It’s the evening of Wednesday 5 February. I’m in Whitehall, attending a demonstration as part of a ‘Global Speak Out’ taking place in 19 countries, which hopes to use the imminent Sochi Winter Olympic Games to highlight discrimination against gays in Russia. The demonstration, organised by campaign group All Out and supported by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, is attended by just a few hundred people – not surprising perhaps, considering the Tube strike and the bitterly cold weather.
Protesters in drag, braving the cold
The demonstration is incredibly subdued. There are no chants. Instead, the demonstrators stand silently holding their placards or quietly chatting to one another. Even a smattering of men in drag, braving the cold in flamboyant Mardi Gras get-up, fail to enliven the atmosphere.
Tatchell, looking every bit the revolutionary in a Guevara-esque beret complete with red star, takes to the podium to lay out the demands of the campaign. The campaign aims to promote Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which states that discrimination is incompatible with Olympic values; Tatchell explains that they hope to achieve this in two ways.
Firstly, while Tatchell doesn’t call for an outright boycott of the games, he does call for the government to endorse a ‘VIP boycott’ of the opening and closing ceremonies – barring politicians and famous representatives from attending. He believes that having an empty VIP section in the stadium would send a powerful message about what the world thinks about Russia’s anti-gay policies.
Peter Tatchell in Guevara-esque cap
However, some of the other campaigners seem unsure this was precisely the right plan. Following Tatchell, Labour MP Chris Bryant, seemingly oblivious to the demands of the event at which he has been invited to speak, says ‘Obama has led the way’ by sending retired tennis star, lesbian and outspoken critic of Russia, Billie Jean King, as his representative to Sochi. (King has now withdrawn from attending the games because her mother is gravely ill.) Bryant favours sending our gay sports-related celebrities like Tom Daley and Clare Balding. So it seems for Bryant it’s not about refusing to send a representative, it’s about sending the right kind representative.