June 2, 2016 at 12:21 pm EDT | by Chase Maggiano
Redefining dignity in Ukraine

Ukraine's LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

Lviv, Ukraine (Photo public domain)

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Wednesday.

The Orthodox Catholic Church seems to be pretty influential in Ukraine on the social and political front. So, it is all the more impressive that an Orthodox bishop was present for the first part of our concert at the Philharmonic on Friday. I’m speculating a bit, but I would guess that the weight of the U.S. Embassy letterhead provided encouragement. We’ve encountered many ways this week in which the U.S. Embassy is using its influence for good when it comes to LGBTQ issues in Ukraine.

Case in point — on the Saturday of our tour, we were invited to a BBQ on the campus of the Catholic University outside of Lviv in honor of Memorial Day. By inviting a gay chorus to an event with U.S., Ukrainian and Catholic leadership present, the Embassy isn’t afraid to push a few unconventional conversations forward. While governments can be risk averse when it comes to foreign policy, we have experienced an Embassy in Ukraine that is nimble and unafraid to dream.

Our original invitation to the BBQ was to sing a few songs including the U.S. national anthem. We later learned there was misunderstanding by the church surrounding our identity as a gay group. We saw the frustrated Embassy staff scramble to honor the relationship they have with the church as well as with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington — an impossible situation because Orthodox Catholic doctrine is in direct opposition to GMCW’s mission. The church, un-shockingly, didn’t want to acknowledge our gay identity.

You might think there was an impulse to grab our bags and leave, angered and hurt. Most people at the BBQ already knew our story, so accepting the altered invitation would just allow the church continue its head in the sand tradition. This begged a natural question: Were we more likely to reverse centuries of dogma that day, or chip away at the armor…maybe influence one person? It was a split second decision we made collectively, and I couldn’t be more proud of Potomac Fever for realizing that we can’t change hearts if we’re not in the room. Even if our hosts didn’t have the capacity to move as much as we wanted, the needle always moves through person-to-person interaction.

Our partnership with the U.S. Embassy has already caused a stir. Like many parts of this tour, we won’t know the aftereffect of this particular experience with the Catholic University for some time. But we do know that a gay chorus (known, if not acknowledged) performed twice for Orthodox Church leadership in as many days. In Ukraine that is a leap forward. I won’t ever defend or make excuses for an institution whose doctrine and actions are discriminatory. Instead, I lift up a group of singers whose true colors of compassion, cultural understanding and dignity were ablaze.

Chase Maggiano is the executive director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. He posted periodic posts from Ukraine on his blog ChasingTheArt that he is allowing the Washington Blade to repost.

1 Comment
  • The proper name of the Church is the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) or at times simply known as the Ukrainian Catholic Church. It is main Catholic Church in Lviv, the other being the Roman Catholic Church. They are both in full communion but neither is Orthodox today.

    The best way to describe the UGCC is as a former Orthodox Church founded in 988 and as of 1595 in full communion with Rome. It is a self-governing (suis juris) with Eparchies (Dioceses) around the world including an Archdiocese in Philadelphia for the USA. Ivan Lubachivsky the former Archbishop of this UGCC American Archdioceses became the Patriarch (and Cardinal) of the whole UGCC and moved to Lviv in 1991 to head up the church after Ukraine became independent from the USSR,

    Patriarch (and Cardinal) Lubomyr Husar replaced Ivan Lubachivsky when he died. Lubomyr Husar is a graduate of the American Catholic University (Washington DC) and Fordham University (New York City) and continues to act as a spiritual guide to the new Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk and they now both reside at the new Patriarchal Cathedral in Kyiv. All spoke/speak fluent English and would be well versed with Gay issues in the USA.

    The UGCC is a Catholic Church and will have the same position on homosexuality as will the rest of the Roman Catholic Church. The UGCC in Lviv remains deeply conservative in terms of Catholic doctrine.

    Worth noting is that the Church was outlawed by Stalin in 1946 and until independence in 1991 and with roughly 5 million adherents it remained the largest underground church in the Soviet Union and the single most important opponent to the Communist Regime. MILLIONS were exiled and / or killed over the past decades defending right to believe in Christ and personal freedom for individuals. I

    f you want to win them over, organize a fundraiser for a Ukrainian charity and put the “gay” label on it. Your are more likely to win their hearts and minds this way.

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