Toronto activists have answered the call for an international day of protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws and plan to march from Church and Wellesley streets in the gay village to the Russian consulate at Church and Bloor on Aug 3.
They've created a Facebook group, and more than 100 people have responded to say they plan on attending. Organizers encourage marchers to bring pots and pans to make noise, along with rainbow flags, sports gear and candles for a peaceful vigil and rally at the consulate at 7:30pm.
Long-time gay San Francisco-based activist Cleve Jones told Xtra last week that he is calling on cities around the world to stand in solidarity with Russian LGBT people by marching on Russian consulates at sunset.
Activists in San Francisco were the first to announce plans to hold a march, and activists in Seattle announced via Facebook that a march is also being planned there. Marches have been planned in other cities across the US, including New York, where activists plans to march to the Russian consulate on July 31. Jones says he encourages activists to do everything they can – boycott, march, write to world leaders – to condemn Russia’s recent anti-gay crackdown.
The issue exploded in recent days after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a trifecta of laws on June 30 that further rolls back the rights of gay and lesbian people. One law criminalizes any speech or behaviour seen as pro-gay. Another bans the adoption of Russian children by gay couples from countries that recognize marriage equality. A third grants police officers the power to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being LGBT or "pro-gay" and detain them for up to 14 days.
Toronto queer activist Roy Mitchell is one of the organizers of the local march. He says people are demanding action and justice. “For queer people, Russia has been under the microscope since the arrest of Pussy Riot. Even then, the Sochi Olympics were in the back of everyone’s mind,” he says. “So, when these laws were passed, that just made people want to do something. People are angry, and they really want to come together to show the LGBTQ community in Russia some support. We want to tell them that the world is watching.
“We [also] want to start a discussion in Toronto’s queer community around what we can do to fight this,” he says. “I believe it’s important to give people hope. Internationally, this is growing. This is only the beginning.”
For those unable to attend, Mitchell says there are many other ways people can support LGBT Russians, such as boycotting Russian products, contacting Olympic sponsors and writing to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. Some athletes going to Sochi say they will wear rainbow pins. He says all actions can make a difference.
Another Toronto group is planning to create a solidarity film with messages of love and support to send to Russian gays and lesbians, dubbed To Russia with Love. The group will meet at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Aug 4 and begin recording at 2pm.
Meanwhile, a Russian vodka boycott continues to gain momentum. Last week, activists Dan Savage and Jones called on gay bars to dump Stoli and other Russian products.
Within the first 48 hours, bar owners in Toronto, Vancouver, Chicago, New York City, the UK, Miami, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Columbus and Australia announced that they'd removed Russian vodka, particularly Stoli, from their shelves.
On July 28, 23 LGBT activists in Russia sent out a news release endorsing the vodka boycott. “International support is essential for the survival of Russia's LGBT community right now,” it states. “We appreciate and support all attempts to let the Russian authorities know that homophobic and inhumane laws will not go unnoticed and that Vladimir Putin's regime will not get away with antigay violence.”
LGBT Russians are under attack, Jones says. “At great risk to their lives, they have called out to us all for help and solidarity. We must do everything they ask of us.”
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released a statement last week noting it has "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia" that the country's draconian new anti-LGBT policies "will not affect those attending or taking part in the games.”
But many activists say this is not good enough. Mitchell wants to hear the IOC and the Canadian government condemn Russia's anti-gay laws. He says the IOC should pull the Games out of Russia if the laws are not scrapped. “It’s ridiculous,” he says. “The IOC should not be going to Russia unless something is done about the human rights situation. Apparently human rights can take a back seat to the Olympics for two weeks.”
Toronto queer activist Nadine Tkatchevskaia, who is originally from Saint Petersburg, Russia, is one of the organizers of the local march. She says the international solidarity has been noticed by Russia, but the authorities are already trying to intimidate and silence activists.
“I've been in touch with Russian queer organizations in Saint Petersburg that I used to volunteer with when I lived in Russia. Apparently they're in total disarray right now, getting sued and borderline being followed by cops,” she says.
In Russia, gay activists are planning demonstrations during the Olympics. Nikolai Alekseyev, a lawyer who is the head of the Moscow Pride organizing committee, told Xtra that his group is planning Sochi Winter Pride in the city centre eight hours before the start of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.