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26 Oct 2022

Ukraine’s LGBTQ community - under fire but demonstrating power and resilience

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has united the country’s queer community and created opportunities to dismantle systemic homophobia.

 

Speaking at the human rights conference at EuroPride in Belgrade, Sofiia Lapina and Lenny Emson were focused and compelling as they described how the LGBTQ community in Ukraine has navigated the war to date, and why it is essential that international support for Ukraine continues.
Lapina is the president of Ukraine Pride. Emson is the executive director of Kyiv Pride. Both organisations have had to adapt what they do and step into a humanitarian role to help people impacted by the conflict.
While Russian aggression against Ukraine began in 2014 when it seized Crimea, the current conflict escalated on 24 February when Russian forces invaded - seemingly intent on annexing all of Ukraine.
“After 24 February, a lot of things changed in Ukraine and in the LGBTQ movement in Ukraine…” explained Emson. “We became united as never before. Organisations that may have competed in the past, came together as one to protect the LGBTQ community and to protect Ukraine.”
“Many people refused to leave the country and decided to stay and protect the country…” added Emson. “We showed to ourselves and the world that we are not victims of this situation. We built the systems required to provide the humanitarian aid that was needed - shelters, money, food, medication, and helping people to get back on their feet.”
There’s also numerous stories of LGBTQ fighting on the frontline as part of the Ukrainian military effort.
“During the war, people have understood that the question of life and death is more important than your ideological views…” explained Lapina. “We’re not exclusive in who we help - we help everyone who needs our help. This is beginning to dismantle some of the systemic homophobia that the queer community had struggled with before the war.”
Lapina explained that they prefer to use the word “queer” - rather than “LGBTQ” - when describing the community as this is seen as more inclusive and creates opportunities to bring together progressive people.
“It sounds a little strange, but because of the war, the LGBTQ community has had the chance to be more visible…” explained Lapina. “People in Ukraine understand that queer people want to be themselves and to live their lives.”
“One of the challenges that we’re facing is how to communicate to the wider society about the need for equality…” explained Lapina. “There’s frequently a push-back that ‘now is not the time’.”
Marriage Equality is currently at the top of the agenda for the queer community of Ukraine.
“Why is same-sex marriage important right now?” posed Emson. “If my partner is killed on the battlefield or killed as a civilian, I can’t collect the body, I can’t bury them, I can’t visit them in hospital. That’s why we need Marriage Equality now.”
“We’ve been trying to push on same-sex marriage for at least five years…” added Emson. “If a public petition receives at least 25 thousand signatures, then it must be received by the President. A recent petition on same-sex marriage secured the signatures required and it was received by President Zelensky. The President said that he would support civil partnerships for same-sex couples and that it’s now up to parliament to follow through with this. The parliament can’t currently action anything because we’re under martial law. We need to maintain pressure on the parliament to follow through on this when it’s possible to do so.”
There’s a lot to fight for in Ukraine and Lapina and Emson closed their discussion by urging people around the world to continue to support the queer people on the ground trying to protect their loved ones and their community.

 

While Russian aggression against Ukraine began in 2014 when it seized Crimea, the current conflict escalated on 24 February when Russian forces invaded - seemingly intent on annexing all of Ukraine.

“After 24 February, a lot of things changed in Ukraine and in the LGBTQ movement in Ukraine…” explains Lenny Emson of Kyiv Pride. “We became united as never before. Organisations that may have competed in the past, came together as one to protect the LGBTQ community and to protect Ukraine. Many people refused to leave the country and decided to stay and protect the country. We showed to ourselves and the world that we are not victims of this situation. We built the systems required to provide the humanitarian aid that was needed - shelters, money, food, medication, and helping people to get back on their feet.”

There’s also numerous stories of LGBTQ fighting on the frontline as part of the Ukrainian military effort.

“During the war, people have understood that the question of life and death is more important than your ideological views…” explains Sofia Lapina of Ukraine Pride. “We’re not exclusive in who we help - we help everyone who needs our help. This is beginning to dismantle some of the systemic homophobia that the queer community had struggled with before the war. It sounds a little strange, but because of the war, the LGBTQ community has had the chance to be more visible. People in Ukraine understand that queer people want to be themselves and to live their lives.”

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Ukraine?

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Ukraine? Let’s take a look at some of the key equality indicators.

Is homosexuality legal in Ukraine?

Same-sex sexual activity was illegal in Ukraine – under the criminal code that was operated by the Soviet Union.

In 1991 the law was changed, which effectively removed the criminalisation of gay sex.

Are there anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people in Ukraine?

The position regarding discrimination protection in Ukraine is a bit confusing.

In 2015 the country enacted an anti-discrimination law that protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However it is clear that this was passed reluctantly as a requirement for Ukraine to move forward in its negotiations with the European Union.

In 2016 the Ukrainian parliament failed to back the Istanbul Convention (a European hate crimes law) because of its references to sexual orientation and gender).

Is there Marriage Equality in Ukraine?

There is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

The constitution explicitly defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Ukraine?

Ukraine is a very religious, and socially conservative country.

Reader's Comments

1. 2022-09-16 09:47  
Such a brave people and country. My good thoughts go out to them all!
2. 2022-09-16 12:48  
Threw hardships and necessity, people pull together. War is not kind; however, wars create bonds of friendship that endures. I wish all the best for the queer community of Ukraine.
3. 2022-10-27 00:33  
War is evil. Period. The same evil in Ukraine also manifests itself in Myanmar, Yemen and Afghanistan. Evil is evil and has no race, religion or colour. Unfortunately, the Western media has decried the Russian invasion of Ukraine as if it were the holocaust of 70 years ago. What about the millions of homeless Rohingya refugees forced to flee Myanmar and who now call unsanitary internment camps in Bangladesh "home". Why doesn't the Western media highlight the plight of the voiceless Rohingya refugees? Real compassion embraces ALL LIVING BEINGS regardless of race, religion, orientation, gender identity or species.
Comment edited on 2022-10-27 11:23:01
4. 2022-10-27 14:34  
@heemale The Western media do highlight the plight of the Rohingya, contrary to what you say, as well as many others in the world: for example the horrors which happen currently in Ethiopia and Yemen. You can find several articles on these, even if they are not frequent. Indeed, local media will pay more attention to local or regional news than to news in other parts of the world. I think this is only human. How many times do Asian media report on the Ukraine war compared to, say Myanmar? And how many times do they report on what happens in Africa?

There is also the spotlight effect. When a big event starts, all media are on it. Then if it lasts, other things pop up and wash it away in the editorial choices. A typical example is the Syria war, which is still not over but hardly makes any headlines these days as it did for a long time.
5. 2022-10-27 15:33  
@drelin: We can agree to disagree but my view is that Ukraine is such a big deal for the West and Western media because the victims are white. If, as you assert, the West does give a damn about the plight of Rohingya refugees, then the same amount of money poured into Ukraine by the US and EU governments would also have been poured into the resettlement of Rohingya refugees. I couldn’t find anything on the UNHCR or UNICEF sites about US and/or EU government funding for the resettlement of Rohingya refugees. In fact, all I could find were fundraising adverts urging ordinary members of the public to donate to the Rohingya cause. Perhaps, you have better intel?
Comment edited on 2022-10-27 15:46:28
6. 2022-10-27 19:26  
@heemale I don't have better intel, but did you check the UNHCR and UNICEF funding from China, India, and countries from the Gulf for Rohyinga refugees?
7. 2022-10-27 20:27  
@drelin: I'm afraid you're side-stepping the issue. Your assertion was that the West cares about the plight of the Rohingya refugees as much as they care about the victims of the war in Ukraine. If so, then the Rohingya refugees would have received as much funding from the US and EU governments as the Ukrainian refugees have. Unfortunately, there's NO evidence of that or at least I couldn't find it on either the UNHCR or UNICEF websites.
8. 2022-10-27 20:32  
It makes a big difference if an issue is internal or external, Russia attacked Ukrain but the issues in Burma are government to people, internal not external.
9. 2022-10-27 20:37  
@cf5mike: I beg to differ. War is war, wherever and howsoever. The victims of internal conflict are no less afflicted than the victims of foreign aggression. People die, are displaced and injured in either context. The suffering is the same.
Comment edited on 2022-10-27 21:56:48
10. 2022-10-28 00:11  
@heemale: I don't think I sidestepped the issue. The article we are commenting is about the situation of LGBT people in a certain country. Fridae has been doing this over the last few months almost daily, for a wide list of countries around the world.

Because this country is Ukraine, you started a discussion complaining of perceived double standards from the West re. similar (or dissimilar) conflicts. One may wonder if this is on topic, especially as Fridae's article contains nothing supporting this; but let it be.

You say that I asserted that the West cares about the plight of the Rohingya refugees as much as they care about the victims of the war in Ukraine. I did not assert any such thing. I only pointed out that Western media do highlight this plight, contrary to what you claimed. I added a discussion of precisely the assertion you attributed to me; you don't seem to have read this part of my reply.

Then you came to the question of UNHCR or UNICEF funding for the Rohiyngyas by the US and EU. I have no idea about it, as I said. But I replied by asking: how about the countries that are as rich as the latter, but much closer to the Rohingyas geographically or culturally? Did they care more about them than the US or EU?

I think this is a legitimate question if the subject is that of double standards, and I am surprised that you try to evade it.
Comment edited on 2022-10-28 00:36:35
11. 2022-10-28 00:37  
@drelin: Let's agree to disagree otherwise the debate can go on indefinitely. The crux, for me, is the common suffering of ALL victims of war, regardless of race, religion, circumstance, gender identity, orientation or species. War is war and, whatever the circumstances, war is evil. Hope this puts the debate to rest forever.
12. 2022-10-30 05:03
DHAKA – A Myanmar junta commander has visited Bangladesh’s military chief General SM Shafiuddin Ahmed in Dhaka in an apparent attempt to improve relations and boost regional security.

The Bangladeshi defense ministry on Thursday night stated that the regime’s special operation commander, Lieutenant General Phone Myat, explained the situation in Myanmar and how the junta was trying to maintain law and order while working with friendly countries.

https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/myanmar-generals-welcomed-by-bangladesh-military-chiefs.html

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