Russian gays have for the first time registered an LGBT advocacy group with the government without the need for court intervention.

Coming Out of St Petersburg was formed in April 2008 and is part of the Russian LGBT Network.

“This is a truly historic moment,” said Igor Petrov, chair of the Network.

“This is the first time Russian officials made no attempt to hinder an LGBT organisation in its attempt to attain legal status.

“We believe it to be the first result of the campaign for freedom of association begun by the Russian LGBT Network in 2006.”

In 2006 Rainbow House, an LGBT group in the Russian city of Tyumen, was refused registration by the government. 

It claimed Rainbow House would endanger the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

The same year the Russian LGBT Network and human rights organisation Agora provided aid in the judicial defense of the Rainbow House. In 2008, the case of the Rainbow House reached the European Court of Human Rights.

The issue of the observance of rights of LGBT people’s freedom of association was raised by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

The director of Coming Out, Valery Sozaev, said:

“Our registration would not have been possible without the support of the Russian LGBT Network and constant consultations with legal experts from the Human Rights Resource Centre of St Petersburg.

“This is a very important event for us. It opens up more opportunities for reaching our goals, including the opportunity of regular contacts with the government.”

In May last year Coming Out organised the Day of Silence, as part of the International Day of Silence, dedicated to the problem of silencing discrimination, physical and emotional abuse, hate crimes, and intolerance towards LGBT people.

On October 2008 it organised the first Coming Out Day in Russia.

The group said its monitoring of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity will continue in St Petersburg and it will continue to develop its education and information work.

Activists in Moscow have been denied permission to conduct a gay Pride march, demanding equal rights for sexual minorities, every year since May 2006.

Last weekend a group of fifty activists from France and eastern Europe demonstrated in Strasbourg outside the Council of Europe, the institution that oversees the Europe-wide human rights convention.

They called on the European institutions to force the authorities in Russia and Belarus to respect their commitment to the European Convention of Human Rights and let LGBT people enjoy the rights that others have.

“Every year, Russian authorities ban [Moscow Pride],” Nikolai Baev from the Pride organising committee said in a radio interview.

“Council of Europe officials write wonderful letters to Russian authorities about the necessity to respect the rights of LGBT people, nevertheless, year after year, we see the same violence, same aggressions and same breach of human rights.”