Activists gathered on the eve of the Sochi Olympic Games to slam the Russian government's anti-gay policies.
About 50 protestors and activists gathered in front of the Russian Consulate on Church Street last night to express solidarity with Russia’s LGBTQ community, and to condemn the country’s legal and social oppression of the queer community.
The protest featured Russian expats, as well as queer organizers from Nigeria, Brazil, Jamaica, and India, many of whom argue Canada’s support of the Sochi Olympic games lends credibility to the Russian government’s anti-gay agenda, and to similarly repressive regimes worldwide. In June of 2013, Russia’s parliament unanimously passed laws banning so-called gay propoganda. The laws restrict public discussion of queer relationships, and establish jail terms for those who contradict the Russian Orthodox Church’s view of traditional relationships.
Nadine Tkatchevskaia, a student and queer Russian activist, told the gathering that people in her home country are being beaten, jailed, and humiliated simply because of whom they love. “Enough is enough…Queer Russians, you’re not alone!” Tkatchevskaia said, to cheers.
A teenage student named Justin, who left Russia four months ago to study in Toronto, spoke of how he was removed from school and sent to a doctor after he came out to his family and teachers. In an interview after his speech, Justin told us that he is still afraid to discuss his sexual identity. “But I know Canada protects me, and if people do bad thing, police arrest them.” Justin added that he was encouraged by community mobilization against the Russian government. “When I see how people want the rights, I feel that Russia and other countries have a great future.”
Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer and activist with Aids Free World, spoke passionately about being a proud Jamaican who was nevertheless choosing to boycott the Olympics. “I cannot support anyone giving props to a regime which feels it’s okay to hurt innocent LGBT youth.”
A protestor named Michelle agreed, telling us that she was trying to discourage her employers from screening the Olympics in her workplace. She said that while Canada’s Olympic athletes may attempt to show solidarity with queer Russians, doing so could put them at risk. “I’d be grateful for them [protesting], but they shouldn’t have to—it’s not their job.”
Protestors cheered and sounded air horns in front of the consulate building during speeches, then marched under police escort in frigid temperatures down Church Street to Ryerson University, the site of a post-event video screening and conversation. The demonstrators chanted, “Stop the bigots, stop the hate, queer rights now!” and “We’re cold, we’re bold, we’re fucking pissed off!” as shoppers and storekeepers in the Gay Village looked on.
Mayors of major Canadian cities have chosen to fly the rainbow flag to show solidarity with Russia’s queer community. Toronto officials followed suit this morning, but Mayor Rob Ford immediately demanded the rainbow flag be removed and hung a Canadian flag in his office window in protest. When asked to explain his position, Ford told reporters, “This is the Olympics. This is about being patriotic to your country. This is not about your sexual preference.”