians are a proud people, defined by an undercurrent of their Orthodox faith and the monuments to that faith that have survived the Communist state.

One of the greatest travel opportunities the country boasts can be found in the towns that make up the Golden Ring. Comprised of several cities that extend out from the country’s capital of Moscow to the northeast, it is often referred to as the “museums under the sky” because of the many gorgeous churches and monasteries found in and around them. Russians themselves often refer to these towns as “the real Russia,” as Moscow is believed by many to be something of a “country within a country.”

The Golden Ring offers great opportunities for travelers tired of the typical tourist spots. You can travel back in time walking through the halls and courtyards of buildings built nearly 1,000 years ago. Although these rural locales hardly provide nightlife opportunities for gay travelers, the chance to experience history is not to be missed.

Founded in 1152, this town boasts the Ipatievsky monastery. It is understandable why the Romanov tsars regarded Kostroma as their special protectorate. Icons and chalices, some nearly 1,000 years old, extol the history while being dutifully preserved in a surprisingly modern way. Most of the buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The Trinity Cathedral is famous for its elaborately painted interior. Photographs of the interior of the Trinity Cathedral can be had for a few hundred rubles, which the avid photographer should quickly shell out. Nuns and priests, upon seeing your photography ticket, are usually more than happy to suggest great picture spots.

Recently celebrating its millennial anniversary, Yaroslavl is a large city that boasts the Church of St. John the Baptist, a church so inspiring that its likeness can be found on one of the bank-notes. Other churches here date to the 17th century; visitors will be struck by the elaborate frescoes and enormously majestic proportions of the cathedrals. Of particular note is the Assumption Cathedral, a brand new church that doesn’t look like it. Though the city is the biggest and most active one in the Golden Ring, there is still an abiding sense of its provincial life and history.

FAIRY TALE TOWN  |  Spaso Jakolevskij monastery in Rostov is well-known for the brilliantly colored domes on its spires. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)
FAIRY TALE TOWN | Spaso Jakolevskij monastery in Rostov is well-known for the brilliantly colored domes on its spires. (Photo courtesy Svetlana Frolova)

One of the oldest towns in Russia, Rostov is also one of the best-loved destinations on the Golden Ring. Because of its meticulous preservation, it is a popular locale for the film industry. It’s home to what many believe is the most magnificent kremlin outside of Moscow’s. The cathedral and four tall kremlin churches, with their silver domes, were imitated throughout the city, a trend especially evident in the Savior-on-the-Market Church and the cathedral Church of the Nativity convent. The oldest church within the city center was consecrated to St. Isidore the Blessed in 1565. It is believed that Ivan the Terrible had the architect executed because his church was so much smaller than its predecessor.

While Rostov may appear to be a bit rundown, this characteristic only serves as a fitting backdrop to the majesty of the churches that can be found there. It’s also an excellent place from which travelers can venture out approximately 20 kilometers to the Boris and Gleb monastery. Located in the town of Borisoglebsky, it’s where Ivan the Terrible personally oversaw the construction that surrounded an even older church.

By far considered to be the favorite location on the Golden Ring even among Russians, this picturesque fairy tale village requires at least a full day’s exploration. To maintain its charm, village leaders mandated that no buildings be built more than two stories tall in the historic areas. The architectural consideration upon arrival makes perfect sense. The monasteries and churches in Suzdal offer dream-inspired views — simply walking around the village or resting in the grass under the cool shadows of the gilded church domes are memorable experiences.

The kremlin in Suzdal is the historic center of the town and provides one of the best places to view the area. Rozhdestvenskiy Cathedral is the oldest cathedral here, marked by its brilliant blue domes with gold stars. Walking down Lenin Street, you might expect to find a yellow brick road not far off. The windows of these buildings are exceptionally ornate and colorful, adding to the town’s fairy-tale appeal.

Farther down Lenin Street is the Saviour-Euthimiev monastery-fortress, with its immensely thick walls and porticos and towers letting all and sundry know that to attempt to lay siege to the place would be a rather sizeable mistake.

The Kamenska River offers travelers the best place to enjoy a traditional Russian pancake or blini. A rare and specific treat that can only be found in Suzdal is medovukha, a honey-based liquor cherished across the country. The babushkas can be seen along the lined market selling the beverage, with happy bees circling their covered heads.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

What price diversity?

Arizona law highlights the level of fear, anger surrounding immigration. But can we survive without the diversity immigrants bring?

Diane Holbert Special Contributor

The immigration debate is a sign of how difficult it is for us to live in diversity. The Arizona government recently ruled that city police forces must ask for proper documentation of citizenship if they have reason to believe that those they are stopping or arresting have no papers for being in that state legally.

The federal government and several Arizona city police forces have sued the state over the law.

So what is Arizona afraid of?

Some say a limited amount of space, others say a limited amount of resources/jobs, and others claim that continuing to keep the status quo will bring in more crime.

Yet many people think this Arizona rule is racist. I believe it may be all four reasons, but today I am most concerned about profiling, discrimination, racism — essentially, the fear of diversity.

The U.S. is currently attempting the greatest experiment in diversity in the history of the world. We’re asking an enormous amount of ourselves to live in such diversity.

Our country is growing rich, not poor, in diversity: Hindus and Muslims, gays and straights, Protestants and Catholics, Russians and Vietnamese.

The list shows our wealth as a nation.

I have a friend who hired an undocumented worker several years ago. For “Pedro,” being hired by my friend meant he could send money to his family back in Mexico on a regular basis. He also knew that the longer he stayed to work with my friend, the higher was his risk of being caught.

It has now been four years since he has seen his family. He knows that if he returns home, he will probably never be able to come back to the place where he is making a steady wage.

Pedro is a reliable man who works diligently.

My heart says to welcome the stranger, like Pedro, and to be unafraid of what he brings to us. I welcome diversity and its wealth.
But my head says that it’s important to be a nation of order. So, what to do? How do we live in profound diversity?

There needs to be a clear pathway to citizenship for all people who are willing to contribute to our society. We need to be able to tax all workers to broaden the base of our infrastructure. Increased attempts to police the border will be no more successful than “The War on Drugs.”

We must honor and respect all persons among us and offer channels to become partners with us.

The way we deal with the question of immigration will say a great deal about our commitment to diversity or our rejection of it.

Diana Holbert is senior pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens