MOSCOW, Jan. 26, 2009— -- Moscow's openly homophobic mayor has once again pledged to prevent his city from holding gay pride parades, calling homosexuality a "social plague."
"For several years, Moscow has experienced unprecedented pressure to conduct a gay pride parade, which cannot be called anything but a satanic act," Mayor Yury Luzhkov said Monday, according to the Interfax news agency.
"We have prevented such a parade and we will not allow it in the future. Everyone needs to accept that as an axiom."
Luzhkov compared "same-sex so-called love" to other "social plagues" like drug abuse and xenophobia, saying, "it is high time to crack down on them with all the power and justice of the law instead of talking about human rights."
"We need a social whip or something like that, not a liberal ginger cake," he added.
Luzhkov's vitriol raised few eyebrows among gay activists; they tried to sue him for libel in 2007 after the first time he promised to stop the "satanic" parade. The campaigners lost the case.
"There was no surprise because we're used to such comments from the mayor," prominent gay rights activist and parade organizer Nikolai Alexeyev told ABC News. "We don't plan to make any changes, we are still going to [hold the parade] on the 29th of May."
This will be the fifth year in a row a parade has been staged in Moscow, though they have never been approved by the city authorities.
Last year's parade coincided with the 'Eurovision' song contest and ended with arrests after marchers defied the ban and clashed with police. Alexeyev is optimistic that the European Court on Human Rights will force Russia to allow this year's parade in Moscow.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in Russia in 1993 but homophobia still runs deep. Alexeyev blames it on the "hysteria" created by people like Luzhkov.
"The majority of gays and lesbians in Moscow have to conceal their identities to live their normal lives," he said. "They're not open to their colleagues at work, in their studies at university."
"It's not very easy, and this is Moscow. In the rest of the country the situation is much worse, there is no gay infrastructure. Authorities there can be much more homophobic," he added.
In October, a lesbian couple tried to become Russia's first married gay couple but their application was turned down after the authorities cited the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The women married in Canada, but last week a Moscow court refused to recognize their marriage.
Despite the lack of tangible success, Alexeyev says the situation is improving little by little, most apparent in the way the issue is covered by the media, which is heavily controlled by the state.
After state-run television ran a story on the lesbian couple, "the report was so neutral, and in a way positive, that we were surprised," he said.Alexeyev believes it's only a matter of time before homosexuality becomes more accepted in Russia and gay marriage is legalized.
However, "until the state does something to promote tolerance and understand that sexuality minorities are also an important group of minorities they have to protect, the situation will not change," he says.
"We can't change the perception of society without the participation of the state."