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U.S. silent on anti-LGBT attacks in Ukraine

State Dept. mum as equality festival shut down

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Ukraine's LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade
Ukraine's LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

L’viv, Ukraine (Photo public domain)

Recently, Ukraine’s LGBT community attempted to test the country’s new Western path by holding an equality festival in the city of L’viv. The outcome was deplorable: L’viv, which markets itself as the most European city in Ukraine, tried to prevent the festival by taking the organizers to court. When the roughly 70 participants gathered in a hotel, it was surrounded by a mob of 200-300 masked thugs chanting, “Kill, kill, kill,” at which point the attendants were evacuated by police.

Afterward, Misanthropic Division, a neo-Nazi organization, claimed responsibility for showing the “degenerates” who are in charge of L’viv.  The group celebrated by displaying photographs of members giving the Nazi salute on its Facebook page.

LGBT activists have good reason to be pessimistic when confronting persecution in Eastern Europe. The region’s entrenched homophobia, reinforced by decades of Communist dictatorships as well as burgeoning far-right movements, makes it tempting to concentrate equality efforts on more realistic goals. Ukraine, however, is a unique case.

Ever since the 2013-2014 Euromaidan revolution brought a new government to power, Ukraine has aimed to break away from Russia and join a free and democratic Europe. In recognition of this goal, the U.S. and the EU are providing Kiev with enormous amounts of aid.  For the past two years, Ukraine has been a nation in flux, with a government in close contact with Washington, and a significant percentage of the population ready to adopt Western values.

The road toward embracing these values has been slow. When two men filmed themselves holding hands in Kiev last May, they were quickly assaulted by thugs. Last June, members of Right Sector (another far-right group with neo-fascist leanings) brutally ended a Pride parade in Kiev, injuring police and participants alike. Several LGBT activists told Western journalists that violence against the community has risen after the revolution.

Support from the Kiev government has been patchy at best. Prior to last year’s Kiev Pride parade, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko publicly stated that the LGBT community had a right to conduct the march — the announcement was a giant, almost unbelievable step for Ukraine. And yet, many lawmakers have either remained silent or issued horrendous statements backing the far right. “Our ancestors would have trampled these people with their horses,” is how one parliament deputy responded when Ukraine was working to pass a simple workplace non-discrimination law in November.

The most disappointing response has been not of Ukraine, but of the West. Over the past two years, American and European leaders have vociferously condemned the homophobic policies of the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. When it comes to violence against the LGBT community in neighboring Ukraine, however, the West has been largely restrained.

To be fair, Moscow’s actions — from its shameful homophobia during the 2014 Sochi Olympics to the criminalization of “promoting homosexual propaganda to minors” — have given the West plenty of opportunities for condemnation. But if America is tough on Russia, why does it remain oddly silent when it comes to Ukraine, a nation that receives billions of dollars in aid precisely because it seeks to embrace democratic, Western values?

One may be tempted to think Washington’s reticence stems from the fact that America is so heavily involved in Ukraine; after all, it’s never politically expedient to criticize an ally. In reality, however, D.C. has a track record of taking Kiev to task in a harsh and unequivocal manner — just not on human rights matters.

The United States has repeatedly criticized Ukraine for failing to root out the endemic corruption, which continues to paralyze the country. Last December, Vice President Joe Biden flew into Kiev to warn a parliament full of stone-faced lawmakers that this was their “last chance” to reform the government. After politicians continued scuttling reforms, the IMF froze the release of an aid package crucial to keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat. Earlier this month, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland testified to the Senate that “dirty money and dirty politics” are threatening to ruin the country.

These harsh statements by high-level diplomats stand in sharp contrast to the silence surrounding the L’viv events. In fact, the closest thing to an official Washington response to 300 neo-Nazis attacking LBGT activists came via several tweets by Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Neither the State Department nor the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus issued so much as a press release.

If Washington plans to continue investing sizeable resources into Ukraine’s nascent democracy, it needs to address not only economic wrongs, but also human rights violations – especially when they are as glaring as what happened in L’viv.

Many speak of human rights; the organizers of L’viv’s festival risked their lives for the cause, and will continue doing so in the future. Surely the U.S. government can recognize their courage with more than a tweet.

Lev Golinkin is a New Jersey-based writer who specializes in human rights and immigrant experiences. His work has appeared in the New York Times and other outlets.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Mao Cheng Ji

    April 1, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    “Ukraine’s nascent democracy”? What are you talking about? The Kiev regime is a fully owned US puppet, internally supported by oligarchs-financed neo-nazi militants. I mean, sure, there are many different definitions of ‘democracy’, but I don’t think this particular regime fall under any one of them…

    • Igor Frolov

      April 4, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Ukraine is more of a democracy than Russia is. As for Neo-Nazis, that party won 2%, chuilo. )

    • Vlad Pufagtinenko

      April 5, 2016 at 1:43 am

      Is that an avatar picture of your mother comrade?

  2. doroteo arango

    April 1, 2016 at 10:42 pm

    Israel, Ukraine, and the US all frequently attack Russia under the pretext of supposedly being supportive of Gay Rights, yet here it is!

    Can we spell HYPOCRISY? Definition- the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.

    • lnm3921

      April 2, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      When exactly has Ukraine or Israel attacked Russia under the pretext of being supportive of gay rights? Do tell.

      • doroteo arango

        April 3, 2016 at 10:05 am

        The media in each of these 3 countries I have mentioned has done it multiple times. The idea has been to paint Russia a a lone and backward violator of human rights unlike how supposedly the US, Israel, and the Kiev Ukrainian regimes supposedly are not.

        • lnm3921

          April 3, 2016 at 4:35 pm

          As if Russia isn’t doing this in their media against the U.S., Israel or Kiev!

          Easy for you to cast a blind eye to that isn’t it?

          • doroteo arango

            April 3, 2016 at 8:56 pm

            Since I live in the US, I am bombarded by US propaganda all the time and see how many people are brainwashed by it. Plus, the US tries to run the entire world, and Russia does not. Easy for you to cast a blind eye to this though, isn’t it?

          • lnm3921

            April 3, 2016 at 9:54 pm

            If the U.S. is so bad and Russia so much better, what is keeping you here? Apply for asylum in Russia! See how much better you are treated especially if you are non-white there.

            Yeah, right, the U.S. is taking territory by force like Russia the Crimea in an effort to rule it.

            All those terrorist attacks across the world haven’t been about running the world by their terms!?

            If the U.S. isn’t running the world then we can expect countries like China, Russia, North Korea or groups like Isis to try to do it. You are fooling yourself if you think otherwise and very naive!

          • doroteo arango

            April 3, 2016 at 10:42 pm

            You simply support American imperialism and don’t give a hoot if it is right or not to dominate others by military force.

          • Vlad Pufagtinenko

            April 3, 2016 at 11:30 pm

            Says the Putin backside licker who cheers as Russian soldiers kill women and children in Ukraine. Disgusting asswipe

          • Vlad Pufagtinenko

            April 4, 2016 at 3:34 pm

            He’ s not naive… I call him a moron

          • Vlad Pufagtinenko

            April 3, 2016 at 11:42 pm

            Russia doesn’t run the eorld because it is a regional thug. For all Russia’s bluster….the US would wipe it off the face of the earth in a matter of hours. Russians keep their bloodlust going by killing Ukrainians for the past 360 years

      • Igor Frolov

        April 4, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        This is a Russian troll. Google “New York Times Russian trolls.”

    • Vlad Pufagtinenko

      April 3, 2016 at 11:38 pm

  3. customartist

    April 2, 2016 at 9:23 am

    This is all very good information to know about. Thanks to the author.

    It would be most helpful to also know the Contact Information of the US Representatives and Politicians who are in positions to use their influence with Ukraine, and with other countries when applicable.

    It would also be helpful to know the Identities of politicians like the one who referenced gays being “trampled with horses”.

    With this information being made public, then LGBT voters and our supporters can put pressure on these officials. Without this information we are just complaining to no avail.

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Commentary

Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages

Iconic work explored sadness, rage, irony, and love of humanity

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Stephen Sondheim (Screen capture via CBS)

“The only regret I have in life is giving you birth,” his mother wrote in a letter to Stephen Sondheim.

The only regret so many of us feel now is that Sondheim, the iconic composer and lyricist, died on Nov. 26 at his Roxbury, Conn. home at age 91.

He is survived by Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017, and Walter Sondheim, a half-brother.

F. Richard Pappas, his lawyer and friend, told the New York Times that the cause of death was unknown, and that Sondheim had died suddenly. The day before he passed away, Sondheim celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, Pappas told the Times.

“Every day a little death,” Sondheim wrote in “A Little Night Music.”

This isn’t the case with the passing of Sondheim. Whether you’re a Broadway star or a tone-deaf aficionado like me, you’ll sorely miss Sondheim, who the Times aptly called “one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans.”

Like multitudes of his fans, I don’t remember a time in my life when a song from a Sondheim musical hasn’t been in my head.

When I was a child, my parents repeatedly played the cast album of “Gypsy,” the 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. My folks loved the story of the show, which was loosely based on the life of the burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Ethel Merman belt out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” When I need to jumpstart my creative juices, I remember that “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

In college, I felt that “Company,” the 1970 musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, spoke to my generation. 

As was the case with Sondheim’s musicals, “Company” didn’t have a conventional plot, happy ending, or tidy resolution. It takes place during Bobby’s 35th birthday party. Bobby, who is single, is celebrating with his friends (straight, married couples). Bobby likes having friends but doesn’t want to get married.

Sondheim didn’t come out as gay until he was 40. Yet, even in the 1970s, it was hard not to think that Bobby in “Company” wasn’t gay.

Once you’ve heard Elaine Stritch sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” it becomes indelibly etched in your brain.

Who else but Sondheim could have written, “And here’s to the girls who play/smart-/Aren’t they a gas/Rushing to their classes in optical art,/Wishing it would pass/Another long exhausting day/Another thousand dollars/A matinee, a Pinter play/Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s/I’ll drink to that/And one for Mahler!”

In September, I, along with legions of other theater lovers, were thrilled when Sondheim told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show,” that he was working with David Ives on a new musical called “Square One.”

In his musicals from “Follies” to “Sweeney Todd” to “Sunday in the Park with George,” Sondheim, through his lyrics and music, revealed the internal depths of his characters and the sadness, tenderness, bitterness, rage, irony, wit, and love of humanity. Sondheim’s wordplay was so brilliant that he did crossword puzzles for New York magazine.

Over his decades-long career, Sondheim won every award imaginable from the Pulitzer Prize for “Sunday in the Park with George” to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded to him by President Barack Obama in 2015). He received more than a dozen Tony Awards for his Broadway musicals and revivals as well as a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.

Thankfully, Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages.

A remake of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, premieres this month.

Sondheim is a character in the Netflix film “tick, tick BOOM!,” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie is based on an autobiographical posthumous Jonathan Larson (the composer of “Rent”) musical. Sondheim is supportive of Larson’s work.

Thank you Stephen, for your art! R.I.P.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Opinions

Publish trans employment stats

Not enough corporations that march in Pride are hiring non-binary staff

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On Nov. 10, the top-tier consulting firm McKinsey published a report on discrimination toward trans people in the workplace. The report came out with numbers that we have all known true for a long time and lead to one conclusion: Trans people have a harder time finding jobs, holding them down, and advancing in their careers. 

Specifically, McKinsey cited the fact that cisgender people are twice as likely to be employed as trans people, and that more than half of trans employees are uncomfortable being out at work. Meanwhile, cisgender employees make 32% more than trans employees in the workplace, even if those trans employees hold the same positions or higher positions. 

On top of this, trans people are 2.4 times more likely to be working in the food and retail industries, which pay entry level wages that are much less than decent pay. 

These statistics are true based on a number of factors. For one, many trans people have a harder time passing at work, and people who don’t pass well face worse job prospects. (As a side note, on top of that, the study pointed to the fact that many trans people exert undue emotional and psychological energy into trying to pass really well and not be discriminated against, which takes a toll on their mental health.) 

So what is a concrete step that corporations can take to make the trans experience in the workplace better? It’s time that corporations step up their game by publishing and making transparent the number of trans employees that they actually hire. Such numbers can be published in any kind of company document: a pamphlet, online report, or even annual shareholder’s report. As it is, most corporations do not publish numbers on LGBT employees. 

“Rainbow capitalism” is a term we know all too well: major corporations and multinationals flaunting a rainbow and trans pride flag during the month of June, but seemingly doing little to hire more trans people or give back to the community during other months. 

Every corporation surely has the time and company-wide infrastructure to get statistics on their trans employees. All they need to do is implement a company-wide survey to new hires. This takes extremely little effort and time in the grand scheme of company workings. 

If major corporations like McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, defense contractors, and hundreds of other huge companies published statistics on trans employees, they would be held accountable for their actions and words.

If these statistics were to be published today, we would probably find out that not enough corporations that march in Pride parades are hiring trans and gender nonconforming employees. 

Turning the numbers against corporations will ensure that these same corporations finally live up to their words about workplace inclusion and diversity. It won’t cure everything about the issue of being trans in the workplace, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Isaac is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

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It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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