A 'safe space' for LGBT+ football fans was shut down on eve of World Cup in Russia

A group that was providing a 'safe space' environment for LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities in Russia during the World Cup have reportedly been evicted from their building.

The Diversity House in St Petersburg was reportedly shut down on the eve of the World Cup, which began on 14 June, despite plans for it to be open during the entirety of the tournament..

The BBC reports that at the last minute the building's owners terminated their contracts and locked them out of the premises without warning or explanation.

A spokesperson told the BBC:

They asked us to leave the place very rudely, switched off the electricity and they explained nothing to us.

The space was set to hold football themed exhibitions, match screenings, fan exchanges as well as other events for minority groups during the summer football tournament.

The Football Against Racism in Europe network, an organisation that aims to combat inequality and discrimination in European football, believe the actions of the building's owners were potentially political.

In a statement on their website, FARE executive director Piara Powar said:

The way in which the Diversity House was closed down is familiar to organisations in St Petersburg, they recognise it as the method through which the city authorities shut down activities which do not conform to their political outlook.

It is difficult to obtain anything but anecdotal evidence to support the assertion but it seems to be clear that the project in St Petersburg has been subject to a political attack of the kind that shows how debates about human rights are curtailed by powerful conservative political forces in Russia.

The St Petersburg Diversity House is run by an amazing group of civil society organisations in co-operation with the Fare network. Its objective was to be a space that celebrates diversity and be a space for debate and exchanges. It is not a provocation and the content breaks no laws.

Piara adds that information about Diversity House was shared with the correct authorities in both St Petersburg and Moscow ahead of it's opening and that security forces were also consulted.

Fortunately, a new location has been assigned to Diversity House in St Petersburg, which was opened on Saturday, but Piara stated that they will not back down if they continue to be harassed.

The St Petersburg House has now established new premises and will plan to open today.

If the local authorities continue to apply pressure, we are quite prepared with our local partners to play cat-and-mouse with them until they see the value of what we are trying to do.

He also thanked FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura, who has attempted to raise the issue at a high level but has been unsuccessful thus far.

Despite homosexuality not being illegal in Russia, the prejudice that LGBT+ people in the country still receive is rife and has already been on display at the tournament.

Activist Peter Tatchell has been present in Russia conducting one-man protest against the Russian government's anti-LGBT+ laws, which led to his temporary detainment.

A coordinator for World Cup volunteers has already vowed that police will be informed if they see two men kissing while Fifa is also investigating reports that Mexico fans made homophobic chants during their game with Germany on Saturday.


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