April 26 2017
On Saturday April 22, two members of our Board of Directors attended a rally at Toronto’s Barbara Hall Park, in the heart of the city’s gay village, to protest the persecution of gay men in Chechnya. We expected to join enthusiastically with a crowd that was united in a common cause, but some people there took issue with our presence.
In recent months, some 200 gay men have reportedly been detained by Chechen authorities in six concentration camps where they are being tortured, according to Russian journalists. Three men have reportedly been murdered. LGBTory has been speaking out against this atrocity (read our statement here), and we have been urging the Canadian government to immediately rescue these men. We have publicly encouraged people to support the work of Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad, an organization working hard to get these vulnerable men out of Chechnya.
The rally was organized by Rainbow Railroad and the Glad Day Book Shop. We met at Barbara Hall Park where we joined approximately 100 people at the rally, where speakers included LGBT people like Bernard from Cameroon who himself was a recipient of a Rainbow Railroad sponsorship.
We received blatant hostility right away when we unfurled our LGBTory flag. Many in the crowd were verbally abusive to us, haranguing us about everything from carbon taxes to trans issues (we lobbied the Conservative Party of Canada to support Bill C16) to Alberta PC Leader Jason Kenney’s Gay Straight Alliance policy (which we opposed). Mr. Kenney, incidentally, was Stephen Harper’s Minister of Immigration and was instrumental in bringing LGBT refugees from Iran to Canada and worked with the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees to expedite their rescue. Kenney’s policy of prioritizing Iranian LGBT refugees has since been abandoned by the Trudeau government.
We asked Martha Jennings, the representative of Rainbow Railroad, to join us in a photo. She initially turned us down, saying that she "was a socialist". I reminded her that we were all working together to save the Chechens and that we wanted to help them raise money. In fact, we advocated their cause in our statement to Members of Parliament. Then and only then did she agree to have a photo taken with us. As we walked together up the street to the Russian Consulate she admitted that the humanitarian issue at stake should transcend political partisanship.
“Conservatives are not welcome here.” - Josephine—the socialist
However, once we were at the Russian Consulate and unfurled our flag again, three people forced their way in front of us to block our participation and to make sure no photos of the Conservative logo would be visible. The most aggressive woman, who identified herself as Josephine, said “Conservatives are not welcome here.”
One LGBT speaker at the rally who had fled from persecution in Russia told us about his experiences. When we asked him to pose with us for a photo, he was approached by a participant and told not to be seen with us. Josephine continued her demented jogging about to block our flag. We asked her if she was a member of the LGBT community; she replied “No, I’m a socialist.”
Surely there is no situation that warrants putting aside political differences more than coming to the aid of LGBT people who are being tortured and murdered. Around the world, people from all sides of the political spectrum, from Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, have condemned the treatment of gay Chechens and demanded action from both the Chechen government and its Russian supporters. Everyone in Barbara Hall Park that day wanted the same thing – an immediate end to the arrests, torture, and killing. And yet, some people, for whom celebrating diversity is almost a religion, were so blinded by partisan politics that they could not accept political diversity and welcome us in what was certainly our common cause.
There was a funny moment back in Barbara Hall Park when Martha Jennings, the Rainbow Railroad official, was vacillating about being photographed with a couple of Conservatives. I saw the park’s namesake, my old pal former Toronto Mayor Barbara Hall, a life-long NDP supporter and opponent of the Conservative Party, and asked her to photograph the socialists standing next to us conservatives in front of the Conservative Party logo. She obliged. Ahhhh inclusiveness.
Doc von Lichtenberg