On Saturday, I joined over 5000 other demonstrators in Berlin to protest the recent anti-gay laws that have been enacted by Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia. Organized by the Enough is Enough group, the goal was to raise awareness of the human rights abuses taking place in Russia.
If you don’t know, Putin’s government recently enacted a propaganda law which restricts the rights of gays, lesbians and other queers who live in, or even visit, Russia. In response, there have been numerous calls for boycotts of Russian products and the upcoming Winter Olympic games. While Russia isn’t the only country restricting rights for LGBTQ individuals, because of the upcoming Sochi Olympics, they’ve been a very public target.
Travel boycotts are often quite controversial and see very vocal opinions on either side. While Russia’s new law makes it illegal to promote homosexuality in the country, being gay is actually still legal there. As I generally advocate when visiting countries with controversial laws or histories, there’s often much to be learned just by speaking first-hand with people living there. Saying that, however, I know I wouldn’t purposely visit Russia—nor do I plan to promote or support the upcoming Olympic games. And as I learned at today’s demonstration in Berlin, there are still many companies and corporations which can potentially lobby the Russian government. In gay rights, I’ve found visibility to be an important part of acceptance.
The demonstration and march in Berlin saw thousands of protesters carrying signs saying things such as “Enough is Enough,” “Stop Homophobia” and “Putin Go Homo.” As per usual with these kinds of events, there were plenty of clever puns. My favorite was probably a poster depicting a Grindr profile of Putin. People of all ages were participating and thankfully the good weather held out until the demonstration reached the Russian Embassy. Rainbow pride flags were in abundance throughout the day and while the demonstration’s goal may have been somber, participants (including myself) were upbeat and mostly positive.
I’m not naive, though, and I don’t expect much from the International Olympic Committee. They’ve set forth several releases concerning Putin’s anti-gay law and the upcoming complications of countless gay & lesbian athletes visiting the country during the Olympics. Things don’t look so well, and things certainly aren’t going well for many of Russia’s LGBTQ.
There are many corporations, though, who are sponsoring and supporting the Olympics. Every bit of public support can help and today’s Enough is Enough demonstration was a big start for Germany. Recent kiss-in protests in Belgium and elsewhere have also gotten people talking about the human rights abuses occurring in Russia. Last week in Times Square, protesters even called on Coca Cola to use their clout to engage more with the IOC.
People are talking. And the more people are aware of what’s going on in Russia, there’s got to be a better chance for change. I don’t really care if you visit Russia, or if you plan to attend the Olympic games…but if you do, you should know a bit about what’s happening in that country.
View photos from today’s march below, or in my travel Flickr set.