UCD students have been invited to attend a protest outside of the Russian Embassy at Orwell Road, Rathgar, Dublin on Wednesday, February 5th in conjunction with worldwide events to highlight human rights abuses in Russia just before the start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The event is being organised by Laura Harmon, USI Vice-President for Equality, who has extended invites to many student groups, including DIT’s LGBT Society, who invited UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) initially. Sam Blanckensee, UCDSU LGBT coordinator, is fronting UCD’s involvement in the protest.
Speaking to the University Observer, Blanckensee called on students to support the event, saying that he will be attending it in his official capacity. He believes that this protest will allow him to express his “feelings on what is happening with Russia,” having already discussed potential options with UCDSU’s Welfare and Equality Officer, Cian Dowling, in respect to both raising awareness of this issue and taking action upon it.
The protest is in relation to the anti-homosexual propaganda laws that were enacted in Russia last year. They ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors, however critics of the laws have alleged that it is essentially a complete ban on the LGBT movement.
Blanckensee says, “These laws forbid any promotion of non-traditional relationships [and that] people can be jailed and have been jailed for just talking about their sexuality.”
There has also been a sharp increase in attacks on members of the LGBT community in Russia by extremists since then, who appear to be using the laws as an excuse for their actions.
A large protest outside of the Russian embassy is supposed to be a way of highlighting students’ “feelings around these laws and the treatment of LGBT people in Russia,” according to Blanckensee, whose main goal is to “convince our government to speak out against this.”
While several international leaders like Barack Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel have already condemned Russia’s actions, Eamon Gilmore’s comments from last year, that the government “strongly disagrees” with the laws, has been the only Irish response so far.
Blanckensee fully supports Ireland’s participation in the Winter Olympic Games, disagreeing with calls that were previously made on countries to refuse to participate in protest. “[The] Olympics should be used as an occasion to pressure Russia,” remarks Blanckensee, but the athletes should not have to suffer because of it.
He says that it would not have been fair on the five Irish athletes “for Ireland to have pulled out” after their significant undertakings to merely qualify for the Olympics, especially as they are preparing for such huge moments in their sporting careers.