With the Sochi Games about to get underway in Russia, supporters of the gay community are launching a campaign in Toronto Thursday night to protest the suppression of gay rights in the host country.

“We want those who are outraged by Russia’s stance on LGBTQ rights to join us in common purpose,” Pride Toronto co-chair Sean Hillier said in a press release Thursday. “We want people to share their collective anger at government bullying and take action either in person or on their social channels to show their support for those oppressed.”

A protest organized by Pride Toronto and WorldPride organizers is set to take place outside Toronto’s Russian consulate on Bloor Street at 6 p.m. Thursday.

However organizers are also asking supporters of the LGBTQ community to show support on social media by tweeting pictures of hands forming a heart and labelling the messages with the hashtag #LOVESOCHI.

“There’s nothing as profoundly human as knowing that you are loved for who you are, wherever you are,” WorldPride organizers wrote on a webpage explaining the hasghtag.

The note encouraged people to post positive messages of support for the gay community without attacking Russia.

We say hate is hate, and we are here to show our love and support of LGBTQ communities no matter where they are,” the note said.

By Thursday evening, the hashtag was trending in Canada on Twitter.

However not everyone greeted the initiative with enthusiasm.

“@Sochi2014 represents hatred, bigotry, violence, brutality, and savagery. LGBT in Russia, I feel for you, but I won't #lovesochi #badhashtag,” Toronto-based Twitter user @aferreirad wrote on his page Thursday.

Russia has faced steep criticism from around the world in the leadup to the games because of its stance on gay rights. Last year the country passed a new law prohibiting ‘gay propaganda’ targeting minors. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has said gay athletes will not be discriminated against at the games, many have been sceptical and have used the games as a way to highlight the Russia’s policies toward the gay community.

While Russia plays host to the winter games this month, Toronto will play host the annual WorldPride festivities in June, a major celebration that is expected to draw two million people to the city, many coming from across the globe. The Toronto edition of the annual event will mark the first time it has ever been held in North America.

The protest Thursday comes a day after Toronto Mayor Rob Ford drew fire himself for saying he would not attend WorldPride festivities in June. The announcement sparked sharp criticism from some of his council colleagues Thursday, with some comparing Ford to Putin.

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