November 3, 2013 at 9:52 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Members of Russian HIV/AIDS group attacked

Russia, Moscow, Red Square, St. Basil's Cathedral, gay news, Washington Blade

Two masked men on Nov. 3 attacked members of a Russian HIV/AIDS group at its St. Petersburg office. (By David Crawshaw via Wikimedia Commons.)

A Russian LGBT rights advocate on Sunday said two men attacked members of an HIV/AIDS service organization in St. Petersburg.

Anastasia Smirnova of the Russian LGBT Network said in an e-mail to LGBT rights advocates that two masked men with air guns and baseball bats attacked those who were attending a social gathering at the St. Petersburg office of LaSky, a Russian HIV/AIDS group that serves men who have sex with men. The advocate noted two people were injured during the attack.

Smirnova said police arrived, but they “left right away” because “they did not see any evidence of the crime.”

Fontanka, a Russian news website, cited an official with the Russian Interior Ministry who confirmed the incident took place.

“Pograms are becoming a reality,” Smirnova said. “Now it is not migrants, but the St. Petersburg office of LaSky.”

The attack took place against the backdrop of ongoing outrage over Russia’s LGBT rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

President Vladimir Putin in June signed a broadly worded law that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second statute that bans foreign same-sex couples and any couple from a country in which gays and lesbians can legally marry from adopting Russian children took effect in July.

A 2012 law requires LGBT groups and other non-governmental organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent.”

Activists maintain the deaths of two men in Volgograd and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East earlier this year underscore the fact that anti-LGBT violence remains a pervasive problem in the country.

Police in St. Petersburg on Saturday arrested 40 LGBT advocates and a group of nationalists who challenged them during a gay rights rally. Authorities in May arrested 30 gay rights activists who tried to stage a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall.

Officials in Murmansk in July arrested Kris van der Veen and three other Dutch LGBT rights advocates for violating the country’s gay propaganda law while they were filming a documentary on Russian gay life. Authorities fined the activists 3,000 rubles or roughly $93 and banned them from entering Russia for three years.

The two men who attacked Dutch diplomat Onno Elderenbosch inside his Moscow apartment last month drew a heart with an arrow through it and the LGBT acronym in lipstick on a mirror in his home.

Putin said during an Oct. 28 press conference in Sochi that gays and lesbians will not suffer discrimination during the Winter Olympics, even though Russian authorities have previously indicated they plan to enforce the gay propaganda law during the games.

“It is hard to imagine how people can be welcomed equally regardless of sexual orientation when such a law… is in place,” Smirnova told reporters during an Oct. 29 conference call the LGBT advocacy group All Out hosted.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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