Victoria sends rainbow-coloured message to Russia

The rainbow flag, a longtime symbol of gay pride, was raised at Victoria’s city hall Friday afternoon as a statement against Russia’s anti-gay laws and in solidarity with Canada’s athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

“It’s a gesture of solidarity but also a way of telling the Russian gay and lesbian community, ‘We haven’t forgotten you,’ ” said councillor Marianne Alto. “There’s a feeling around the world that human rights have been trampled on and it reminds us to be vigilant, to ensure human rights are respected and to stand up for that.”

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The decision to fly the flag was made by Mayor Dean Fortin’s office after he and council received letters from the public, urging them to follow the example of other cities.

Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto raised their flags in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people Friday morning on the first day of the Olympics.

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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford quickly sparked a controversy with a campaign to have his city’s taken down.

Raising the flag falls in line with Victoria’s stance on the Russian law passed in July 2013 that bans pro-gay propaganda and public displays of homosexuality, and comes with jail time.

Last September, Victoria council passed a motion to officially protest the oppression of LGBTQ people in Russia.

The city resolved to send a letter to President Vladimir Putin, with a copy to the mayor of Victoria’s sister city Khabarovsk.

Alto also lauded the many athletes who have recently come out as gay or lesbian, for their bravery and insistence they be judged by their skill not orientation.

She noted that the Olympic charter states: ‘‘The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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