Ukraine gay pride marchers ready to defy violence
Organisers in Kiev determined to go ahead after cancellation of last year's event, despite rise in homophobic attacks
Tracy McVeigh; The Observer, Saturday 18 May 2013 19.57 BSTt
Efforts are going ahead in Ukraine's capital Kiev to stage a gay pride march next week in the face of data showing a sharp rise in the number of homophobic attacks reported in the city.
Organisers were forced to cancel the celebration last year, hours before it was due to start, after police said they could not guarantee the safety of participants in the face of threats from far-right and religious groups.
A report published this weekend by Amnesty International revealed what it called "endemic discrimination" by both the Ukrainian authorities and members of the public towards the country lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and is calling on the government to drop proposals to introduce two pieces of legislation which would further entrench homophobia by making it illegal to promote "propaganda" about homosexuality in the arts.
Ukraine faces a deadline from the European Council to show progress towards reform in human rights, including key judicial and electoral reforms, in order for Ukraine to move towards European integration. Among them is the release of key political prisoners, including its former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, currently being detained and facing murder and embezzlement charges.
Gay rights campaigners hope the pressure will further their own cause in the face of the growing violence. One non-governmental organisation in Kiev has received 29 reports of violent attacks and 36 of threats against LGBTI people in the last year alone.
Amnesty International's Ukrainian researcher Max Tucker said: "People have been beaten and in one case murdered because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these crimes have not been investigated properly and have gone unpunished."
He said the violence was now being used by the authorities as a reason to further restrict human rights. "It adds insult to injury: the possibility of attack is routinely used as an excuse to deprive LGBTI people of their rights to express themselves and to hold public events in a peaceful manner."
The pride march is planned for Saturday 25 May, and although campaigners do not predict a mass turnout, it would be an important first step for Ukraine, said Stas Misthenko, one of the organisers.
"It's really important because it gives a signal that something will change and that something can change," he said. "Not just in Ukraine, but for Russia, for Belarus, for Moldova.
"The situation here makes everyday life very complicated. Maybe 90-95% of the LGBT people in this country will keep who they are a secret, even from their families. People are scared of being fired from their work or being beaten in the streets. So people do not want to show or express themselves; they hide in their apartments.
"Even on the dating websites, maybe only one in 10 gay people will put up a picture of themselves. And blackmail is rife: there are many sad cases that people will arrange to meet and then blackmail the person over their sexuality.
"LGBT people are very vulnerable. This is why seeing something like a pride march go ahead – to see other people like them on TV – is so important for the LGBT community."