More than 800 Melburnians attended a candlelight vigil on Tuesday night to stand in solidarity with gay and bisexual men reportedly being persecuted in Chechnya, organisers said.
Vigil co-ordinators Adam Pulford and Catherine Barrett said they were overwhelmed with the turnout in Melbourne’s Federation Square, the day before the International Day of Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
Attendees called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to offer refuge to the Chechen men that activists say are facing violence and persecution from both their leaders and families in the Russian region.
“Right now, the lives of gay and bisexual men who remain in Chechnya are in peril. Australia has an opportunity to save their lives by providing them refuge and safety here in Australia,” Mr Pulford said.
Ms Barrett added: “People in Australia are feeling horrified and hopeless after hearing the reports coming out of Chechnya.
“But together we are powerful. We can call on our political leaders to properly represent us.”
Greens Senator Janet Rice told the rally it is “especially important that the Australian government comes out to say it is prepared to take Chechen gay and bi refugees.”
“This vigil is a show of solidarity to the men in Chechnya who are in grave danger because of their perceived or actual sexuality,” she said.
“Last week in the Senate, I moved a Motion calling on the Australian government to do more in response to the persecution… The government blocked a vote on this Motion.”
Elsewhere, the Tasmanian LGBTI community and allies will gather in Hobart this Thursday night (May 18) at the ABC Roundabout Fountain for a vigil. For more details, visit the Facebook event here.
Organiser Finnian Burman said the fountain will be lit up in rainbow lights for the event.
“I’d like for this vigil to spark national conversation about human rights, and for our government to take notice,” he said.
On Friday night, the Sunshine Coast Pride Network will hold a Chechnya vigil at the Cotton Tree Park in Maroochydore to raise money for charities helping victims of the violence.
International LGBTI rights organisation All Out is also petitioning Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to provide refuge and safety in Australia to queer people fleeing Chechnya.
(All photos courtesy of Sarah Pannell)