To Russia with Pride: Former Olympics host Vancouver sends strong message on LGBTQ rights

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Hundreds of thousands of people flooded into downtown Vancouver for Sunday's Pride Parade, capping off a week of LGBTQ pride celebrations.

As the host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the City of Vancouver sent a strong message to Russia, host of the upcoming 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Repressive anti-gay laws passed by Russia's government in June have sparked worldwide condemnation and calls to protest or boycott the Sochi Olympics.

Canadian Olympic athletes took part in the Vancouver Pride Parade, including skiier Mike Janyk and snowboarder Mercedes Nicoll.

"As Olympians, we have the opportunity to share some important values with people in our communities, our country and across the world," Nicoll told Global TV. "That's why I'm here marching today."

Marcel Aubut, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee, stated, "as our Canadian Olympic athletes march in Vancouver Pride 2013, we are reminded that sport is a human right and that everyone -- regardless of race, religion, creed or sexual orientation -- has the right to participate free of discrimination."

Last month, Vancouver's Mayor and City Council issued a message of solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Russia. This included a statement from Mayor Gregor Robertson:

As host Mayor of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, I have been alarmed to learn of further discriminatory legislation and violent actions targeting the LGBTQ community in Russia ahead of the upcoming 2014 Games in Sochi.

It is my firm belief that the Olympic and Paralympic Games should be fully and unequivocally open to all athletes, officials, spectators and journalists who are able to participate, regardless of their nationality, gender, or sexual orientation. It is clear to me that the Russian parliament's homophobic assault on the fundamental human rights of the LGBTQ community will prevent many of these individuals from safely and openly participating in Sochi.

As we welcomed the world for the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, we were proud to have the opportunity to showcase the diversity, acceptance, and freedoms that make Vancouver such a vibrant place to live and visit. We were also proud to feature the first Pride House at any Olympic Games, which provided a safe space and resource centre for LGBTQ athletes, coaches, spectators and other visitors. I am dismayed to see this important progress rolled back ahead of the next Olympics in Sochi.

I would like to join the millions worldwide who are calling upon Russia to end its violent crackdown on the human rights and free expression of the LGBTQ community ahead of hosting the world in Sochi. I am also calling upon the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to urgently explore every possible option to ensure that the next Olympic and Paralympic Games are hosted in a manner that guarantees the full, safe, and open participation of the LGBTQ community.

Spencer Chandra Herbert, B.C. NDP environment critic and MLA for Vancouver - West End, told CBC news: "Many people, as you can see here in Pride, are saying 'no way.' We're standing for equality. We're saying to Russia: 'You've got to back down and respect your people's right to be who they are. You've got to respect the international community's rights to be in your country safely.' I can't see how the Olympics could go ahead in that context."

Later today will feature a commentary by Ellen Woodsworth, a long-time LGBTQ advocate and social justice activist who was a City Councillor during the 2010 Games. 

Photo: Sweet One / flickr

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