Toronto protesters march against Russia's anti-gay laws
Joshua Freeman, cp24.com
Published Sunday, August 4, 2013 9:29AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 4, 2013 11:25AM EDT
A large group of protesters took to the streets in the Church and Wellesley area Saturday evening to protest a Russian law that makes it illegal to hold gay pride parades or to speak to children about homosexuality.
Carrying placards and signs, the crowd made their way from the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets to the Russian consulate at Church and Bloor streets where they continued to protest.
"I think this was a very ugly turning point in history," protest participant Mitchel Raphael told cp24.com. "I don’t think most people realize the gravity of the situation."
The new law imposes fines for spreading information about homosexuality to minors and bans gay pride rallies.
Raphael, a former editor of Fab Magazine and columnist for Maclean’s, said he worries the new law will create an atmosphere where gay people in Russia are stigmatized or even scapegoated.
"It’s the flip of gay marriage in the west where we’ve progressed so far,” he said. “How do you expect young gay and lesbian kids to grow up with this kind of hatred?"
Russia has previously said the law will be in effect during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, sparking some to call for athlete boycotts and prompting some bars in Toronto and other cities to protest by no longer selling Russian liquor.
Foreign Minister John Baird has even spoken out against the law and expressed concern.
A number of local politicians attended the rally Saturday, including Ontario’s Minister of Transportation Glen Murray, who is openly gay himself, and Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo.
Speaking with CP24, Murray also said the law is worrisome.
"If we were in Russia right now, we’d be mobbed by police,” he told CP24 at the protest. “It’s not just if you say gay or lesbian; if you hand out a rainbow flag, you can be arrested in Russia."
He said the province could take action on the issue through trade issues and through international organizations in order to pressure Russia to change the law.
"We should be fighting with the IOC to make sure there’s a pride house, a safe place for gay and lesbian, transgender athletes there (in Sochi)," Murray said.
Raphael expressed concern that even if safety is assured for visiting gay athletes, the law could still set a dangerous precedent.
"Because Russia is a former super power, the world will watch to see what they get away with," he said.
He added that the law could effectively oppress millions of people in Russia.
"If queers are just one per cent of the Russian population, you’re still dealing with a humungous number of people," he said.
Another protester expressed disbelief such a law could be enacted in a modern country.
"I just don’t understand in 2013 that this still happens,” one woman near the protest told CP24. “It doesn’t matter if a fine is five dollars or five thousand dollars – the fact that there is a fine or jail term is despicable."
With files from the Canadian Press
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