Vancouver activist attacked in China for protests against Russia's antigay law
A Vancouver LGBT activist alleges that he was physically assaulted in China by a man who identified him as an organizer of protests against Russian antigay legislation.
Vancouver resident Yogi Omar told the Georgia Straight by phone that on January 3, he was on his way home to Vancouver from a visit to Guangzhou, China.
As he walked from the subway to the entrance of the Guangzhou airport, he claimed that a white man approached him. The man, who Omar describes as Eastern European, asked Omar in English (with an Eastern European accent) if he was the kiss-in protest organizer.
Omar, a permanent Canadian resident who is of Chinese ethnicity from Indonesia, had organized two protests against Russia's antigay law at the Russian Consulate in Vancouver (one on August 2 and another on National Coming Out Day on October 11) and a third at the opening gala of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival on August 15.
"I was really surprised that this person recognized me because we're in a land of Asian people so how can you pick out me?" Omar said. "But then I realized I was wearing a bright purple skinny jeans. I did kind of stand out a little bit."
But before Omar could reply, Omar alleges that the man punched him in the stomach.
"The whole thing happened within 30 seconds," Omar said.
Omar said the crowd around him intervened and separated the man from Omar.
That's when the man started yelling in Mandarin. Omar, who has a limited comprehension of Mandarin, understood that the man was saying "Hey! He's a gay!"
Upon hearing those words, the crowd released the man.
To defend himself, Omar kicked the man in the testicles and ran to find an authority figure. When he found a policeman, he started yelling in Mandarin "I'm a Canadian! Help!"
After the policeman talked to the man, the policeman spoke to Omar in broken English.
"He was like, 'Oh, you should let this go,' " Omar said. "And I was like, 'Why?' And he was like, 'He's in the right. And nothing would happen anyway so you should just let this go.' And I felt really helpless…."
The police let the man go, and helped Omar through the check-in process for his flight.
When Omar landed in Seoul, South Korea, he posted his story on Facebook.
"I'm the kind of person who wants to be able to give a bit of hope. Or if this happening, what can I do? What can I change? Or how can I affect people?" he said of his Facebook posting. "And I said that well this is exactly what happened and I'm still mad but at the same time, I'm pretty happy that I fought back because I've never been in an incident like this before where I was attacked because I was gay."
Although Omar said there isn't any legal action he can pursue, he's using the experience to highlight the issue of LGBT rights.
"I just feel like we live in a bubble in Vancouver where we're pretty protected, we're pretty safe in terms of a lot of our rights and everything. And it just makes me feel like there are so many places in the world where they're not as lucky as where we are. And I've always wanted to fight for people who can't. I've always wanted to raise awareness of the issues that people are not aware about. So this is a good opportunity to do that."
Omar was not the only organizer of a kiss-in protest against Russia's law. Global kiss-in protests were organized on National Coming Out Day at Russian embassies in over 50 cities around the world, including Athens, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Tokyo, New York City, and Cape Town. In Canada, demonstrations were also held in Toronto and Montreal.
Mayor Gregor Robertson issued a statement on July 26 expressing his concerns about Russia's antigay law, particularly in light of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Vancouver will be sending city councillor Tim Stevenson, who is openly gay, in place of Robertson, to the Olympics in February as the former host city's representative. Stevenson will advocate for LGBT rights with the International Olympic Committee.
The White House has appointed several openly gay athletes to the U.S delegation attending the opening and closing Olympics ceremonies, including Billie Jean King, Caitlin Cahow, and Brian Boitano. U.S. President Barack Obama's absence from the delegation, in conjunction with the inclusion of gay athletes, is being interpreted as a stance against the Russian homophobic law.
Omar has not decided yet if he will organize any future protests. As for identifying himself as an activist, Omar said he feels activism can take on many different forms.
"Yes, I'm an activist but I feel like everybody is an activist because being an activist doesn't necessarily mean that you have to stage a protest or do things like that," he said. "I feel like being an activist is just living your life in your most authentic way and be an example in your own life. I feel that is true activism."