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Vancouverites hold kiss-in at Russian consulate to protest anti-gay law

Kiss-in a ‘creative way to push against hatred’: MLA

Vancouver kiss-in organizer Yogi Omar kisses Ryan Clayton to protest Russia’s new anti-gay law. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

About 45 members of Vancouver's queer community locked lips in solidarity with Russian gays and lesbians Aug 2, as they staged a kiss-in outside the Russian consulate in downtown Vancouver.

The spirited protest came amid growing calls to boycott the 2014 Sochi Olympics and Russian products such as vodka.

On Aug 1 Russia’s sports minister announced that athletes and tourists would be punished for breaking the country’s controversial new law criminalizing gay “propaganda.”

Minister Vitaly Mutko said people with “non-traditional sexual orientation” wouldn't be banned from competing in the Games but would face consequences for publicly advocating homosexuality.

Penalties under the law, which President Vladimir Putin signed in June, include fines, imprisonment for up to 15 days and deportation.

Though Russia’s legislative Duma offered assurances Aug 2 that it would not, in fact, hold foreigners to the same law as local gays and lesbians, international observers remain skeptical and unimpressed.

Vancouver kiss-in organizer Yogi Omar says his way of fighting back is "to kill them with kindness."

"I think it's backward. It is wrong," he says of the law. "If it's traditions that have to evolve, then move. If it's religion, then follow all of it, not one law."

Omar would like to see kiss-ins go global Oct 11 as part of National Coming Out Day celebrations.

He says the situation in Russia presents a "golden opportunity" for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to step in and stand up for human rights.

As dozens of journalists snapped pictures, Omar puckered up with gay education activist Ryan Clayton, who arrived from Victoria for the protest.

"I think this is awesome," Clayton says. "It's nice to see the community having a meeting of minds."

Clayton calls the Russian law a violation of human rights.

"It's brutality on a scale I can hardly imagine growing up in Canada," he says. "It's violence and fear and intimidation."

Behind Clayton, on the wall of the building housing the consulate, was the sign for the Oyster Seafood and Rawbar with a notice from owner Jeremy Towning announcing its decision to boycott Russian vodka.

"Oyster restaurant supports every person's right to choose their own partner without judgment or prejudice," said a sign emblazoned with a rainbow flag.

It's one of many bars and restaurants across North America participating in a boycott of Russian vodka, including many gay bars and parties in Vancouver as Pride weekend gets underway.

Gay Vancouver-West End NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert thinks the kiss-in is a great idea.

"We've got to state our opposition to hatred and speak out for equality," he says. "We've got to speak out for our gay brothers and sisters."

"Given the context of the Olympics and breaking these laws now, we've got to bring pressure somehow. It [the kiss-in] seems like a creative way to push against hatred."

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the Russian law “hateful” and “mean-spirited” in an interview with The Canadian Press Aug 1.

"As concerned as we are about the Olympics, that's nothing,” Baird noted. “That's two, three, four weeks for the athletes and participants and the visitors.

"This mean-spirited and hateful law will affect all Russians 365 days of the year, every year,” he said. “It is an incitement to intolerance, which breeds hate. And intolerance and hate breed violence.”

Baird suggested the anti-gay law is connected to recent reports of escalating violence against gays in Russia.

Baird said Canada has already met with Russian officials and will continue to work with countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom to pressure the Russian government to change the law.

The IOC responded to the mounting controversy earlier this week with an online statement describing sport as a human right that “should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation.”

“The IOC has received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games,” it read.