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Organization looks to challenge new law, promote LGBT rights before Sochi Games

Photo by Mathias MacPhee

Jer’s Vision, an Ottawa-based youth initiative and non-profit organization, is spearheading an awareness campaign in January and February aimed at highlighting the recent signing of an anti-gay law in Russia, which criminalizes the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

The movement, referred to as the “Open the Door to LGBT Rights in Russia” campaign, coincides with the beginning of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, which are set to run Feb. 6–23. Jeremy Dias, a University of Ottawa graduate and founder of Jer’s Vision, said the overlapping timeframe is intentional and the organization is using the games as a platform to discuss institutionalized homophobia in Russia.

“This issue is really poignant because it’s the first time, or one of the first times, in contemporary society that we are seeing rights moving backwards, and I think it’s important to recognize that,” he said.

Through consultation with groups of LGBT Russians, Sochi 2014 Olympians, and community activists, Jer’s Vision was able to help produce a promotional toolkit that is available to supporters through its website. Aside from containing promotional materials such as buttons and door posters, the toolkit includes a set of instructions on how people can help eliminate homophobia in Russia. In addition to sharing the campaign via social media and talking to your local politician, Jer’s Vision also advises to help out by writing letters to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

“It’s not overwhelming, it’s not complicated, and I think that’s part of the genius of the campaign,” Dias said. “This is one of those times where what you do can make a difference.”

In addition to the toolkit, Jer’s Vision is collaborating with organizations like the Ottawa International Sexual Orientation Gender Identities (SOGI) Rights Network to set up a panel discussion Feb. 7 at the Arts Court Theatre. The event is designed to open up frank dialogue about the Russian law and what it could mean for the Sochi Games and Russian LGBT communities in the future.

“Ottawa is a fairly quiet, conservative town when it comes to political action,” said Bruce Miller, one of the founding members of the Ottawa International SOGI Rights Network. “Getting people to come out to something that is about politics, discuss the issues and be aware of it—that would be great.”

Dias said Jer’s Vision is choosing to take a stand against Russia’s gay propaganda law without advocating a boycott of the upcoming Olympics.

“People are being discriminated against in ways that we, as Canadians, can’t imagine,” he said. “As an LGBTQ organization, we really hope that we can engage the general public in raising awareness.”