unless you’ve been living under a rock or otherwise blissfully ignorant (these days i am not sure i could blame you) you’ve probably heard that Russia is anti-gay. i planned this trip last year before the “anti-propaganda law”. despite calls for boycotting tourism and the Winter Olympics (for which i have a trip planned in order to continue my curling tradition), i do not intend to do either. partially because i’m too cheap to lose out on the value of something i already paid good money for, and well, anyways, i digress since this is a travel blog. suffice it to say, i have not experienced any sort of homophobia (as far as i know), though i don’t think i’m that obvious 😛
i heard a couple days ago about QueerFest, an international queer culture celebration that has taken place here in St. Petersburg for the past several years. the centerpiece this time around is a photo retrospective titled “LGBT: Russia, XX century”, which takes a look back at gay life/struggles in the country during the previous century.
i’m a big fan of photography exhibitions and felt like supporting something like QueerFest was the least i could do while i’m here. it sadly, but unsurprisingly, continues to face public pressure, with attendees having to face a small protest at its opening.
but alas, it didn’t work out. i tried, though! according to the website the festival is happening at a space called “The Non-Existent Floor” in an apartment building in town. according to google maps, it’s not in the most central of locations — all the way at the end of Line 5 of the metro. (btw, google transit does not know that you can transfer directly from L1 to L5 at Pushkinskaya/Zvenigorodskaya — yes, transfer stations have two or more names depending on which line you’re talking about…i know O_o).
as you can see, it’s not in the most tourist-friendly of locations (pretty much prefab apartment complex suburbia). despite being at the address listed on the QueerFest website, i wasn’t sure i was at the right place, since there were no signs or any indication something was going on. i certainly didn’t expect a big banner, but perhaps even a small post-it note with entry/access instructions? i walked around the complex (buildings 7 and 9) but nothing. there were some stores on the ground floor but no way to get inside to any event space whatsoever. and yes, it should have been open according to the exhibition’s page.
both doors leading to the inside had keypad locks and signs that indicated there were 16 floors — “The Non-Existent Floor” space was on a 17th. is this why it is called “Non-Existent”? in any case, i couldn’t get in until someone was moving some furniture and propped a door open. i hustled my bustle inside and found the elevator…which had a 17th floor button! i was in luck!
but when i got all the way up there, there was just a closed and locked door. i peered through the peephole (which had a bent rod sticking out of it?) and it looked like there was only junk(?), certainly no art exhibition.
at that point i wasn’t sure what to do so i returned down to the ground floor and looked up the website again hoping to find some information on how to get in. nada. disappointed, i turned around and headed back to the hotel. 🙁
- there were two locked entrances to the building, one on each side. i only had access to one of them; maybe you had to use the other?
- there was a buzzer by the door on the 17th floor but since the place didn’t look occupied and i felt self-conscious enough as it was, i chickened out of pressing it. i did knock lightly though, for whatever that’s worth.
- i would have asked/attempted to ask someone, but the fact of the matter is: gay + Russia + visitor/outsider = probably best not to.
- then my thoughts began to wander:
- what if they got shut down?
- what if they got shut down and hooligans turned it into a trap?!
- what if someone was following me home?
luckily no one did follow me home and i didn’t entertain the latter of those two thoughts for long — i think i still believe too much in the good of humanity and those ideas do seem a bit out there…i hope.
in any case, i’m sad i was unable to see the exhibition and i do wish QueerFest the best of success in their continuing perseverance to ensure the gay community in Russia is not silenced. i’m glad i attempted to go, though. it was a nice small adventure and it does put my conscience slightly at ease that i even tried.
p.s. at least the metro station, Komendantsky Prospekt, is aviation-themed! according to that wiki article, it’s because there used to be an airfield there many many decades ago.