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Vancouver LGBT protesters send message to Russia

Canadians must stand against Russia’s anti-gay oppression, say activists

“Even though most of us are not Russian, we need to show solidarity with our community,” protester Zdravko Cimbaljevic tells the crowd outside Vancouver’s Russian consulate Jan 29, 2016. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

“You are not alone.”

That was the message several dozen Vancouver protesters sent members of Russia’s LGBT community Jan 29, 2016, as the Russian parliament considers introducing a new bill that would fine or even jail gay people for holding hands or kissing in public.

While the law remains in limbo in Russia’s parliament awaiting a possible first reading, protest organizers Chad Walters and Zdravko Cimbaljevic tell Daily Xtra it’s vital that Canadians stand against such oppression.

“Human rights need to be respected,” Cimbaljevic told the crowd outside the honourary Russian consulate in downtown Vancouver.

If passed, the bill would penalize members of Russia’s beleaguered LGBT community for any public expression of “personal perverted sexual preferences.”

Some say the proposed law would make it a crime simply to come out.

It is already a crime in Russia to publish “gay propaganda” or make any supportive statements about “non-traditional sexual relations” near children.

“It’s oppressive,” Walters tells Daily Xtra.

“We wanted to express our anger and our sadness that this is even happening,” Cimbaljevic says. “Even though most of us are not Russian, we need to show solidarity with our community.”

“Our eyes are on Russia,” he says.

The latest Russian bill was introduced by two members of the opposition Communist Party in October 2015. Activists have been watching Russia’s parliament closely to see if the bill advances.

No matter what the bill’s fate, activists worry the bill and the rhetoric surrounding it may ignite a new wave of anti-gay harassment in Russia, like the one following passage of the anti-gay propaganda law in 2013.

When Russian president Vladimir Putin championed that law — banning any public speeches, writing or demonstrations that youth might see and interpret as equating gay relationships to straight ones — the country saw a wave of violence against gay people.

Canada’s government condemned Russia for that law at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Cimbaljevic notes.

“The Canadian government needs to continue the pressure,” he says now. “If Canada wants to do some business in Russia, they need to do some sanctions on some trade.”

He says Canada should not be putting business interests ahead of human rights when dealing with Russia.

Belarus is now also considering a Russian-style anti-propaganda bill that would potentially limit the free expression of LGBT people, according to the advocacy organization Human Rights First.