Gay war veteran advocates for equal rights in Ukrainian military
- Kiev holds annual gay pride march on Sunday
- Campaigns by homosexual veterans against homophobia in Ukraine
- Hope a more tolerant army can help change attitudes
KYIV, September 17 (Reuters) – Viktor Pylypenko has become a role model for dozens of Ukrainian LGBT + veterans and their supporters since he organized their participation two years ago in Kiev’s biggest gay pride march .
Pylypenko, 34, spent nearly two years from 2014-2016 on the front lines fighting with Kiev forces against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has left at least 14,000 dead. He came out homosexual in 2018.
“(LGBT activism) has become a continuation of my personal war against the enslavement of a human’s freedom,” Pylypenko told Reuters ahead of the annual Kiev pride march on Sunday.
And he makes a direct connection between his sexual orientation and the cause he says he is fighting for – a free and sovereign Ukraine in which all enjoy equal rights.
“I volunteered to go to the front because I understood that they (the separatists) want to deprive us of our freedom, they want to deprive the whole country of freedom. As a gay man, I was very sensitive to that, ”he said.
Pylypenko, who created a non-governmental organization to support LGBT + people in the military, said he received support from other members of his battalion, adding that they were more interested in his military record and commitment than in his sexual orientation.
He believes having more LGBT + people serving in the military, a respected institution in Ukraine, can help overcome prejudices against sexual minorities in the former Soviet republic.
“The military can change the mentality of society, they have a reputation, they have confidence, they have defended peace in Ukraine,” said Pylypenko, who comes from a military family who he says accepted his sexuality. .
The West-backed Ukrainian government has increased its support for LGBT + rights in recent years. Parliament banned discrimination in the workplace in 2015, although homophobic attitudes remain fairly widespread.
Gay pride marches regularly attract counter-demonstrations from far-right and religious activists. After the Kiev pride march in 2015 was disrupted by violent attacks, the city authorities are deploying a large police presence to maintain order and protect participants.
Pylypenko said his dream was for divisions of the armed forces to participate in gay pride marches “as allies and take advantage of the fact that they live in a developed country with equal human rights where they live. are not ashamed of the subject of homosexuality but support it and openly hoist rainbow flags “.
Editing by Gareth Jones
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