Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBT Ukrainians whose name means “reinforcement” in Latin, found out that her son, Bogdan, was gay when he was in high school after she found poems on his computer.
She said she spent the next eight years “suffering” as she tried to learn more about homosexuality while trying to hide “what was happening” in her family. Globa told the Washington Blade during a June 13 interview at PFLAG’s Northwest Washington offices with her son that a psychologist in the city of Poltava told her she had to change her attitude “towards the situation.”
Globa told the Blade that she and her psychologist frequently discussed how other parents respond to their children’s homosexuality. She said it was her son who ultimately came up with the idea of her organization that she co-founded last year.
“Eight years of suffering and research is just a waste of precious time,” said Globa.
Globa and her son, who is the executive director of Fulcrum, a Ukrainian LGBT advocacy organization, spoke to the Blade during an eight-day trip to D.C. and Maryland that ended on June 18.
They met with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), officials at the White House, the State Department, the U.S. Peace Corps and LGBT rights advocates from Spectrum Human Rights and other groups while in the nation’s capital. The Globas also participated in a protest outside the Russian embassy in Northwest D.C. on June 12.
They marched in the annual Baltimore Pride parade on June 14 with a PFLAG contingent.
“For us it’s an advocacy trip,” Bogdan Globa told the Blade.
Maidan protests ‘not about LGBT’ rights
Bogdan Globa, now 26, in 2008 became the first openly LGBT person to testify before a parliament in the former Soviet Union when he spoke against a bill that would have banned so-called gay propaganda in Ukraine.
“After his speech in parliament, I didn’t sleep for a week,” said Helen Globa, discussing concerns for her son’s safety. “I was just waiting and praying.”
The Globas were among the hundreds of thousands of people who protested in Kiev’s Independence Square — known as Maidan —against then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject an agreement that would have brought Ukraine closer to the European Union.
The protests began last November, but Bogdan Globa told the Blade through his mother who interpreted that “radical parties” would have attacked him and other LGBT rights advocates if they had come into the square with rainbow flags.
“It’s not about LGBT,” he said. “We stood with the European flag or the Ukrainian flag. We didn’t stand with the rainbow flag or something else and we didn’t say ‘rise for LGBT.’”
Bogdan Globa was carrying tires for makeshift barricades in the Maidan on Feb. 19 when police opened fire on protesters and killed more than 100 of them.
Helen Globa, who had moved to Kiev from Poltava in 2012, was unable to travel to the square because authorities had closed the Ukrainian capital’s subway and she did not know her way without it because she had just moved to the city from Poltava. Helen Globa was also sick.
The Siberia-native who studied in Uzbekistan told the Blade she received “hostile” text messages from her friends and former classmates in Russia that asked her why pro-European Ukrainians wanted war and said they “may be the reason for the Third World War.”
“I was just trying to explain to people, but they didn’t listen,” said Helen Globa.
Meanwhile, she was worried about her son who told the Blade that he didn’t realize the extent of the violence that had taken place in the Maidan on Feb. 19 until he returned home later that night.
“The Maidan was taking place in a very large space,” said Bogdan Globa. “You saw just pieces and bits of something happening. You realized and you could see the whole picture when you got home.”
The Globas said the ongoing violence and escalating tensions between pro-Russian separatists and militants and Ukrainian troops in the eastern part of the country have had a significant impact on the region’s LGBT residents and their supporters.
Bogdan Globa’s organization has an office in the city of Donetsk.
He said the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that has declared itself independent from Kiev has banned so-called gay propaganda to minors in the region over which they claim jurisdiction. Bogdan Globa told the Blade members of a pro-Russian paramilitary group earlier this month attacked those who attended a gay party that took place at a Donetsk nightclub.
Helena Globa said that many of her organization’s members who live in eastern Ukraine will not travel to meetings, events and other gatherings because of the deteriorating security situation.
“It has a very negative influence on our work,” she told the Blade.
Putin is a ‘dictator’
Ukraine’s LGBT rights record remains poor compared to other European countries.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have noted anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain widespread in Ukraine. Bogdan Globa experienced anti-gay bullying and harassment while in high school and at a local university so he decided to move to Kiev in 2005.
“Poltava is very homophobic,” said his mother.
Parliamentarians since 2012 have considered two gay propaganda measures similar to the law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed last June, but they have not had a final vote. The lawmaker who sponsored the most recent bill is no longer a member of the Ukrainian Parliament because he is from Crimea and the Kremlin annexed the strategic peninsula in March.
“Putin is a dictator,” Bogdan Globa told the Blade, pointing out that Crimea should return to the Ukrainian “homeland.” “It’s very complicated to have a positive attitude towards him.”
Olena Shevchenko, a Ukrainian LGBT rights advocate, told the Blade in April that lawmakers who introduce “repressive” bills only “give legitimacy to such violations.”
Ukrainian parliamentarians in March with the apparent approval of European officials in Brussels approved an anti-discrimination measure that did not include sexual orientation.
More than 100 LGBT rights advocates in May 2013 participated in Kiev’s first Pride march that took place without violence, although protesters attempted to disrupt the event. Then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft publicly supported the event, while activists from Germany and Sweden are among those who took part.
Bogdan Globa told the Blade that President Petro Poroshenko, who took office earlier this month, will not improve the situation for LGBT Ukrainians.
“The government’s still homophobic,” he said.
His mother remains far more optimistic about her country’s future.
She told the Blade that stores now have a variety of foods and products for sale, compared to those during the Soviet-era outside of which she had to stand in long lines to simply buy butter and eggs. Helen Globa said she has also seen some positive influences on Ukrainian society from Europe and the U.S.
“There has been progress,” she said. “It takes time, but sooner or later we’ll see a better place for living in Ukraine.”
Helen Globa conceded she remains afraid for those who live in Russia.
“I don’t think [the Kremlin] should ignore the needs of their people for so long,” she said. “People have a lot of needs, including LGBT rights and freedoms.”
Bogdan Globa shared his mother’s concern, noting he feels the Kremlin’s LGBT rights crackdown is an attempt to deflect attention away from the country’s economic problems. Bogdan Globa told the Blade that LGBT Ukrainians are afraid the same situation will happen in their country.
“We are afraid,” he said.