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Ukraine LGBTQ activists strongly condemn Russia invasion

Kyiv Pride urges supporters to defend country

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Ukraine, LGBT, Olena Shevchenko, gay news, Washington Blade
Olena Shevchenko of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014. Shevchenko and other Ukrainian activists have condemned Russia's invasion. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko)

LGBTQ activists in Ukraine spoke on Thursday strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of their country.

Kyiv Pride in a tweet urged their supporters around the world to “call on your governments to stand up and to take action against the war in Ukraine.” 

“We need to stop it now, we need to show how powerful we are all together, and Putin will stand no chance,” said Kyiv Pride.

Kyiv Pride in another tweet it wrote in Ukrainian mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We have left the past to which (Putin) seeks to draw us far behind,” said Kyiv Pride. “We are a country that has chosen the values of human rights, humanity, life and personality. Putin lives in the past.”

Activists in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, with whom the Washington Blade spoke after the invasion began said they are scared.

Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBTQ Ukrainians, said she saw “clouds of black smoke” and heard “bombs exploding” and the “sounds of planes.”

“(It’s) scary, damn it,” said Globa.

Olena Shevchenko, chair of Insight, another Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, echoed Globa.

“It’s bombing all around,” said Shevchenko from Kyiv. “We hear explosions.” 

Ruslana Panukhnyk, a Kyiv-based LGBTQ activist, told the Blade that she is now in the capital’s suburbs because “there were a lot of explosions this morning.”

“As of now everything is silent near the place I am staying, but my friends in the city are noticing some blast sounds and planes flying over the city,” said Panukhnyk. “We are closely following the situation and it looks like Russian troops are invading from all directions, except the Western one.”

Shevchenko sent to the Blade a video from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country, that appears to show a Russian airstrike. Shevchenko also provided pictures of damaged buildings in Mariupol, a port city that is near the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that Russia has now recognized as an independent country. 

Sphere, a Kharkiv-based LGBTQ rights group, on Wednesday in a post to its Facebook page said the “escalation of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine currently has an unprecedented impact on vulnerable groups, including the LGBT+ community.” Nash Mir, another Ukrainian advocacy organization, also has offices in Kharkiv, Odessa and other cities across the country. 

“As we have written, this war is not about dividing the spheres of influence,” said Nash Mir in a statement it posted to its Facebook page on Thursday. “This war is a war of civilizations. The Free World opposes the Russian world, freedom and democracy oppose its traditional values.”

“Propaganda and protection of these ‘traditional values,’ among which homophobia occupies anan honorable place, is a direct aid to the Russian world,” stressed Nash Mir. “This is the ideological justification of the Russian aggression. This is a direct assistance to our mortal enemy.”

“This is the time for Ukrainian advocates of these values to decide on which side they are,” it added.

Advocacy groups outside of Ukraine have also condemned the invasion.

“We stand with the brave people of Ukraine,” tweeted Tbilisi Pride in Georgia.

ILGA-Europe echoed these sentiments.

“Like everyone, we woke this morning with shock and regret to hear of the invasion of Ukraine,” it said. “We will play our part to support and stand with everyone in Ukraine, Russia and the entire region who works towards peace and democracy, and to support those who are made even more vulnerable.”

Rainbow Railroad, a Canada-based organization that assists LGBTQ refugees around the world, said it is “alarmed by the attack on Ukraine and are concerned about the impact this conflict will have on Ukraine’s LGBTQI+ community.” 

“We are preparing, in consultation with our partners, possible ways we can help people at risk in the region,” said a Rainbow Railroad on Thursday.

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Eastern Europe

Montenegro Pride held despite strong opposition and protests

More than 500 people attended the 10th march on Sunday

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Montenegro Pride in October 2021 (Photo courtesy of Montenegro Pride/Facebook)

Despite strong opposition from the powerful Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro joined by pro-Serbian, self-styled traditional values and family officials, Montenegro Pride was held with more than 500 people in attendance marching Saturday.

Montenegro’s 10th annual Pride event in this extremely conservative Balkan country was dubbed “No more buts,” reflecting demands from LGBTQ activists that more be done to stem hate speech and harassment of the nation’s LGBTQ community despite huge steps that have been made in the past years Voice of America reported.

Support for the Montenegrin LGBTQ community was also expressed by the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica, the country’s capital, which tweeted “In honor of #MontenegroPride and the #LGBTQI community in Montenegro the U.S. Embassy is illuminated with the rainbow colors! Happy Pride! #nemaviseali

“We gathered here for the 10th time to show we are human, (that we are) live beings made of flesh and blood, wishes and dreams, but rejected and ignored, discriminated and trampled upon because of love,” LGBTQ+/human rights activist Stasa Bastrica told Voice of America.

The country’s government and elected officials have backed Pride events in recent years and approved same-sex partnerships in 2020 as the country seeks membership in the European Union.

Bastrica pointed out while speaking with a reporter from VOA, the church and other conservative forces in Montenegro have fueled hatred against LGBTQ community by “making us the main enemy of the majority and … insanely blaming us for the disappearance of marriage, family (values) and sometimes natural disasters, and all in the name of God.”

Another activist, Danijel Kalezic, said Oct. 7 Serbian Orthodox church-led gathering opposing the Pride march and LGBTQ rights in general illustrated the divisions in Montenegro. He insisted that the LGBTQ community will not give up their demands.

“We don’t want them (officials) to come here and take photos with us,” Kalezic said. “We want results. No more buts!”

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Eastern Europe

Slovenia legalizes marriage, adoption for same-sex couples

Country first in Eastern Europe to pass such legislation

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(Image by AlexLMX via Bigstock)

Slovenia has become the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples.

After considerable debate Tuesday in the Slovenian Parliament, 48 lawmakers passed legislation that guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Twenty-nine MPs opposed the legislation, while one abstained.

This past July, the country’s Constitutional Court in a 6-3 ruling found a Slovenian law that granted rights to only opposite-sex marriages and adoptions violated a constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The court ordered the Parliament to amend the law within six months to guarantee that all marriages and adoptions would be equal in the eyes of the law.

At the time of the high court’s ruling; Labor, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Minister Luka Mesec said: “The Constitutional Court has ordered us to do it, and we will do it with the greatest pleasure.”

Most of Slovenia’s Eastern European neighbors do not allow civil unions or same-sex marriages.

The government of Estonia came the closest in 2016 by agreeing to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws establishing same-sex civil partnerships — and in Hungary, even talking about homosexuality in front of minors has been punishable by a fine since summer 2021, euronews noted.

“With these changes, we are recognizing the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time,” Slovenian State Secretary Simon Maljevac told MPs when presenting the amendment.

The main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, criticized the court’s decision and organized several rallies against the new law.

“The best father will never replace a mother and vice versa,” said SDS parliamentary group chair Alenka Jeraj prior to the debate and vote.

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Eastern Europe

EuroPride march takes place in Serbia capital

A group of Albanian activists attacked after event

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EuroPride Pride march on Sept.17, 2022, in Belgrade, Serbia (Photo courtesy of EuroPride)

As thousands of LGBTQ people, advocates, activists and allies marched under rainy skies in the Serbian capital on Saturday, there were only minor clashes between anti-LGBTQ protestors and Serbian police, who had been deployed in overwhelming force along the parade route.

According to the Serbian Ministry of Interior nearly 6,000 uniformed police in riot gear and accompanied by plainclothes security personnel cordoned off the march area around the Constitutional Court in downtown Belgrade. Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin had warned in a statement that “we will not tolerate any violence in Belgrade streets, any more than illegal marches.”

European media outlets France 24 and Agence Presse France reported that 64 people were arrested as anti-LGBTQ demonstrators clashed with police in attempts to disrupt the Pride march. Once group of half a dozen people carrying crosses and religious icons managed to get past police cordons to where the EuroPride parade participants were gathering, treading on the rainbow flag which was on the road, praying and singing. Police managed to remove them in minutes.

Serbian state media outlets reported that anti-pride protesters were also stopped by police in riot gear at the central Slavija Square. The large group of protesters wanted to get past the cordon and head towards the parade gathering.

An N1 reporter said that a large group of football hooligans clashed with police near St. Sava Temple, throwing firecrackers and torches at the police. The police cordon managed to push them back.

“I am here to preserve Serbian traditions, faith and culture which are being destroyed by sodomites,” Andrej Bakic, 36, a counter-protester in a group surrounded by riot police told AFP on Saturday.

During a routine Saturday press conference at the end of last month Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced that the international EuroPride event scheduled to be held in the Serbian capital city from Sept. 12-18 was cancelled.

The Serbian leader told reporters that his government had come under intense pressure from far right-wing groups and the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church to cancel the event. Vucic acknowledged that LGBTQ rights and people in the Balkan nation were under siege and threatened. However he deflected on the issue, “It is not a question of whether [those pressures] are stronger,” he said. “It’s just that at some point you can’t achieve everything, and that’s it.”

Reaction to the Serbian leader’s remarks was swift with the European Pride Organizers Association that licenses EuroPride writing in a statement that any ban would be in violation of articles of the European Convention of Human Rights in regards to human rights and protections for sexual minorities.

The government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic reversed its late August decision to ban the international EuroPride parade event on Sept. 15, Serbian state media reported.

Same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Serbia, where homophobia remains deep-seated despite some progress over the years in reducing discrimination.

More than 20 embassies — including the U.S., France and the U.K. — had issued a joint statement urging the authorities to lift the ban.

There has been violence at previous Pride events being held in the Serbian Capital city, most notably on Oct. 10, 2010, when anti-LGBTQ and ultra nationalist anti-government protesters fought with about 5,000 armed Serbian police resulting in 78 police officers and 17 civilians that were injured some seriously and more than 100 arrests and detentions.

The violence also severely damaged the parking garage of the ruling pro-European Democratic Party in an act of arson, the state TV building and the headquarters of other political parties were also damaged.

The rioting came as Serbia was seeking admittance as a European Union member state.

A spokesperson for the ILGA-Europe said that since 2014 Pride events were held in Belgrade under mostly peaceful conditions, but there is extreme pushback from the ultra-nationalist groups and especially those groups aligned with the Orthodox Church.

Media outlet euronews reported that a group of about 10 Albanian LGBTQ activists, who had attended the EuroPride parade were attacked by Serbian extremists, but the attack occurred roughly a couple of hours after the parade had ended as the Albanians were apparently headed into their hotel. 

A local journalist, Isa Myzyraj , said that two people in the group ended up in hospital.  He added that the group was not identifying themselves as parade participants with clothing, signs, etc., and that even though the Serbian police were literally not but a few feet away they didn’t intervene. 

The attackers were thought to be far right nationalists who were still in the area after the parade ended. Myzyraj said that he was not sure if the Albanian group was attacked specifically because of being LGBTQ or if their nationality played a role. 

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