Ukraine LGBTQ+ Community

Ukraine LGBTQ+ Community

Ukraine before 2022 

In the 2021 Pride Parade in Kyiv, Ukraine, countless LGBTQ+ individuals marched through the streets waving flags, carrying banners, and celebrating the progress that Ukraine has made to protect them. In June 2021, the Atlantic Council praised Ukraine for being an example of progress given the neighboring nation’s opposing views. As of December 2016, transgender Ukrainians can change their gender without being required to petition a board of mental health professionals or spend a month in a psychiatric ward. In 2019, the Rivne City Council in Western Ukraine attempted to ban LGBTQ+ groups from public demonstrations, thinking it was “propaganda,” but thankfully it was struck down as illegal. While Ukrainian law still has a ways to go, it has been increasingly protective of Ukrainian LGBTQ+ citizens. 

Russian LGBTQ+ Discrimination 

While Ukraine was being praised for safeguarding LGBTQ+ rights, Russia was coming under fire from international organizations for its blatant discrimination. On November 8, 2021, the Russian government deemed the Russian LGBT network a foreign agent organization. The network and its co-founder Igor Kochetkov were targeted by a state-sponsored smear campaign accusing them of encouraging sexual relations among minors. Additionally, Russia’s Constitution introduced new amendments to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Russia has declared homosexuality to be a danger to children and to society as a whole. 

Boston Review reports have found that trans and queer people in Russia face aggravated forms of exclusion and violence. Hostility and discrimination in the housing, work, and healthcare sectors are increasingly common. 

Fight or Flight

The reactions of the LGBTQ+ community have varied, as can be expected during wartime. Some chose to stay and fight for sovereignty, while others escaped.

Vlad Shast, interviewed by NPR, was a stylist and performer on the drag queen circuit in Kyiv. After the invasion began, Shast signed up for a civilian corps that reports to the military even before their conscription. As a non-binary Ukrainian, Shast expressed fear over what could happen if the Russian invasion succeeds. For trans people especially, they could be imprisoned, tortured, persecuted, or even killed. They decided to fight for Ukraine because of these high stakes, naming it as the reason they must join the fight. 

Others fled as soon as the invasion began. In the same article by NPR, Bohdan Moroz fled to Berlin, thanks to his company who evacuated him. While it was not illegal to leave at the time, the 23-year old gay designer expressed mixed emotions over his departure. He believes the war is important for him in order to ensure the safety of Ukrainian LGBTQ+ people, but he is remaining outside of Ukraine for his safety. 

However, fleeing also poses its own problems. Time reported that many Ukrainians who fled went to Eastern European countries such as Poland or Hungary. Last year, Hungary was criticized for its ban on portraying homosexuality to minors, which the Prime Minister claimed was a measure designed to protect children and the rights of parents but international groups have called a violation to international human rights standards. In a ranking of LGBTQ+ rights in Europe, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association ranked Hungary 28th and Poland 43rd out of 49 countries. 

Fleeing to countries with bans on homosexuality poses many problems for Ukrainian LGBTQ+ people, who are not sure where they may be safe once outside of their home country. Same-sex marriage is illegal in many Eastern European countries still, so married LGBTQ+ couples may not be recognized in the countries they have fled to. Legal gender recognition is also not guaranteed in these other countries, leading to several problems for non-cisgendered LGBTQ+ Ukrainians. 

It is also important to note that many LGBTQ+ Ukrainians were not given the choice of flight. At the time of the Russian attack, at least 100 trans women were in the process of obtaining legal gender recognition. After the invasion, Ukraine banned men between 18 and 60 years old from leaving the country so that they could be conscripted into military service. The trans women who were still waiting to be legally recognized were trapped and are most likely serving in the military without a choice now. 

What the future could look like

 It’s hard to say what may happen in the next few weeks, months, or even years. For many, Russia’s invasion seemed unlikely just months ago. 

 If Ukraine is able to fend off the invasion, maybe LGBTQ+ Ukrainians can return to their war-torn homes and start to rebuild. Efforts for equality would have to resume, and the lives of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians who, either willingly or by conscription, gave their lives for their country would be mourned. It is unclear whether Ukraine would continue down the path towards equality that it was praised for less than a year ago, or whether LGBTQ+ rights would be forced to take a backseat in the name of reconstruction.

 If Russia succeeds in taking Ukraine, the fate of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians could look more bleak. Russia treats its own LGBTQ+ community with violence and discrimination; it’s only likely that its treatment of a foreign LGBTQ+ community would be exponentially worse. Many LGBTQ+ Ukrainians ,who had fled, would be unable to return home. They may face struggles in their new countries, where their marriage or gender may not even be recognized. Surviving LGBTQ+ Ukrainians still in Ukraine could face violence, imprisonment, or murder.

How to Support

The best way to help is to give directly to groups in Ukraine who are already in place and doing the work. Research Ukrainian groups directly helping the Ukrainian LGBTQ+ community in the Ukraine and surrounding countries. While staying informed about events occurring in Ukraine as they unfold, you can also use social media to help spread awareness and lift voices in the Ukrainian community to an international audience.