Europe

World Cup 'safe space' for LGBTQI+ community shut down in St Petersburg

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Russian LGBTQI+ activists have been forced to relocate a World Cup community centre for ethnic and sexual minorities, claiming they were evicted under official pressure.

The Diversity House community centres in Moscow and St Petersburg were seen as a bold step forward in LGBTQI+ activism in Russia

But those behind the safe space say their St Petersburg lease was terminated on the spot and no explanation given by their landlord.

“They changed the locks on the doors. At first, they didn’t allow us to take our materials out even. They didn’t really explain why. They just said we have to leave immediately,” said Pavel Klymenko, Eastern Europe Development Officer for anti-discrimination body Fare Network, which helped set up the centres.

The activists say they were also prevented from moving their event to a bar in the same building.

“The owners of the building instructed all their lessors in this building not to work with us otherwise their agreements would be terminated,” said Mr Klymenko.

The groups decided to go public with the situation only now after efforts to solve it privately failed.

They say they’ve reached out to FIFA as it oversees the World Cup in 11 cities around Russia, but without success.

“We don’t have any other reason for this situation, for us being kicked out of the venue, other than some form of political pressure exercised on the owners,” said Mr Klymenko, adding that this kind of impediment is familiar for Russian LGBTQI+ groups.

“The organisations or initiatives that are discussing sensitive issues relating to human rights, LGBTQI+ rights, their events being cancelled last minute - if it’s a private owner they suddenly change their mind," he said, admitting Fare Network had no evidence the St Petersburg eviction was the result of political pressure.

Fans of Mexico and Germany enjoy the pre match atmosphere prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match
The alleged incident took place during Mexico's match against Germany in Moscow.
Getty

FIFA, meanwhile, has opened disciplinary proceedings against Mexico after alleged offensive chants by Mexican fans during their World Cup win over Germany over the weekend.

It’s not the first time the Mexican football federation has faced sanction over the chant. During qualifying for Russia 2018 it was punished for homophobic abuse 12 times but avoided a stadium ban.

FIFA has also asked World Cup organisers to look into alleged threatening anonymous emails to an alliance of English LGBTQI+ football fans at the World Cup.

Gay rights campaigner Di Cunningham says the Three Lions Pride group were warned that they would be "stabbed" if they made the trip to Russia

"Concerns for my safety and safety of other people that I might hang out with - yeah I do. I need to be really, really careful, not wearing any rainbow insignia, not being overtly a gay fan,” said Ms Cunningham.

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