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Vancouver Queer Film Festival kicks off with a kiss-in

Hundreds lock lips in solidarity with gays in Russia and around world

Yogi Omar (right) puckers up with a film fest volunteer. Credit: Angelina Cantada

“Tonight, I want you to join me in a kiss-in,” Out on Screen executive director Drew Dennis told the more than 700 people gathered for opening night of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Aug 15.

The festival launched its 25th season with the high-spirited smooch session to send love and solidarity to gay people in Russia and around the world, who face “terrifying discrimination day after day after day,” Dennis said.

Consensual canoodling was the only rule stipulated. Other than that, Dennis said, the audience was free to “make out,” go for a “quick peck on the cheek” or a friendly hug.

With hearty applause, scattered laughter and some initial nervous rustling as people picked their kiss-in partners, the VQFF’s festies puckered up for the freedom to love, as camera flashes popped around them capturing the moment.

“I believe we just created the largest kiss-in yet,” Dennis said to a standing ovation.

Prior to the mass display of affection — dubbed “I Celebrated Queer Lives with a Kiss” — Dennis pointed out that Vancouverites have the privilege of watching queer films in a civic theatre, the support of various levels of government to do so, and rainbow crosswalks in the city’s gay village.

Out on Screen approached former board member Yogi Omar on the eve of the festival’s opening night to add the festival’s voice to the growing global outcry against Russia’s anti-gay laws, brought into effect with a stroke of President Vladimir Putin’s pen in June, miring in controversy the Winter Olympics Russia is set to host next February.

Omar says the kiss-in movement dovetails with last year’s Queer Film Festival theme, Lovers and Fighters.

“We are lovers, and this is how we fight,” says Omar, who organized Vancouver’s first kiss-in outside the Russian consulate Aug 2 and led the Queer Film Festival’s edition with a lingering lip-lock with one of its volunteers.

While he understands the rationale behind the calls for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, Omar says he prefers to fight hate with love. “If I’m kissing a man, it’s just an act of love, but in Russia, it’s propaganda, and you can get arrested.”

Omar notes the increasing momentum behind the movement since the first kiss-in that drew about 45 queer community members.

“There was a big kiss-in protest in Belgium last weekend; I know there’s going to be a huge one in Europe, starting off in Berlin on Sept 8,” Omar told Xtra Aug 15. “It’s just one of those things where everybody starts doing it, and then it gets bigger and bigger.”

Omar hopes the momentum galvanizes more people to organize their own kiss-ins in the lead-up to the global kiss-in scheduled for Oct 11, National Coming Out Day.

“The idea is that anybody can do this, it’s easy. Take a picture of yourself kissing somebody, do a hashtag, plaster it all over social media, make sure anybody and everybody gets to see it.”