BUSHWICK — He may have grown up in Russia, but ever since Evgeny Nitsenko came to New York City six years ago, he's identified more with the local arts scene than he has the Russian community.
But this summer, news of LGBTQ crackdowns in his home country prompted Nitsenko to act — through his Brooklyn concert-booking agency.
"We're really passionate about the music and art scene in Brooklyn," said Nitsenko, 27, of the Russian and Ukrainian founders of his agency, Bandshell. "And we’re angry and frustrated about this whole situation with minorities and human rights in Russia... If you're a gay person on the street you can basically get beaten up on the street by neo-Nazis."
Now Bandshell — which organizes shows at Glasslands, 285 Kent and other venues — is hosting up to four concerts a month, with all proceeds going to organizations helping LGBTQ advocacy groups in Russia and New York.
The money is divided between the nonprofit Coming Out, which does legal advocacy and work with individuals in Russia, and the local nonprofit Research Without Walls, which helps LGBTQ expatriates in New York seek asylum.
After already hosting three concerts, the next show on Oct. 25 will feature a mix of techno, rave and "post-Internet electronic" acts at Bushwick's art space and DIY venue The Living Gallery.
Evgeny said Russia's new law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations around minors" was the ultimate impetus for his action.
The law, which prompted international protests after President Vladimir Putin signed in July, was "absurd and dangerous," Nitsenko said. Putin has insisted the law is not discriminatory, but Nitsenko said his LGBTQ friends in Russia felt targeted and fearful, and he noted that Moscow's Gay Pride Day had been banned for 100 years in other recent legislation.
"It’s a scary beginning of something even more dangerous. If they come for gays, they come for Jews tomorrow, and the day after they come for you," he said, warning that even groups in Russia who aren't currently targeted are vulnerable.
Even though Nitsenko said he interacts with few Russians in New York, he said he felt a responsibility to help those back at home.
"Obviously I don't live in Brighton Beach, I live in Bushwick," he said of the small number of Russians in his neighborhood, compared to the Brooklyn enclave.
"We work with the local art community, even though the fundraisers are for Russia... But since we're from Russia, we know how to distribute those funds in the right hands."