BERLIN — Dmitry Shapoval is a 24-year-old gay man from Ukraine who lives with HIV.
He was working at an IT company’s call center and studying web and UX design in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, in February when Russia launched its war against his country. Shapoval swam across a river and entered Poland less than a month later.
Shapoval now lives in Berlin with his cat Peach and has begun the process of resettling in Germany.
“I feel very secure here,” Shapoval told the Washington Blade on July 22 during an interview at Berlin’s Palais Populaire by Deutsche Bank on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard.
Shapoval is one of the more than 900,000 Ukrainians who have arrived in Germany since the war began.
Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa, and the German government provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs that include food. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.
Anastasiia Baraniuk and her partner, Yulia Mulyukina, were living together Dnipro, a city on the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, when the war began.
Mulyukina, who is from Russia, was living in Moscow when she and Baraniuk began to talk online. Mulyukina traveled to Lviv in western Ukraine via Istanbul to meet Baraniuk, who is a Ukrainian citizen.
Mulyukina on July 22 told the Blade at Palais Populaire that she asked the Russian Embassy in Kyiv for help when the war began. Mulyukina said officials suggested that she “ask Ukraine what to do.”
“I was really shocked that my own country, with this idea of bringing peace, bringing quiet to Ukraine, just rejected me entirely,” she said in Russian as Shapoval translated.
Baraniuk, who also spoke with the Blade in Russian, said the Ukrainian government and a local NGO provided them with food and money.
The couple had planned to stay in Ukraine, but they decided to leave after Mulyukina “heard five explosions” while she was walking to a store. The two women’s friends gave them money to buy train tickets to Poland.
Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ and intersex rights organization, helped Baraniuk and Mulyukina and their cat enter Poland. They spent a week there before they arrived in Berlin on April 28.
Shapoval met them when they arrived at the train station.
Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who attended a reception that took place at the end of a two-day meeting the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration organized that took place in Berlin from July 21-22.
Activists from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Italy and the U.S. attended the gathering that had a stated goal of starting “the conversation about long-term/mid-term needs and solutions for LGBTIQ Ukrainians and incite collaboration among stakeholders working with LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third-country nationals.”
“We were thrilled to bring together activists and human rights defenders from 10 countries and 20 organizations to develop medium and long-term strategies to support displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians and third country nationals,” ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth told the Blade after the meeting. “All these organizations, including ORAM, have done an amazing job getting emergency support and services to LGBTIQ Ukrainians in need. As the war in Ukraine drags on, it’s more important than ever for organizations to coordinate efforts and plan for supporting longer term needs. This two-day roundtable in Berlin was a great step in that direction.”
ORAM has partnered with Airbnb.org and Alight (formerly known as the American Refugee Committee) to provide more than 1,000 nights of short-term housing to LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians and other displaced people in Germany and other countries in Europe. Shapoval, Baraniuk and Mulyukina are among those who live in such apartments.
Roth noted ORAM has begun to develop “a housing collective” for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians in Berlin. He said ORAM rents the apartments in which the refugees can live for up to six months, “allowing them to register in Berlin, access social welfare and other services.”
“Safe and secure housing is one of the most urgent needs facing displaced LGBTIQ Ukrainians,” Roth told the Blade. “It’s an essential element in getting settled and rebuilding lives.”
Berlin Pride shows solidarity with Ukraine
The meeting ended a day before the annual Christopher Street Day parade took place in Berlin.
Baraniuk helped carry ORAM’s banner during the parade, while Mulyukina took pictures for the organization.
‘Stop Russian aggression’
Kyiv Pride Executive Director Lenny Emson is one of LGBTQ and intersex activists from Ukraine who participated in the ORAM meeting and in the parade.
He told the Blade before the parade began that he took several trains from Kyiv to Poland before he flew to Berlin. Emson said the trip took two days.
“I understand that it is a safe ground, but I still have those flashbacks,” Emson told the Blade as he smoked a cigarette in front of a hotel near the parade staging area. “When you were sitting in the conference room and I saw something that reminds me of an air raid siren I was getting a panic attack. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a safe place.”
Emson also took issue with parade organizers’ opposition to war.
“Unfortunately, we as the Ukrainian community here (are) very disappointed with the motto that Berlin Pride put on the main stage: No war,” said Emson. “This doesn’t reflect the feelings that we have right now.”
“We would like to actually say it loud: Stop Russian aggression,” he added. “We need action right now. We need to stop it. We need to stop Russian aggression. We need to stop it right now.”
A group of marchers held a blue and yellow — the colors of Ukraine’s flag — banner that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Mariupol possible” while others simply carried the Ukrainian flag.
A man carried a homemade sign that read “Arm Ukraine: Make Pride in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Zaporizha, Kryvyi Rih possible again.” Viktoriya, a woman from northern Ukraine who is now pursuing her PhD in Berlin, held a cardboard poster that noted her homeland’s “queer soldiers are fighting for all of us.”
“I’m marching for both rights of queer people and rights of Ukrainians: The right to live and the right for love,” she said as she marched towards Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin.
Discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity was commonplace in Ukraine before the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex discrimination after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Shapoval, who is dating a man he met last October when he traveled to Berlin, told the Blade that he received “looks” in Kyiv if he wore a pink shirt.
He was wearing a pair of purple sneakers during the interview. Shapoval said he would not have been comfortable wearing them if he were still in Kyiv.
“For me it was even harder because I had misery in Ukraine because of homophobes,” he said. “Even the gay community is so toxic in Ukraine because it’s all about toxic masculinity and all of that … I also had some experiences where gays were like, ‘Oh my gosh just cut your hair and then we will get in touch with you.'”
Shapoval has begun the process of applying for German residency.
“I fell in love with the city right from the beginning,” he said. “I found friends here.”
Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, and others have noted transgender and gender non-conforming Ukrainians have not been able to leave the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription. Another issue that LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians have faced as they attempt to resettle in another country is the lack of legal recognition of their relationships.
A marriage equality petition that Kyiv Pride submitted to Zelenskky on July 12 received more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the threshold that requires him to consider it. Ukrainian law requires Zelenskky to respond to it within 10 days of receiving it.
Baraniuk and Mulyukina hope to resettle in the U.S. and Canada, but are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship. The U.S. has a marriage-based immigration system for bi-national couples, while the Canadian system requires them to be married or “common-law partners.”
The U.S. has approved Baraniuk’s resettlement request, but denied Mulyukina.
They said the process to legally prove they are together is prohibitively expensive.”Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”
U.S. diplomat praises Germany policy towards Ukrainian refugees
Embassy Cultural Attaché Cherrie Daniels spoke with Blade on July 22
BERLIN — The cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Germany has applauded the German government’s efforts to welcome Ukrainians who have sought refuge in the country.
“The German government and the municipalities and the 16 states have been extremely welcoming of Ukrainian refugees in Germany,” Cherrie Daniels told the Washington Blade on July 22 during a virtual interview from the embassy in Berlin.
More than 900,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Germany since the war began on Feb. 24.
Ukrainians are able to enter Germany without a visa.
Ukrainians, Russians, Iranians, Syrians, Algerians, Ghanaians and people from more than a dozen other countries attended a roundtable on LGBTQ and intersex refugees the embassy co-hosted with the Canadian Embassy in Germany on July 19. ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth and representatives of Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Association, Queer Refugees Deutschland, Human Rights Watch, Quarteera and Miles also participated.
“We can and must promote the protection of vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers,” said U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann. “These people are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and we can and we must respond to human rights abuses. And we can and we must engage international organizations on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
Daniels said one of the issues roundtable participants discussed was “making sure that asylees get appropriate legal counseling before their asylum hearing.”
“Every country, including the United States and Germany, could do better,” she told the Blade.
Daniels added the roundtable’s overall goal was “to listen to what (participants’) challenges are in the countries they come from.”
“Our job is to listen to what those challenges are and see what our embassies in those regions or what the State Department at-large in the White House can do to support their additional inclusion and equal rights for them,” she said.
Daniels spoke with the Blade a day before Berlin’s annual Christopher Street Day parade took place.
The embassy, which is adjacent to Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. was flying several Progress Pride flags in the days leading up to the parade. The canopy over the embassy’s main entrance was also adorned in rainbow colors.
The embassy — along with the U.S. Consulates in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Hamburg and Munich — on July 6 hosted a discussion about LGBTQ and intersex issues in sports. Former Washington Spirit player Joanna Lohman, Portland Thorns coach Nadine Angerer and former German soccer player Marcus Urban participated.
Lohman is a lesbian, while Angerer and Urban are openly bisexual and gay respectively.
The embassy has also launched “UnterFreunden,” a podcast with an episode that highlights LGBTQ+ and intersex issues.
“What we wanted to assure is that we don’t only celebrate Pride during Pride Month, in June or July in Germany,” Jesse George, the embassy’s public diplomacy and media advisor, told the Blade during the interview with Daniels. “So we are amplifying and doing outreach regarding the LGBTQI+ community all year long.”
President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House in the same year named Jessica Stern, who was previously the executive director of OutRight Action International, as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.
The State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Stern during an exclusive interview with the Blade ahead of Pride Month noted the Biden administration’s continued support of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad also includes marriage equality in counties where activists say it is possible through legislative or judicial processes.
“When together we stand up for LGBTQI+ persons, we stand up for the work of building a country and a world where everyone belongs and everyone’s rights are respected, no matter who they are or who they love,” said Gutmann during the July 19 reception.
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 struck down Roe v. Wade.
Justice Clarence Thomas in his concurrent opinion said the Supreme Court should reconsider the decisions in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex.
The Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify marriage equality into federal law, passed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month with 47 Republicans voting in favor of it. The bill needs 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to overcome a potential filibuster.
Daniels said the Roe ruling is “definitely” on the minds of LGBTQ and intersex activists in Germany and “on our mind.”
“What we can do as an administration is to stand in solidarity with those marginalized communities and, of course, for women’s and girls’ rights and for reproductive rights globally,” she said. “That is something we can do as a State Department, as a foreign policy agency.”
Richard Grenell represented U.S. in Berlin from 2018-2020
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who is openly gay, represented the U.S. in Berlin from 2018-2020.
The previous administration tapped Grenell to lead an initiative that encourages countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. The Blade last August filed a lawsuit against the State Department in federal court in D.C. that seeks Grenell’s emails about the initiative.
The embassy during Grenell’s ambassadorship hosted a group of LGBTQ and intersex rights activists from around the world. Grenell and then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Knight Craft in 2019 organized an event on the sidelines of a U.N. Security Council meeting that focused on decriminalization efforts around the world.
Grenell, among other things, faced condemnation from politicians in Germany who accused him of supporting far-right politicians and attempting to interfere in German politics. Advocacy groups in the U.S. and around the world also sharply criticized Grenell over his outspoken support of then-President Donald Trump.
Daniels did not specifically discuss Grenell during the interview. Daniels said in reference to the embassy’s work in support of LGBTQ and intersex rights that “people had been invited to the embassy in that period for certain public events.”
“Now having our doors wide open and showing this inclusive face of the United States, you know, I’ll let other people draw that contrast,” she said.
“In these four walls so to speak, we’re hearing, we’re listening and steering to the extent we can, sharing our policies and programs in a way that will address how can we improve that message of inclusion and of equal rights as LGBTQ rights or human rights,” added Daniels. “It’s not some niche issue. It’s mainstreamed into all of our policies.”
Daniels further stressed “that’s a difference that you’re going to see.”
“Again, it’s not flying the flag on Pride Month, although that’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s fighting for those rights, and all of our programs and all of our outreach and ensuring that that’s human rights. It’s not something that’s just for a particular, you know, trying to show that we do it. I think people can feel that inclusion when they’re in the company of this embassy.”
Andorra lawmakers extend civil marriage equality to same-sex couples
Small European country’s family code revised
Lawmakers in Andorra on Thursday voted unanimously to extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Andorra is a small country known for its ski areas that is nestled between Spain and France in the Pyrenees.
Media reports indicate the new Andorran family code that lawmakers approved eliminates the legal differences between married heterosexual couples and gays and lesbians who have entered into civil partnerships.
“Today we are voting on a law for everyone, which includes all of us,” said Carles Enseñat, president of Andorra’s Democratic Parliamentary Group, before the vote. “[It is] a law of a modern country that ensures the free development of citizenship and bases its success on the most primordial organizational nucleus — the family — with all its diversity.”
Spain and France are among the European jurisdictions in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
The Slovenia Constitutional Court earlier this month ruled a law that limited marriage and adoption rights to heterosexual partners is unconstitutional. Switzerland’s marriage equality law took effect on July 1.
It is not immediately clear when Andorra’s new family code takes effect.
Greece bans sex ‘normalization’ surgeries for intersex children
Handful of other European countries have passed similar laws
Lawmakers in Greece on Tuesday voted to ban so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.
Reuters reported the bill that Greek MPs approved will ban such procedures on children under 15 unless a court allows them.
Doctors who perform the surgeries would face fines and prison. The procedures will be allowed for teenagers over 15 if they consent to them.
Intersex Greece, an intersex advocacy group, in a press release notes Greece joins Germany, Iceland, Malta and Portugal that have enacted such legislation.
“As of today, July 19, 2022, surgical and other medical interventions, which until now have been carried out on intersex infants and children, secretly and without consent, to ‘conform’ their sex characteristics with the ‘typical’ male or female anatomy have been legally banned in Greece,” said Intersex Greece in a press release. “Today is, therefore, historic for the protection and recognition of the human rights of intersex people, in Greece, in Europe and in the world.”
Two other intersex rights groups — Oii Europe and interACT — and OutRight Action International also supported the bill.
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