November 4, 2013

By Anna Kirey

It was a short, and frightening walk – just 250 meters, surrounded by a chain of police while an angry crowd hurled homophobic slurs at us and kept trying, unsuccessfully, to break through the line.

It was May 25, and I was among dozens who took part in Ukraine’s first Equality March in Kyiv, to support rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. As a Ukrainian, it was a very emotional moment for me.

This week, Ukrainian parliament will hold a hearing on extending protections from discrimination in employment to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Over the past nine months, there’s been heated public debate in Ukraine about whether to amend the Labor Code to add sexual orientation as grounds for protection from discrimination, as required by the European Union for the visa liberalization process. Draft amendments were introduced in February 2013, but, parliament has stalled the vote.  Various groups regularly protest against protecting LGBT people from discrimination and in support of anti-LGBT “homosexual propaganda” bills that are still pending.  This weeks hearing will be a crucial chapter in the effort to persuade parliamentarians to vote to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people from discrimination.

There is an active, loud and very public effort to push back at LGBT rights in the Ukraine. For example, at least nine different groups, from conservative religious organizations to far-right activists, publicly stated they would hold counter-protests to the May event. Photos of prominent LGBT activists and others who support LGBT rights were posted on nationalist and neo-Nazi social networks, accompanied by open calls for violence.

The previous year the organizers had to cancel the march altogether due to threats of violence, and were severely beaten by anti-LGBT activists after a press conference cancelling the event.

None of the investigations that were opened into threats and physical violence in relation to both events has resulted in convictions, despite abundant and public photo and video evidence.

It’s clear that discrimination against LGBT people is a problem in Ukraine. Many members of Ukraine’s parliament deny there is discrimination – even as sixty- one of these politicians signed a petition to Kyiv city administration to forbid the Equality March.

In July 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said Ukraine should “explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited grounds for discrimination.” It’s time for the Ukrainian parliament to step up its commitment to protecting minorities and make comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation a reality.