Russian fundamentalists impact California politics

Just curious Sergey, what's your opinion?

For Gays, a Loud New Foe


Sacramento's large enclave of immigrant Slavic evangelicals is becoming a force on social issues. Their actions shock many.

By Rone Tempest, Times Staff Writer
October 13, 2006

SACRAMENTO — Organizers of the annual Rainbow Festival were prepared for trouble.

The Q Crew, a local "queer/straight alliance," distributed cards telling people what to do if approached by hostile demonstrators. Sympathetic local church groups formed a protective buffer along the festival ground's cyclone fence. Mounted police were on patrol.

"So far, so good," he said. "No Russians."

The festival, held last month amid the gay bars, restaurants and shops of midtown's "Lavender Heights" neighborhood, went off without conflict. But the elaborate security preparations reflected growing tensions between Sacramento gays and the city's large and vociferous community of fundamentalist Christians from the former Soviet Union.

Over the last 18 months, Sacramento Russian-language church members have picketed gay pride events, jammed into legislative committee meetings when gay issues were on the agenda and demonstrated at school board meetings.

Incited by firebrand Russian Pentacostal pastors and polemical Russian-language newspapers, the fundamentalists turn out en masse for state Capitol protest rallies.

Last June, urging readers to attend a massive rally, the Russian newspaper the Speaker told them:

"Make a choice. It's your decision. Homosexuality is knocking on your doors and asking: 'Can I make your son gay and your daughter lesbian?' "

In most instances, the Russian-speaking demonstrators far outnumber representatives from all other anti-gay groups combined. Anti-homosexual rallies that a few years ago attracted a few dozen participants now regularly draw hundreds and sometimes thousands, many with a heavy Russian accent.

Even in a state capital where impassioned public demonstrations are a daily event, the Slavic fundamentalists stand out. Elderly women in babushkas stand next to small children carrying signs stating: "Perversion is Never Safe" and "I Am Not Learning About Gay People."

Speakers address the crowds fervently in Russian and Ukrainian.

After a wave of religious refugees that began coming here in the late 1980s, Sacramento now has one of the largest Russian-speaking populations in North America: an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Slavic immigrants, community members say. They came primarily from the Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and the other southern Soviet republics, and settled mostly in Sacramento's northern and western suburbs.

These immigrants are different from their Russian-speaking counterparts in New York's Brighton Beach, San Francisco's Richmond district or West Hollywood, all established Russian-immigrant enclaves that are mostly Jewish or Russian Orthodox and generally coexist with large gay populations.


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