28 Dec 2022

Ukraine passes LGBTQ hate speech ban in ‘big step’ for equality

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.

Ukraine has passed a bill banning hate speech against LGBTQ+ people in the media.

The legislation, banning hate speech and incitement based on sexual orientation and gender identity, was unanimously approved on 15 December, LGBTQ Nation reported.

“It’s a big step for Ukraine, to start adoption of our legislation to European values,” Olena Shevchenko, chair of Ukrainian LGBTQ+ rights group Insight, told The Washington Blade.

“We hope our government will recognise LGBTQI people as equal as soon as possible.”

The bill comes after the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, confirmed that he will ask Ukraine’s government to look into legalising same-sex marriage after the war with Russia ends.

Over the summer, a petition calling for the legalisation of marriage equality in Ukraine gained more than 28,000 signatures, passing the 25,000 threshold required for it to be considered by the president.

The petition cited Ukraine’s constitution, which states that “all people are free and equal in their dignity and rights”, and that “human rights are inalienable and inviolable”.

Zelensky formally responded, claiming: “I asked prime minister [Denys] Shmyhal to address the issue raised in the electronic petition and to inform me of relevant decisions.”

However, he noted that no changes could be made to the constitution – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman – while the war with Russia was ongoing.

According to Article 157 of the Constitution of Ukraine: “In conditions of war or a state of emergency, the Constitution of Ukraine cannot be changed.”

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.