Pride parades are now commonplace across Ukraine, but beyond the rainbow flags, government support for the rights of the country’s LGBT + community may be on the wane.
In September, thousands of people marched peacefully through the Ukrainian capital Kiev in the city’s now annual LGBT + pride parade – a sort of victory given that previous parades have not always been so peaceful. In 2015, 10 people were injured when attacked by homophobic protesters in Kiev, while in 2020 Odessa Pride was attacked by a nationalist group.
This year in Odessa, clashes erupted between Ukrainian police and an extreme right-wing group trying to disrupt the pride march.
Ukraine’s LGBT + community has nonetheless been holding pride parades for the past few years, especially as the country – on paper at least – began to further support LGBT + rights in 2014.
In that year, in which then-President Petro Poroshenko struck an association agreement with the European Union, laws banning discrimination against LGBT + people in the workplace were passed. were adopted, signaling a small but important change in official policy.
Since then, however, Ukraine has made little progress on key issues such as the legal status of same-sex partnerships, with some saying the trend is now in the other direction, leading to reduced state support for LGBT +. community.
Not meeting expectations
The election of Volodymyr Zelensky as Ukraine’s youngest president in spring 2019 raised high expectations from the country’s LGBT + community.
A young and progressive presidential candidate who represented generational change based his presidential campaign largely on liberal ideas.
Although Zelensky’s Servant of the People party does not have a specific LGBT + rights agenda, the young candidate managed to draw voters in with his broadly inclusive language and progressive social media rhetoric.
This has led many to believe that the reforms initiated during Poroshenko’s presidency would be continued and that further liberalization would occur, ensuring more rights for LGBT + people, including even same-sex marriage – or at least same-sex civil partnerships.
However, things did not work out as expected. Instead, Ukraine saw a decline in official support for liberal social policies during Zelensky’s tenure. Many members of the country’s LGBT community now feel that they are swimming against the political tide.
Even though at his first major press conference in October 2019, Zelensky stressed that all Ukrainians can freely choose their language, religion as well as sexual orientation, subsequent developments have cast doubt on his commitment to such promises.
Last year, the Servant of the People party attempted to change its official ideology. While in July 2019, during the legislative elections, the party positioned itself as a libertarian, during its 2020 congress the members decided to adopt a more centrist ideology.
This has led many Ukrainians to question the party’s political priorities, accusing it of populism and inconsistency.
In addition, in February 2020, on the eve of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian government decided to shut down the country’s Human Rights Directorate, declaring that human rights ” were no longer a priority ”for the work of the Ministry of Justice.
The Directorate of Human Rights was created in 2016 to coordinate a national human rights strategy and has played an important role in drafting legislation on European integration.
According to Maksym Eristavi, chairman of the board of Kyiv Pride, the Ukrainian government itself is not openly homophobic, but it contains homophobic individuals, even in President Zelensky’s entourage.
He says the Covid-19 pandemic is the main factor why LGBT + rights were not extended under the Zelensky administration.
“I think because of the pandemic we have never been able to establish what kind of clear position President Zelensky has on LGBT + issues,” Eristavi said. Emerging Europe. “He expressed his personal support for equality for gay people before the pandemic. But since then this communication has been reduced to practically zero. “
“I think parliament is not active enough on these issues – again because of the pandemic. This is a flow induced by a pandemic, which is a real cause for concern. “
The influence of the Kremlin
The most alarming signal of a change in the Servant of the People’s approach to LGBT + issues has been the creation of a parliamentary association called “Values. Dignity. Family ”, which included nearly 300 deputies.
The group was initiated by ruling party MP Svyatoslav Yurash and pro-Russian opposition Platform For Life MP Oleh Voloshyn to “oppose same-sex marriage and LGBT + adoption rights” .
In July, MPs Georgii Mazurashu and Olena Lys of the Servant of the People party also tabled a new bill banning “homosexual and transgender propaganda”.
The bill was an almost literal translation of a Russian law and provided for the imposition of fines on anyone disseminating “homosexual propaganda”.
Homophobic rhetoric about same-sex marriage and equality “imposed on Ukraine by the West” has long played an important role in Russia’s efforts to discredit Ukraine’s pro-European aspirations.
This has been a problem in the broader context of developments taking place elsewhere in the region: Russia has long been at the forefront of anti-LGBT + rhetoric across emerging Europe.
“It is not only a fight at the local level, but also at the international level”, explains Eristavi. “Homophobic groups are well coordinated, they have a lot of resources. Of course, Russia plays a big role in their coordination. The Russian government played an important role in the anti-gay conspiracy. It strengthens international homophobic groups, and I see this as the biggest problem, far more important than the attitudes of society towards homosexuals in Ukraine.
As long as such factors are in play, holding pride parades in relative peace – with the requisite police protection – is about as good as it gets for the LGBT + community in Ukraine.
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