Turnout was low but morale was high as a crowd of 50 people gathered at the entrance to Vancouver’s gay village to rally in solidarity with Russian queers on Sept 21.
“We want to make sure that the government of Russia knows that they are being watched, and we want to make sure that the government of Canada starts stepping up,” Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) president Ken Coolen told the crowd.
“We are supposed to be human rights leaders in the world, and if we’re letting this go by without responding to it, then shame on the politicians in Ottawa,” he said.
The rally came just days after the abduction and subsequent release of Russian gay rights activist and Vancouver 2010 Pride marshal Nikolai Alexeyev.
Alexeyev was kidnapped by four men in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport on Sept 15. He was detained for nearly three days by Russian authorities, who berated him, interrogated him about his gay activism, pressured him and possibly drugged him.
Upon his release, Alexeyev issued a call for international protests against anti-gay Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has repeatedly banned Pride parades in Moscow.
Alexeyev has filed a lawsuit with the European Council of Human Rights over the banning of Moscow’s Pride march. He says his captors pressured him to withdraw the suit, but he refused.
Alexeyev was arrested again on Sept 21 for his protest against Luzhkov outside Moscow’s city hall.
Coolen says he has spoken with Alexeyev, who is doing well despite his rearrest.
“We are here tonight to show solidarity with our friends overseas who do not have the same rights and freedoms as gay individuals that we all here assembled have today,” Pride marshal Barb Snelgrove told the crowd. “We are all very lucky to live in this country.”
“I am free to marry, to march, to speak out and fight against injustice and inequality,” Snelgrove continued. “I am free to express myself as a queer individual without being dragged off the street in handcuffs, kidnapped, potentially drugged and held without charges for days just because I want to be able to express my pride in my community and march in a Pride parade.”
“It’s really important to realize that as Canadians we are very fortunate to live in a country where we do have legal rights,” said Roger Chin, who attended the rally. “But unfortunately that is not the case for a lot of countries around the world.”
Chin called Alexeyev a “hero” and urged the Russian government to “get with the times.”
Russian-born Alpina Polotskaya says her country’s views on gays weren’t as draconian during the mid-1990s.
In the last decade, she says, Russia has been “going backwards” with regard to queer rights.
Polotskaya, who attended the rally with her partner, Jennifer, says her family and close friends know she is gay, but she isn’t out in Russia.
“I’m afraid to be out,” she says.
The VPS says it will continue to support Russia’s gay community. It is circulating a petition to Russian and Canadian leaders and foreign dignitaries and plans to send 11 rainbow flags adorned with signatures gathered at Vancouver’s rally to the activists arrested in Moscow’s protest.
InterPride, the international association of Pride organizers, has also solidified its mandate to assist Pride globally by setting up a solidarity fund for Prides in conflict around the world.