Activists marched from Yonge-Dundas Square to the TIFF Bell Lightbox on Sept 8 to demand that Toronto International Film Festival audiences support equality for LGBT Russians.
More than 200 protesters, led by the group #TOwithRussia, joined others in 58 cities across the globe as part of the International Day of Solidarity for Global LGBT Equality. (Check out Xtra's photo gallery of the event here.)
“We are taking the protest out of the Village and asking for solidarity from audiences at TIFF,” says Lauryn Kronick, who helped organize the march.
The march, which travelled down Yonge Street and across Queen Street, ended with a performance by local singing troupe Choir! Choir! Choir! on King Street outside the Lightbox. After the protest song ended, several couples locked lips for a "kiss-in."
Choir founders Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman rewrote the lyrics to Sting’s song “Russians” and passed out song sheets for marchers to sing along.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and activist Susan Gapka tried to enter the Lightbox to invite festival-goers to join the protest outside, but both were stopped by police, who blocked the entrance. Instead, Wong-Tam spoke to the crowd outside. “We are here today to make a political statement of non-violence,” she said. “There are a number of human rights violations taking place in Russia right now. There are films playing at the Toronto International Film Festival that have political content. Just like the arts community will not be silenced, the LGBT community will not be silenced."
Holding up her tickets for a TIFF film, Wong-Tam said activists should have been admitted into the Lightbox to speak. “We are standing on city property, on city roads and on city sidewalks. We should be allowed in the building.”
Passed in June, Russia’s anti-gay "propaganda" laws criminalize any speech or behaviour that portrays gays and lesbians as "normal" and gay and lesbian relationships as "socially equivalent" to heterosexual ones. The laws also allow the government to detain foreigners suspected of being gay. Recently, a Russian legislator submitted a bill that, if passed, would allow police to remove children from the homes of LGBT parents.
#TOwithRussia organizer Roy Mitchell says activists must keep pressuring Canadian politicians to be vocal about international homophobia and human rights abuses, not just in Russia, but in many other countries around the world. “What’s important to remember about Russia is it is a G8 country. It's a world superpower,” Mitchell says. “We just have to keep pressuring our government to demand that these laws be removed.”
Mitchell says the international community should use the spotlight of the upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi to pressure Russia to rescind its anti-gay laws. He says it is working. “We are being heard in Russia . . . Across Russia, LGBT people have been taking pictures of themselves holding signs thanking the world for paying attention to what’s happening. They are seeing us. They are hearing us. They know that we support them.”
Nadine Tkatchevskaia, a queer Russian Canadian, marched for those in Russia who cannot. She says she’s disgusted with Russian lawmakers and worried for the country’s queer citizens. But, she says, seeing allies around the world fight back gives her hope. “The response internationally has been very encouraging. It’s just really great to see,” she says. “We have to keep making our voices heard.”
When members of the international media descend on Russia for the Olympics in February, Tkatchevskaia says, it’s important that they also cover the hostile political climate. “Don’t just cover the athletes and the sporting events; cover the protests and the queer activists as well. Those stories must be told.”