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How Putin inadvertently boosted LGBT support in Ukraine

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wWhen Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he framed the move as a means of protecting traditional values ​​from Western attitudes “that lead directly to decadence and degeneration”. are leading to, because they are the opposite of human.” Nature.” The Russian president was specifically referring to Western acceptance and legal recognition of LGBT people – a topic he has long seen as undermining liberal democracy and himself as a true defender of conservative social and religious values. Made a weapon as a means of drawing.

In justifying the war in this way, Putin may have hoped to drum up support for it among Ukraine’s conservative and religious population. However, in practice, he may have achieved just the opposite. Since the start of the war, Ukrainian society has seen a rapid increase in support for the country’s LGBT community, and in particular, for gay soldiers serving in the military. There has been an increased demand for LGBT people to have access to civil participation. For some, homophobia has become almost synonymous with Russian aggression.

Inna Sovsun, Member of Parliament of Ukraine last month introduced a bill that, if passed, would legalize same-sex civil partnerships, tells TIME that what is happening in Ukraine is a direct result of Putin’s actions. “Because Putin has made homophobia such a big part of his political agenda and [Russian] National ideology, people automatically associate them with homophobia,” she says. “So if we are different from that, we should be different in that area as well.”

Although Ukraine was the first post-Soviet country to decriminalize homosexuality after gaining its independence in 1991, LGBT rights have lagged behind in the country. Same-sex couples do not have access to the same rights or privileges as their heterosexual counterparts. While some efforts have been made to protect LGBT people in the country, including passing a 2015 law Outlawing discrimination in the workplace, they were not widely accepted in society. According to a 2016 study Conducted by the Ukrainian human rights organization Nash Svit and the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, 60% of those polled said they view the LGBT community negatively. Only a third of respondents said they believed they deserved equal rights.

A lot has changed since then. one in follow up survey Conducted last year, those same pollsters found that opposition to the LGBT community had dropped to just 38%, while support for equal rights had nearly doubled.

Read more, Olena Shevchenko is fighting for Ukraine’s most vulnerable

As analysts and activists see it, there are three reasons for this change. The first, as Sovson notes, is that Ukraine has become largely hostile to both Putin and the homophobic ideology he propagates. The second is that, in a battle that is widely perceived as a battle between liberal democracy and authoritarianism, many Ukrainians see a move toward greater equality and inclusiveness as part and parcel of their shifting orientation toward Europe and the West. Let’s see in

But the third, and perhaps most prominent, reason is the members of the LGBT community who are currently on the frontlines. estimated to be thousands Gay soldiers serving in the Ukrainian army. While many of them have not come out publicly, their visibility is on the rise. “After the full-scale invasion we had more stories coming out than ever before,” says Max Potapovich, media manager for the LGBT Military, an organization that advocates for Ukrainian soldiers. Part of Potapovich’s job is to share the stories of soldiers who are currently serving on the frontlines using social media. One such post about gay couple, Ivan and Mykola, with over 1.5 million views. Potapovich says, “Our queer soldiers understood that they could lose their lives really fast and that they could not live freely without war.” “It motivates them to come out despite all the homophobia.”

Petro Zerukha, a 27-year-old musician from Lviv Oblast, enlisted in the Ukrainian army shortly after the Russian invasion began. He states that he is the only gay person on his base – something he previously kept to himself.

“The war changed everything,” he tells Time. Despite experiencing great pain and loss amid the war, including the death of friends, Zerukha says the love and support she received from friends and fellow queer soldiers inspired her to come out publicly. “I completely opened up, and now I fight for my rights and my community’s rights with all my might,” he says. “I think the war made me stronger and inspired me to be stronger.”

More and more Ukrainians are supporting gay soldiers serving in the military; above in 2022 StudyEven among respondents who said they had negative attitudes toward LGBT people, 53.8% said they supported their inclusion in the military. Among those with a positive outlook, support is as high as 82.6%. There is also a growing awareness of the heteronormative challenges faced by LGBT soldiers. For example, if a queer soldier is wounded or killed in action, the lack of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships means their significant other cannot make medical decisions on their behalf, bury them, or take them to any state hospital. shall not be given the right to assemble. Compensation.

It is these injustices that Sowsun hopes his proposed law will rectify, but it still has a long way to go. Although 17 other lawmakers have co-signed the bill – including members of his party, Holos, and President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling Servants of the People party – the legislation still needs consideration by the Ukrainian parliament’s committee on legal policy. is required, one of the first steps in the legislative process. This stage of the process hasn’t happened yet, and Sovson isn’t optimistic that it will be prioritized any time soon. (Committee chair Dennis Maslow did not respond to requests for comment.)

while Zelensky has already expressed support Responding to a petition to legalize same-sex marriage for greater equality, the president also said such a change would require an amendment to the country’s constitution, which “cannot be changed during war or emergency”. “

“He’s trying not to dwell on an issue that could be potentially divisive, but the point is, over the course of the last year, the level of support for this type of legislation has actually increased,” Sovson says. noting that for the legislation to be successful, it would almost invariably require the support of his party. As she sees it, the fight to secure greater equality shouldn’t wait until the war is over—Ukraine’s queer soldiers can’t stand it. “LGBT people who enlist in the military are fighting for a country that doesn’t fully support them,” she says. “While we are having this discussion here in Parliament, they are in the trenches fighting for the right to have this debate for us.”

Jharukha says the prospect of being granted the right of civil participation gives her and fellow queer soldiers hope. He describes it as “like the wind – and all queer people want to take a deep breath”.

For Sowson’s part, she hopes that greater international attention to the issue will prompt the government to act more quickly. One factor that may compel them to do so is a pending decision by the European Court of Human Rights. In 2014, Andrey Memulikhin and his partner Andrey Markiev filed a case The court alleged that Ukraine’s failure to recognize same-sex partnerships amounts to discrimination under European law. The ECHR reports the case to 2021, and although it is not known exactly when a decision will be delivered, recent precedent suggests it could go in the couple’s favour. same court in 2021 Government In a similar case that Russia was violating the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide same-sex unions with the ability to obtain legal recognition under domestic law. While Moscow may not care if it violates European convention, Kiev almost certainly will.

As a contender for EU membership, “we can’t just say we’re going to ignore the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights,” Sovson says.

Still, Ukraine’s LGBT supporters are optimistic that change is inevitable. The war has helped the country realize that “being in a partnership or being in a couple is not just about going to restaurants,” says Sofia Lapina, a Ukrainian activist and head of ukrainepride, “Sometimes it’s about death, sometimes it’s about being allowed to visit your partner in the hospital. Now, all of Ukraine understands that.”

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write to Yasmeen Serhan at [email protected].