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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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Casa Ruby’s services must survive

But the organization’s name doesn’t matter

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A group of asylum seekers gather at Casa Ruby on March 5, 2019. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A judge approved putting Casa Ruby into the hands of a receiver and approved the D.C. Attorney General’s recommendation of the Wanda Alston Foundation, of which June Crenshaw is the executive director. She is an amazing person. Founded in 2008, according to its website “the Wanda Alston Foundation provides housing and support services for D.C. homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 and advocates for expanded city services for LGBTQ youth.” 

Contrary to what Ruby Corado said at the hearing she apparently Zoomed into from El Salvador, it is only important to have someone who knows the work of Casa Ruby and if it is someone who worked for a successful organization in the area all the more reason for them to be named. 

It’s not important that the name Casa Ruby survives. What is important is the services it once provided to the transgender community survive, and even expand. That can be done under any name. 

Taking over as receiver will not be an easy task. Crenshaw will have to unravel the mess that is there now. The receiver will have to face the fact money may have been stolen and deal with employees who weren’t paid. They will have to deal with the fact, which now seems clear, that Casa Ruby was out of compliance with the District Non-Profit Corporations Act. 

D.C. was an amazing place for me to come out and I did so after moving here in 1978.  As a political person I got involved with what was then the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which had just played a major role in electing Marion Barry as mayor. Over the years I got more and more involved in the LGBTQ community. I, along with Rick Rosendall, founded and incorporated the Foundation for all DC Families, the organization we set up to fight for marriage equality in D.C. We worked hard, raised funds and had Celinda Lake do the first major poll on the issue in D.C. We found the white community in D.C. was heavily in favor of marriage equality and the Black community was partially supportive based on age and religion. We recognized many of us who began the organization had white privilege, which made life easier for us. We never earned that privilege it was something society just awarded us. We worked hard to recruit a diverse board for the organization and involved the faith community in the fight as well. Then along with Sheila Alexander-Reid and Cornelius Baker we incorporated the Campaign for All DC Families as the 501(c)(4) to do the political work to secure marriage equality. We continued to raise some money for the organization and worked with HRC, which lent us staff and meeting space. We recruited new people. We won the fight working with Council member David Catania and the rest of the Council. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the D.C. marriage equality bill and I still have one of the pens presented to me at the signing. 

White privilege made it easier for me to be out. Because of this over the years I supported groups like the Wanda Alston Foundation, and Casa Ruby, because there are so many members of the LGBTQ community who still struggle in the District, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly our laws are. We must all work to ensure no one falls behind due to homophobia, transphobia, racism, or sexism. Again, I will continue to support the services for the transgender community, which Casa Ruby provided, but don’t care what the organization providing them is called. 

The problem I have with Ruby Corado was compounded when I read in the Blade what she said at the virtual hearing disputing “the allegations, saying among other things, that claims that she was not in communication with the Casa Ruby board was a misconception.”

If Corado cares about the people Casa Ruby served, why is she in El Salvador? Who has she been in touch with — which board members, and will they confirm this? If she cared about the organization and people it served, and has done nothing wrong, why is she not here in the District fighting for the employees, calling a board meeting (if there is a board)? Non-profit boards hire executive directors and oversee their work. I don’t think Casa Ruby ever had a real ‘working’ board overseeing Corado’s work. We need to question and get affidavits from former ‘board’ members as to what they did and what they know about what Corado did.

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

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Opinions

Supporting LGBTQ rights is good for business and the right thing to do

Equity and inclusion must be a corporate imperative

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Brad Baumoel is the Global Head of LGBT+ Affairs at JPMorgan Chase.

In communities across the United States, LGBTQ+ people and their families are facing a growing number of significant barriers to equal rights and protections. In 2022 alone, at least 30 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ bills, with a majority targeting transgender and non-binary youth, on top of continued anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and bias in various states across the country. Despite progress toward equity and inclusion, the LGBTQ+ community is increasingly struggling for equality and basic human rights.

I’m truly concerned for members of my community, given the impact these actions are having on our mental health and wellbeing. Several of my LGBTQ+ colleagues and colleagues with LGBTQ+ family members have expressed fear for themselves and their children. Some are scared their transgender child will be taken from them and placed in foster care. Others feel they might be personally prosecuted for seeking gender affirming care for their child. Many are worried they’ll need to move to a different state just so they can continue accessing essential forms of health care.

I feel lucky to work for a company that opposes discriminatory actions that could harm our employees, customers, and the communities where we do business, and has equally advanced policies, practices, and benefits to support our LGBTQ+ workforce. It comforts me to know my employer supports a society that serves all Americans, including the LGBTQ+ community. But not everyone has the same assurance when they go to work.  

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ equity and inclusion must be a business imperative. Business leaders must use their voice to condemn the hate, bias, transphobia and homophobia that sadly exist in our communities. We also need businesses to take meaningful and measurable action in promoting and advancing inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community year-round, not just during Pride month. While it starts with inclusive benefits, policies and networks of support, this commitment requires businesses to lead with the values of acceptance and belonging in every decision they make. It’s only then that your LGBTQ+ employees, customers and communities will truly feel included and equal. 

Since the first LGBTQ+ Business Resource Group at JPMorgan Chase was created in the 1990s, many, like me, have worked hard to make our company a place where LGBTQ+ employees feel they can be their authentic selves when they come to work. Last year, we strengthened this commitment by creating the Office of LGBT+ Affairs, a full-time, dedicated team focused on advancing equity and inclusion for LGBTQ+ employees, customers, clients, and communities. It’s my sincere hope that we don’t see our efforts slowed down by attempts to threaten the rights of people for who they are, whom they love or how they identify.

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Opinions

Queer kids are not brainwashed

Trans children are real transgender people, not trend chasers

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In some conversations with progressive friends, my peers, despite their proclaimed liberal attitudes, voice concern over the fact that children can experiment with gender and sexuality. They say things like “kids are too young to question their gender…that seems dangerous” or “a lot of children are just following gender trends and are not actually trans.” Other friends state that they don’t believe that transgender children should have access to hormone blockers. 

All of these statements are bogus and harmful. Many people who question gender fluidity in children don’t realize that they themselves have been brainwashed into thinking, from a young age, that being cisgender and straight is the norm. It should not be the norm. In fact, queerness is ever more common now among Gen Z’ers, and this is because the youth of today are feeling more and more comfortable opening up about their different sexuality and gender from an early age. 

Being able to safely come out as trans or gay in high school is an extremely healthy process and greatly improves the mental health of kids who would otherwise struggle. In red states, and conservative high school districts, this kind of coming out is still difficult, and might even be banned in the future, if Republicans continue with their cruel agenda. But there is hope in progressive cities like Portland and New York, where students feel free to question cishet and straight standards. 

Much research points to the fact that trans children are who they say they are: real transgender people, and not trend chasers. Kristina Olson, a psychologist at the University of Washington, started running a long-term study on trans youth in 2013. Olson eventually amassed a group of more than 85 trans kids. Olson kept in touch with both the children and their parents over the years. Her team ultimately found that an overwhelming, vast majority of the children stayed consistent with the gender nonconforming identity they chose in childhood. In other words, these trans children were correct about their gender identity from a young age. The notion that children pick up trans identities as a “fad,” or are wrong about them, is outdated. 

We already know that Republicans are dangerous to trans children, and have already prevented them from receiving health care or playing sports in many red states. But what we need to stop is dialogue from progressive voices that discourages gender fluidity in youth. These statements from otherwise liberal leaning people are contradictory to the very values that Democrats stand for. 

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. Amend is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

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