Church & state gang up on gays in Ukraine
The build-up to this year’s EuroCup soccer championship shone an unexpected spotlight on the darker side of its host nation, the Ukraine. Along with co-host Poland and its onetime ruler, Russia, the former Soviet state has never been known for its tolerance towards LGBTs, but this time the rise of neo-Nazism and religious homophobia stood in bold relief…
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Over a hundred thousand of people viewed a video online of Kyiv’s Gay Pride organizer, Sviatoslav Sheremet being beaten, kicked, and stomped on by masked thugs during and after a press conference to announce the cancelation of their pride march by police on May 20.
As hundreds of thousands of soccer fans from across the continent gathered for this summer’s month-long EuroCup in “stadiums of hate” where racist slurs and homophobic thuggery are not uncommon, the extent of the Ukraine’s rabid intolerance came to the fore. While its government has since tabled their “bill to ban homosexual propaganda,” after it was condemned by the European Parliament and rights groups across the globe, activists are in a pitched battle for basic civil rights. As we prepare to enjoy our own Pride celebrations in Montréal and Ottawa, we spoke to Ukrainian feminist activists and gender researchers Galina Yarmanova and Lesya Pagulich about the rise of extremism and the challenges they face.
2B: The rise of homophobia in nations like the United States, Hungary, Nigeria and Russia are often linked to religious orthodoxy and increased involvement of religious leaders in the state. After so many years of secularism, have Orthodox Churches become more powerful in your country?
GY + LP: Yes, the Ukrainian orthodox church has become more powerful in recent years. There are different denominations of Christian churches in Ukraine, which have complicated interrelations and compete over believers, financial resources, land property and influence over public opinion and state decisions. However, they unite in their condemnation of homosexuality and women’s reproductive and sexual rights, as in the recent draft law to ban abortions. In the recent years, the Russian Orthodox Church has initiated a number of illegal constructions of new churches in public areas such as children’s playgrounds, parks etc. There has been a notorious case when Kyiv Monastery of the Caves has been trying to take away the property from the only National clinic for HIV/AIDS.
2B:Have LGBT activists been targeted by the police or the state?
GY + LP: There used to be a database of gay men in the Soviet times, and there are reasons to believe that such records still exist and are being regularly updated. There have been a few police raids to the gay clubs, when the police have checked and recorded the IDs and detained the rest of the visitors who did not have an ID with them, and also recorded all phone numbers from their phone books and took their fingerprints. Such raid was made in Kyiv gay club “Androgyn” in 2009, but unfortunately no one was willing to file a complaint against this illegal detention. There were also other similar individual detentions.
2B: What do you think was behind the proposed anti-gay law?
GY + LP: In our opinion, taking into account the rapidly growing influence of churches on state decisions, their significant financial, informational and media resources, and the fact that religious organizations closely monitor any public activities related to LGBT issues, this anti-gay law would be a convenient instrument for them for censorship and disruption of any visible LGBT activities. Another important and disturbing factor is engagement of the few religious right Parliament members with “pocket” religious or “pro-family” NGOs (which attack LGBT organizations) under the guise of allegedly voicing concerns of civil society. These politicians would be interested in drawing attention to individual “anti-gay propaganda” showcases in order to win conservative votes.
2B: Is the anti-gay movement in the Ukraine seen as a result of increased Russian influence? Are there any political leaders at all who have taken a pro-human-rights/anti-Russia stance?
GY + LP: There is not so much critical discussion on anti-gay movement either from the Ukrainian LGBT activists, human rights groups or in the academia. We think there is a very strong link between this anti-gay movement and Russian influence; however, there have been already Ukrainian anti-gay initiatives in the last few years when influence of Russian Orthodox Church was much weaker. These long-standing anti-gay interest groups, such as the notorious “Love Against Homosexuality” (which are still intact) are connected with Protestant churches and seem to have links to the religious right in the United States. Additionally, the ultra-right wing party “Svoboda” (Freedom), which has strong leaning toward Ukrainian Christian churches, is another visible actor in the anti-gay movement.
2B: Is there any hope, in your opinion, of getting help from the EU in opposing political homophobia in the Ukraine?
GY + LP: We have already received a lot of support from international organizations and individuals, such as ILGA-Europe, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, UNDP in Ukraine, Amnesty International, the General Secretary of the Council of Europe, group of members of Europarliament, members of German Green Party, and others. However, there are controversial attitudes in the Ukrainian political arena toward European integration. There is no legislation against hate speech in the Ukraine. The anti-discrimination law that is being debated at the moment was developed as a reaction to the recommendations of Europe. They have had the first reading in Parliament on this anti-discrimination law, but it does not have sexual orientation or gender identity as possible grounds for discrimination despite of the attempts by LGBT and human rights groups to include it. In this context violations of LGBT rights unfortunately do not seem as a priority in the European-Ukrainian relations.
To help take a stand for LGBT people in the Ukraine, go to: www.allout.org/ukraine
Photos via: Mignews
Editor’s note: formerly spelled “Kiev”, the Ukrainian capital is now spelled “Kyiv” by the UN and by English-speaking activists in the country.