Vancouver Protests Russia’s Anti-Gay Legislation

As Vancouver Pride Week gets under way, pubs in the city’s West End are refusing to serve Russian vodka and at least one protest is being planned for outside the Russian consulate.

The moves are part of an effort by local gay rights activists to do their part in an international campaign to press Russian officials to halt an increasingly harsh crackdown on gay rights, including recent legislation that has outlawed “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and forbidden gay couples from adopting Russian-born children.

Mayor Gregor Robertson released a statement over the weekend slamming the Russian laws.

“As host mayor of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, I have been alarmed to learn of further discriminatory legislation and violent actions targeting the LGBTQ community in Russia,” the statement said. “I would like to join the millions worldwide who are calling upon Russia to end its violent crackdown on the human rights and free expression of the LGBTQ community ahead of hosting the world in Sochi.”

Robert Joseph Greene, a Vancouver-based author of gay fiction, has felt the sting of Russian homophobia over the past few months since a Russian website published a story about him that included a link to his Facebook profile.

“I got about 40 hate mails through Facebook, all in Russian,” Mr. Greene said. “They were calling me a pedophile, saying I was everything that was wrong in the world.” The comment board underneath the article contained many more anti-gay slurs and condemnations of Mr. Greene’s work.

Mr. Greene caught the attention of the anti-gay movement in Russia after an activist was arrested and fined for reading one of Mr. Greene’s stories aloud outside a St. Petersburg library in January, 2012. The story, called The Blue Door, was what Mr. Greene calls a “gay fairy tale,” about a Russian prince who falls in love with another boy.

The activist was protesting against a proposed law to ban the propagation of homosexual views to minors. That law was adopted in St. Petersburg shortly after the protest, and is now in effect for the whole country after the Russian parliament passed it in June.

There has been considerable debate among activists over how to protest the Russian actions most effectively. Aug. 3 has been declared an international day of protest over the Russian laws, and Mr. Greene said he knows organizers who are planning a rally outside the Russian consulate in Vancouver.

Many bars in Vancouver’s West End, the centre of the city’s gay community, recently announced that they will refuse to sell Russian vodka, echoing boycotts by gay bars around North America and Europe.

But Mr. Greene said his contacts in Russia suggest other courses of action may be more effective.

“What I’ve been told was, the Russian software industry is more vulnerable at this point,” Mr. Greene said. “They also say we should ask the Canadian government to deny transit visas to the politicians who have voted for this law.”

Mr. Greene said he has a meeting scheduled with the West End Business Improvement Association to discuss more possible boycotts, and he and other gay activists are planning to meet with Egale Canada to help formulate a national action plan.

“We don’t just want a national campaign, we want a co-ordinated global one,” Mr. Greene said. “We want the countries who have historically had a pro-gay stance to send a strong message to the Russian government that we have a unified stance on this.”