Sochi: Gay Activists Protest in St. Petersburg on Eve of Olympics Opening Ceremony
BERLIN -- Gay and lesbian activists in St. Petersburg were planning to join thousands of people in a worldwide protest to highlight the plight of homosexuals in Russia on the eve of the opening of the Winter Olympics on Friday.
In an international action aimed at Olympic sponsors that include McDonalds and Coca-Cola, gay and lesbian rights advocacy group All Out called on companies to speak out against the persecution of homosexuals under Russia's controversial laws that ban the "promotion of gay lifestyles to youngsters."
The group, which has offices in New York, Paris and other cities worldwide, said similar actions were taking place in Manhattan, London, Melbourne and more than a dozen other locations.
Andre Banks, All Out's co-founder and executive director, who was leading one of the Global Speak Out actions outside McDonald's in New York's Times Square, told The Hollywood Reporter: "It is important that Olympic sponsors understand and speak out against the impact these laws have on gay Russians."
He added that, in the past, public demonstrations by gay and lesbian Russians have led to violence, arrests and fines, but activists felt that on the eve of the Winter Olympics they had no choice but to ensure their voices were heard.
Dmitry, one of the organizers of the St. Petersburg action, said: "The Global Speak Out means a lot to us. Together with thousands of people around the world we are going to show Russian authorities they can't attack lesbian, gay, bi or trans Russians with impunity, without risking their international reputation and the success of our Olympics. We will not be silent any more. We will fight back for our human rights."
All Out said the action against sponsors was designed to unite consumers worldwide in supporting Russia's beleaguered gay communities.
"These [sponsoring] brands have spent millions to align themselves with the Olympics, but have repeatedly refused to support the founding principles of the Games," Banks added.
The All Out action came amid signs that some athletes competing in Sochi would opt not to steer clear of controversy.
American figure skater Ashley Wagner, in training for events that start today, a day before the official opening of the Winter Games on Friday, joked that Sochi's color scheme, seen everywhere inside the Olympic Park, reminded her of the rainbow flag that symbolizes gay pride.
Wagner, who like all athletes is formally barred by International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules from political comments or debate while competing, said: "It does not really matter where I am. It's still my opinion. I just believe in equality for all."
A U.N. committee on children's rights Wednesday urged Russia to repeal its anti-gay laws, saying it encourages discrimination and violence. On Tuesday AT&T, which sponsors the U.S. Olympic Committee but is not an official IOC sponsor, dubbed the measures "harmful" to the LGBT community and a diverse society, becoming the first major U.S. corporation to publicly condemn the Russian law.
In Moscow Russian film critics last night gave one of their annual White Elephant awards to risqué gay-themed indie film Winter's Path, directed by Sergei Taramaev and Liubov Lvova.
Berlin's boutique sales shingle M-appeal, which has four titles at EFM this year -- all of them "queer toned" according to marketing and acquisitions executive Yvonne Andreas -- is donating part of the proceeds from a party it is hosting Sunday to "Russian queer people for solidarity."