Vancouver LGBT activists organize protest against latest Russian antigay bill

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      The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics proved to be the apex of international criticism of Russia's antigay legislation. Everyone from celebrities such as Tilda Swinton and Madonna to columnist Dan Savage and even Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson joined the outcry of concerns about the controversial and discriminatory law introduced in 2013.

      Unfortunately, attention to homophobic measures in Russia have since fallen out of the international media spotlight and widespread public consciousness.

      A group of local activists, however, are drawing attention back to that nation, in light of new legislation that had been making its way into Russian parliament.

      A peaceful protest will be held on Friday (January 29) at 2 p.m. at the Russian consulate (409 Granville Street) in Vancouver. Participants are welcome to bring flags or signs, and everyone, including friends and allies, are welcome.

      A new antigay bill was slated to go before Russian parliament on that same day.

      Russia's State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building has already recommended rejecting the bill that would make any public expression of "non-traditional sexual relations" illegal.

      The bill would fine people between 4,000 to 5,000 rubles (approximately $70 to $90 CDN) for displaying "distorted sexual preferences" in public.

      The measure also proposes a jail sentence of up to 15 days for anyone coming out as gay in an educational, cultural, or youth institution.

      The draft, introduced by Communist Party MPs in October, attracted public criticism, both within Russia and from international activists.  

      Whether or not the bill will be voted upon on January 29 remains to be seen.

      However, local organizers Zdravko Cimbaljevic and Chad R. Walters said by phone that they initiated the Vancouver protest to increase the visibility of ongoing situation in Russia, including drawing attention back to the existing gay propaganda legislation. Neither have any direct personal connections to the country, aside from their own social consciousness and being LGBT activists.

      "We decided to do something again just to remind other people that as we are all familiar with the Syrian refugee crisis and everything, the LGBT community is suffering greatly in that country and other countries as well," Cimbaljevic, an LGBT refugee from Montenegro who sought asylum in Vancouver after becoming the first publicly out gay man in his native country in 2011, said.

      He said it was great to see people from around world uniting protesting around the time of the Sochi Olympics. "But then it kind of faded away as quick as it was news."

      He expressed concerned about how these issues become trendy and then disappear "like it's not happening anymore".

      Walters, who organized a previous protest during Sochi, said he's deeply concerned about the possibility of more "backwards, oppressive legislation that is going to be doing a lot of hurt and harm I feel for the LGBT community in Russia, and not even necessarily just in Russia but it has a ripple effect. You never know how that's going to grow or influence surrounding countries and so on."

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