Ukraine Must Champion LGBT Rights if its Maidan Revolution is to Succeed

Gay rights Ukraine
A gay rights activist standing behind a flag takes part in the first LGBT rights march across Kiev, May 25, 2013. The Revolution of Dignity cannot be considered a success until gay rights are respected in Ukraine, says the author. Gleb Garanich/Reuters

After Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution, also known as the Revolution of Dignity, the new pro-European government that emerged in 2014 announced the start of a new process: de-Communization. The idea was to physically and psychologically erase the remains of the country’s Soviet past. President Petro Poroshenko and his government claimed that this policy was an attempt to move away from the values thriving in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and instead put Ukrainians on the path to European integration.

The now infamous de-Communization was achieved through traditional means—with hammers. It began with the destruction of Soviet emblems, statues of Lenin, and with a legal ban on hundreds of Russian books, films and TV programs. This clumsy attempt to destroy any sign of the Soviet dictatorship in Ukraine by using its very methods of censorship, forbidding and banning, did not result in a change of social values. The Soviet dictatorship was not made out of stone but built on an ideology, which had at its heart a thirst for discrimination and disregard for human rights.

Though the Lenin monuments fell, post-Maidan Ukraine has still not erased this part of its Soviet past. Among other outrageous neglects, today’s Ukrainian government has failed to combat homophobia and has done little to recognize LGBT rights the way leaders in Europe have.
 

Only last month, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced the appointment of Adrian Bukovinskiy to the post of family ombudsman. Bukovynskiy is known to Ukrainians as a radical conservative and to the LGBT community as an aggressively offensive official. In 2013, he compared lesbians and gays to pedophiles and zoophiles during a press conference entitled “Summit Ukraine-EU: Are There Ways to Join EU Without Propaganda for Homosexuality in Ukraine?” In his role as president of a charity foundation at the time, Bukovynskiy said that “gay culture destroys the world” and that in advocating for LGBT equality, Europe is propagating “anti-norms”.

Bukovynskiy also publicly defended the legislation in Russia banning symbols and activities which lawmakers there have deemed as “gay propaganda”. These activities and symbols include any acknowledgment of same-sex relationships or LGBT pride in the public sphere as it is deemed a potential threat to the wellbeing of Russia’s children.

The appointment of a homophobe to such a high position in the Ukrainian government caused outrage among LGBT activists in the country, which forced Yatsenyuk to retract his nomination and announce the search for a new candidate on March 8. The reason for this quick turnaround, however, is not Yatsenyuk’s support for the LGBT cause but his fear of once again exposing the conservative values of his government to the EU.

It wouldn’t be the first time Kiev’s gay-unfriendly agenda had caused a problem with Ukraine’s Western partners. Yatsenyuk probably feared a repeat of last November, when the EU threatened to reconsider the possibility of introducing visa-free travel with Ukraine because the government was ignoring LGBT concerns in a crucial reform vote. The vote concerned laws on discrimination in the workplace and was drafted with no acknowledgment of the LGBT community’s call for a clause on sexual and gender identity discrimination. The EU demanded this clause be included from the start, but it was only inserted and approved on the sixth vote.

Ahead of the final vote, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Groysman gave a speech to calm those worried that the small victory for LGBT rights would result in similar steps in the future. “I hear fake news that gay marriages are [now] possible in Ukraine. God forbid us from this, we will never support this,” he said. All this depicts the hypocrisy of the reforms of the new Ukrainian authorities. They are not made for the sake of society’s wellbeing or for the true evolution of social values, but rather for political and economic agreement with the EU, which the government needs in order to hold on to power.

In reality, Ukrainian politicians use discussions about LGBT rights to provoke rather than to seek dialogue. Former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, often used the issue as an anti-European integration argument, making the false claims that the EU would force Ukraine to legalize gay marriage. Just three years ago, the parliament considered a Putin-esque law to ban the “promotion of homosexuality” in Ukraine.

Every year, attempts by LGBT activists to organize a pride parade end with violence and a campaign of humiliation by conservative radicals, all ignored by the political elite as a form of silent approval. Considering that the majority of the “new” members of the government have been in Ukrainian politics for one or two decades—President Poroshenko himself was a minister under Yanukovych—the opposition to gay-friendly laws and the failure to initiate much-needed debate is not surprising.

In 2014 millions of Ukrainians went out in the streets, faced the military and resisted intimidation. Many were killed for wanting new values, European standards of life in which they truly believed and which they deserve. However, they failed to appoint new politicians who would guarantee the European evolution of Ukraine and truly apply reforms towards EU standards.

While Ukrainian society is ready to write a new history and liberate itself from corrosive traditionalism and patriarchy, politicians have become the main obstacle. The revolution began on the Maidan, it should continue with new elections, maybe even new Maidans. Ukrainians overthrew a cruel dictator in Putin’s puppet, Yanukovych, however many more who rule the country today have shown they are going down the same path. The Revolution For Dignity goes on. In Ukraine we trust! In Gay we trust!

Inna Shevchenko is a Ukrainian activist and leader of the international women's movement FEMEN.