LGBT rights campaigners staged a rally last night in front of Belfast City Hall to voice their opposition to controversial anti-gay legislation and the persecution of LGBT people in Russia.
The protest was held on Wednesday evening, coinciding with a World Cup qualifier clash between Northern Ireland and Russia at the Windsor Park grounds South Belfast.
Protests come amid growing calls for next year’s Winter Olympics to be removed from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi after Russia passed an anti-gay law in June which makes it illegal to give under-18s information about homosexuality.
Come Dine with Me contestant Marcus Hunter Neil, who, as Lady Portia, is one of Northern Ireland’s best known drag queens, helped to organise the demo and spoke to PinkNews about why it’s important to show solidarity to the Russian LGBT community:
“I have been deeply saddened by what I’ve seen and read in recent weeks. I’ve been horrified by some of the brutal acts of torture that are happening mostly to the younger LGBT community in Russia.
“I felt I had to do something, and when I found out Russia were playing Northern Ireland; I immediately thought to protest at the football match as this would send a message back to Russia that the rest world does not support what is happening at all.
“This was a world cup match, so I thought to embarrass them on a world stage by demonstrating for LGBT rights in Russia.
“My aim was to firstly make plenty of noise, get even more attention drawn to what is going on over in Russia, and if word got back to Russia that there was a protest even in Northern Ireland, well it may just give some hope to the Russian LGBT community. I want LGBT people in Russia to know unequivocally that they are not alone, that there are people in the world that care about them.
“We are all human beings at the end of the day. I would also like to add my voice in support of boycotting the Sochi winter Olympics! Why should the world participate in the trade and economy of Russia when they treat their own people in such a discriminatory way?”
President Vladimir Putin signed the law in June banning the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” toward minors, a move that has been criticised as part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community. Other laws banning the adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples, and one which enables organisations receiving funding from abroad to be fined as “foreign agents”, were also passed.
The laws have so far sparked controversy among LGBT activists, with some calling for a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Others have also called to boycott Russian vodka as a form of protest.
Yesterday, Nick Symmonds, a US track and field star, won silver in the men’s 800m at the Moscow World Athletic Championships yesterday, and used his speech to dedicate it to his gay and lesbian friends.
The protest was well attended despite the rain and Northern Ireland defeated Russia 1 – 0 in the World Cup qualifying match.