A group of about 100 passionate queer activists took up rainbow flags and handmade signs Feb 6, filling the space in front of the Russian Consulate in Toronto, located at the intersection of Church and Bloor streets. The protesters were not discouraged by the cold weather, determined to mark the eve of the Sochi Olympic Games by shining a spotlight on homophobia in Russia.
#TOwithRussia, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and several other equality rights groups helped organize the event. A group that had protested earlier in the evening behind Queen's Park also joined the protest, further boosting the numbers in front of the Russian Consulate.
Richard Elliot, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, hopes that protests like this one give support to Russian victims and let them know they aren’t fighting alone. “This sends the message that countries that engage in persecution will not get away with it. Bullies, abusers, presidents and senior legislators will not get away with it,” Elliot says, “The world is not going to sit by and let this happen. If we remain silent, torturers and murderers get away with violence against gays.”
Organizers used oppression in Russia as a platform for a discussion about international LGBT rights. Two Russian activists were joined by speakers from Jamaica, Nigeria, Brazil and India in delivering inspirational messages and sharing personal experiences.
Community activist with #TOwithRussia Nadine Tkatchevskaia lead the speakers. “I’m here today because I’m angry and raging that 6,000 kilometres away in my home country people like you and me are scared,” she said, “They’re told over and over again that their love is not valid.”
As yesterday would have marked Bob Marley’s birthday, Maurice Tomlinson of Aids-Free World represented Jamaica by having the crowd sing a chorus of “One Love.” In Jamaica, an anti-sodomy law bans sex between men. As a result, the country remains unsafe for activists looking to challenge this legislation. Tomlinson left his home country after receiving death threats as a result of his relationship with a man.
It turns out that while the protesters were hungry for change, they were also hungry for poutine. The 8th Deadly Sin, a nearby restaurant, supplied everyone with something warm to eat — and a reminder that poutine is better than Putin.
With full stomachs, the crowd began its southbound march on Church Street, drawing attention from pedestrians with chants like “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re fabulous, don’t fuck with us,” and “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Vladimir Putin has got to go.”
After their demonstration, the group took shelter in a classroom at Ryerson University. They watched and discussed videos created in response to the Sochi Olympic Games and the corporate sponsors who have helped fund them.
Elliot is frustrated that the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee have both avoided taking a stand. He wants to let major corporate sponsors know that the protesters are holding them accountable for not using their power to effect change.
“We put together a joint letter to the Canadian government, the International Olympic Committee, sponsors of Sochi, and CBC, and received total silence. It’s pathetic.”
Activists are encouraged to take their support one step further by signing postcards that will be sent to the President of Russia and the Russian Ambassador in Ottawa, or signing an online petition at aidslaw.ca/EN/russian-petition
A video of the protest is also available on Daily Xtra.