Three years ago this week, Leo Allenby arrived in New York, leaving Russia after an attack left him with injuries so severe he required surgery.

As the owner of a gay club in Moscow, Allenby had been the subject of incessant threats. When he was finally physically attacked, the police refused to do anything about it.

Leo Allenby. Photo: Supplied

“I tried to get justice, but the police and prosecutors refused to investigate the attack on me because I am the owner of a gay club,” he said.

“Moreover, they threatened me to hand me over to the occupying Russian authorities in Chechnya, who could have killed me.”

Now, Allenby is working to create a safe and inclusive space for Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking queer community.

On Dec. 12, he will host DISCOtheQue, a holiday celebration for the Russian-speaking queer community featuring some of the biggest stars in Russian-speaking queer world.

Unifying Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking LGBT community

DISCOtheQue is an idea Allenby has wanted to execute for years.

The premise is to bring together New York City’s Russian-speaking community, and celebrate its culture and creative accomplishments.

Despite living in relatively-progressive New York, there is still discrimination against queer people within Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking communities, DISCOtheQue PR consultant Maxim Ibadov told BK Reader.

Historically speaking, most of the post-Soviet immigrants, including queer immigrants, settled in Brooklyn, most prominently in the south Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.

The lineup for the event is a star-studded drag and music event. Photo: Supplied

However, Ibadov said most of the queer residents in those areas still experience microaggressions and discrimination due to a lack of LGBTQ spaces and visibility, HIV stigma and conservative political attitudes.

“There are two parallel worlds: one in English, where many write “appropriate” things, and one in Russian, where many write openly discriminatory statements,” Allenby said.

He said he and others were striving to change that, and to showcase the diversity of the Russian-speaking community, who are all different and speak a plethora of native languages from their home nation — Chechen, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Georgian, Ukrainian — plus Russian and English.

Russian drag queen Zaza Napoli will perform at the event Dec. 12. Photo: Supplied

Allenby is already making big moves. In the summer, he helped organize the first Russian-speaking LGBT Pride Festival in the USA with the help of Bushwick queer club “3 Dollar Bill.”

DISCOTheQue will build on the success of that event, with 3 Dollar Bill opening its doors to welcome Russia’s most popular drag queen, Zaza Napoli, drag visionary Gioconda, and artists bringing Russian hip-hop, rap, pop and house mixed with folk.

Supporting other immigrants in NYC

Allenby is originally from Chechnya, a region in south east Europe occupied by Russia, which is notorious for its state-sponsored violence against the queer community, and where LGBT people are forced to meet in secret, or risk prison, torture and murder.

While gay establishments do operate in Moscow, Allenby said, if the owners do not cooperate with the authorities, venues are quickly shut down.

Russian drag artist Gioconda. Photo: Supplied

Allenby, who is HIV positive, said he was grateful to New York and New Yorkers for the handling of HIV today.

“New York helps HIV positive people a lot, including people without official status or before getting it,” he said.

Allenby also gives back, having started a Facebook support group “WE together” to help new immigrants, especially HIV positive ones.

For the past three years he has also been doing parties for the Russian-speaking LGBT community in some of the best gay clubs in the city.

“My first party was at the legendary Russian restaurant in Manhattan, Russian Samovar, known to many from the TV series Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw met Baryshnikov,” he said.

His dream is to open a Russian-speaking club in the south of Brooklyn in order to change attitudes of intolerance among the Russian-speaking community in New York “from the inside.”

DISCOtheQue kicks off at 5:00pm on Sunday, Dec. 12 at East Williamsburg club 3 Dollar Bill. For more information and tickets, click here.

Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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