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BERLIN — Gay activists rallied at the heart of the Berlin Film Festival Friday on the city’s Potsdamer Platz to show solidarity with Russia’s oppressed homosexual community on the first day of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Local action group Enough Is Enough lit an Olympic-style “rainbow flame” that will burn for the next 16 days while the Sochi games takes place.
The flame was lit in front of a cheering crowd of more than 200 people holding placards reading “No to Homophobia” and waving rainbow flags, an international symbol for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
PHOTOS: Sochi: Winter Olympics Kicks Off With White Lights and Icebergs at Opening Ceremony
Alfonso Pantisano, 39, an Italian-born, Berlin-based freelance television presenter who co-founded the organization with six friends last August after Russia adopted anti-gay laws designed to stop the promotion of “nontraditional sexual relationships” to children, said no government had the right to dictate whom people could love.
“Tonight’s action is a solemn vigil that will go on for 16 days and 15 nights until the Olympic flame in Sochi is extinguished,” Pantisano tells The Hollywood Reporter.
The theme of the demonstration was “Open Your Mouth” and speak out, he said.
“We are here tonight for all people who don’t want anyone to be persecuted anywhere in the world, for those who won’t allow people to be pitted against one another, and for all people who simply won’t settle for this [Olympic] event — that has declared peace as its goal — being taken hostage by the politics of hate and intimidation.”
STORY: Sochi: Broken Lights Mar Olympics Opening Ceremony
The flame, protected by a 24-hour-a-day guard of at least two activists — a requirement of German law — is surrounded by a canvas enclosure containing the text of the Russian anti-gay law, adopted by Russian lawmakers in June last year.
Pantisano expressed the hope that “Hollywood stars in Berlin for the film festival” would stop by, have their photographs taken and post them on social media as a sign of solidarity.
Since its founding last summer, Enough Is Enough has drawn 21,000 followers on Facebook, organized a march through Berlin that ended in a rally outside the Russian embassy and partnered with the German edition of GQ magazine that featured male heterosexual actors and artists kissing.
The latest action, which will cost an estimated $20,000 and is entirely funded by donations, is the organization’s most ambitious yet.
A colorful crowd of supporters, under the watchful eye of six vanloads of German police, listened to the premiere of a song specially scored for the event entitled “Love Is Not for Propaganda.”
STORY: Sochi: Russian Officials Blast Western Media Over ‘Biased’ Pre-Olympics Coverage
“I’m gay and wanted to show my solidarity with Russian gays and lesbians,” Berlin resident Marcus said.
German student Tim Hinkes said the Russian laws were blatant discrimination, the opposite of what the Olympics were supposed to be about.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that gays are welcome in Sochi provided they “leave the children alone,” but the law has sparked a wave of homophobic abuse and violence across Russia.
EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Sochi: Peter Dinklage Kicks Off NBC’s Winter Olympics Opener
Four gay activists were arrested Friday morning in St. Petersburg, Russia, for taking photographs with a banner referring to Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. The banner read: “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. Principle 6. Olympic Charter.”
The four could face fines of up to 30,000 roubles ($860) or 50 hours of forced labor. Some of those arrested were released with court appearances set for Saturday morning, according to another gay rights group, All Out.
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