Mark Thomas leads LGBT protest


Comedy-as-protest, as performers, activists and Festival-goers gather round the Russian Consulate.

Image of Mark Thomas leads LGBT protest

With 100 acts of dissent to commit in a year, Mark Thomas is certainly adept at multi-tasking. In addition to relating subversive exploits in his daily show, he’s found time to give ATOS a taste of their own medicine. A gathering took place outside their Edinburgh residence on Wednesday 21st, and Thomas distributed a newly devised questionnaire querying whether those charged with sending the mentally and physically unwell back to work are themselves fit for purpose.

And on the following Thursday, another event was added to the list. A sizeable group of activists, comedy fans and interested members of the public turned up to watch several comedians deliver a passionate defence of homosexuality – right under the nose of the Russian consulate.

Since the recent introduction by the Duma of new homophobic legislation – Article 6.21 – which forbids anyone from perpetuating “the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations around minors”, – pictures have been flooding out of Russia, showing the law’s brutal consequences. A number of peaceful protests by LGBT activists inside Russia descended into violent confrontations between civilians and police. There have also been instances where gangs of skin-heads will lure gay men and women into a meeting via the internet before brutally beating them, often filming proceedings.

There’s not much one can directly do in order to halt such disturbing incidents. But messages can be sent. There’s already been talk of boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics, due to be held in Sochi. And this impromptu show, with an impressive line-up including Stephen K Amos, Susan Calman and Zoe Lyons, might have helped to remind those currently persecuted in Russia that they are not alone.

It’s hard to get an exact number, but the protesters looked close to 200. Several held posters depicting a young man with a bloody mouth, who has apparently just been hit. Two women stand next to him, as a policeman in riot gear loom at the edge of the picture. A caption below reads ‘From Russia Without Love’.

Several of the acts draw on Russian culture for their sets. Zoe Lyons played a snatch of Tchaikovsky from her iPad, a Russian icon whose sexuality has been self-censored in a new biopic in order to, according to the producer Sabina Yeremeyeva, ‘not run afoul of the law’. A not unfounded historical rumour maintains that the composer was commanded to commit suicide or face public ruin with the revelation of his sexuality, and Tchaikovsky promptly drank water infected with cholera.

Chris Coltrane mused on how Putin’s incredibly frequent displays of his Slavic masculinity – fishing, riding, hunting, inevitably bare-chested – wouldn’t seem out of place in an outdoor-themed pin-up calendar. But Susan Calman took a different approach, delivering an impassioned and moving speech on the difficulties she faced growing up in Glasgow. The message is that everyone, everywhere should be able to love without prejudice.

Thomas sums things up. “Our struggle for human rights is endless, which means our vigilance must be ceaseless”. A powerful statement, simply put, at an event which saw the freewheeling attitude of the Fringe put to very good use.