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Dispatches: Ukraine Bans Anti-LGBT Discrimination at Work

Last week, Ukraine’s parliament made it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in employment – a welcome move in a country where LGBT activists have been attacked and homophobic legislation proposed in recent years.

Gay rights activists attend a rally outside the parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine, November 10, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

LGBT rights have been a big issue of debate between Russia and Ukraine, and within Ukraine itself. So it’s good to see some progress is being made.

A 2014 survey by the Nash Mir Center, a Ukrainian LGBT rights nongovernmental organization (NGO), found that more than one-third of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents received lower wages, had been denied employment, or had been harassed in the workplace because of their sexual orientation.

For transgender Ukrainians, the situation can be even worse. Insight, another national LGBT rights NGO, found that two-thirds of transgender people it polled experienced harassment and discrimination in the workplace – including threats and intimidation from colleagues.

This new legislation is a promising and long-awaited move celebrated as an aspect of the country’s cooperation with the European Union’s human rights principles – Ukraine hopes to attain visa-free travel with the EU – but the reality of LGBT people, and particularly transgender people, seeking employment in Ukraine remains bleak.

Ukraine’s legal gender recognition procedure – meaning the steps transgender people have to take in order to be listed on documents in their preferred gender – is invasive and discriminatory. It mandates procedures such as coerced sterilization.

Such abusive requirements violate fundamental rights and create a serious barrier for transgender people seeking formal employment. The process is lengthy and requires expensive medical tests and operations. Some people Human Rights Watch interviewed in 2014 said they spent up to four years in the process.

The Ministry of Health should revise the procedure and bring it in line with international standards that mandate self-identification as the sole criterion for legal gender recognition. Only then will employment nondiscrimination become a possibility for all LGBT people.


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