Russia's anti-gay laws in spotlight at Vancouver Pride Parade
A sea of rainbows filled downtown Vancouver Sunday for the city’s annual Pride Parade – and Russia’s new anti-gay legislation was making waves among the thousands of participants.
Two Canadians who will represent the country in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia were among those who marched through the city’s downtown and West End.
Canadian Olympic officials said Alpine skier and 2010 Olympian Mike Janyk and two-time Olympian snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll walked in the parade to send a message of tolerance, acceptance and diversity in light of Russia’s crackdown on gays and lesbians.
It marked the first time that Olympians took part in the event.
“It's very important to come out and show that as Canadian Olympians, and as Canadians, we're all for equal rights,” Janyk said.
The pair said they weren’t on board with calls for Canada’s Olympic team to boycott the 2014 Games as a form of protest.
“The talk about the boycott is kind of sad. Just being athletes we put so much time and effort into our sports,” Nicoll said.
“Boycotts don’t solve anything,” Janyk added.
The legislation makes it illegal for Russians to express pro-gay views or even speak about homosexuality around children at the risk of fines or even jail time.
The International Olympic Committee has said the country has assured that all Olympic visitors will be exempt from the laws.
Anti-Russian sentiment was visible throughout Sunday's Parade.
At least one marcher wore a T-shirt and hoisted a sign featuring a photoshopped image of Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing blue eye shadow and blush.
“When our brothers and sisters in Russia go to walk at a pride parade, instead of a celebration they're getting their faces punched in by the police and by anti-gay activists," said “Sister Alma,” a spokesperson for a sex-positive charity called the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
“When I talk about it I get chills, I want to cry,” he said.
Politicians from all levels of government walked in the event, showing their support of gay rights.
“All the people here I think are showing some leadership, a public statement, and saying we believe in inclusiveness,” said B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal MP Hedy Free were also in attendance at the parade, which was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to the city’s downtown.
With files from CTV British Columbia's Penny Daflos and The Canadian Press