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Ask Russian gay groups what they need, says Capital Pride marshal

'I think we need to have a dialogue with the people on the ground,' Maurice Tomlinson says

Maurice Tomlinson, right, seen with his husband, Reverend Tom Decker, says Russian gays “have a perspective which is valuable.” Credit: Courtesy off Maurice Tomlinson

Capital Pride’s 2013 international grand marshal is speaking out against Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws.

Jamaican-born Maurice Tomlinson, who is currently fighting to repeal his homeland’s anti-sodomy law, says concerned Canadians should talk to Russian gay rights groups to formulate the best plan of action.

“They have a perspective which is valuable. They may not know the full implications of what they are recommending, but listen to them first,” Tomlinson says. “The recommendations made by the major LGBT activist in Russia that I am aware of is that we should attend [the Olympics], and we should use the opportunity to draw attention to the laws through Saint Petersburg Pride or Sochi Pride. Drawing attention to the laws through mounting Pride events with athletes and allies there for the Winter Olympics is instructive and useful.”

“The groups on the ground have a sense of what will happen, and I think that they recommend that we come and we protest — then I would be inclined to do that,” he says. “We need to show that this law makes no sense and that it really is unenforceable and non-sensible.”

Although Russian officials backtracked last week and now say that their anti-gay laws will not apply to athletes participating in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, officials still plan to enforce strict laws against their own gay citizens.

Several high-profile gay individuals and organizations have called for a boycott of Russian vodka; Tomlinson agrees that boycotting certain industries to voice concern can be useful.

“What we saw with the boycott of Stoli is that they turned around and immediately condemned the persecution of gays in Russia,” he says, “while pointing out that they are not supportive of this persecution and they do not participate in it. It does get through to people. I think we need to have a dialogue with the people on the ground and figure out which industries, which companies, which politicians should be targeted, because they have a better sense as to which pressure points work.”

Canadians have recently taken to the streets in solidarity with gay Russians. Aug 3 saw the International Day of Protest over Russia's Attack on LGBT People sweep Toronto’s gay village, while a kiss-in outside Vancouver’s Russian consulate was staged during the city’s Pride celebrations. The kiss-in organizer, Yogi Omar, tells Xtra that a similar event is planned for Ottawa in October.