Biden Should Speak Out on Trans People Blocked from Leaving Ukraine
By Brian Dooley
Liana Georgi is an activist with the Safe Bow organization, which helps people from marginalized groups fleeing to safety from Ukraine. It was founded by gender non-conforming activist Rain Dove, and has been assisting with practicalities in helping people flee the Russian invasion.
Georgi told Human Rights First that a few days ago she accompanied one trans person and two gay men who were stopped from leaving Ukraine by border guards.
Under Ukraine’s new martial law, men aged 18 to 60 are forbidden from leaving the country unless they have been granted exceptional status. “The group I was with was trying to cross into Poland, but the male-presenting people, even though one is non-binary, were not allowed to leave,” she said.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, she said, noting reports of trans people being stopped from leaving through at least three border crossings, and not only into Poland. “People prevented from leaving are told to go to a military checkpoint for special permission to leave, to get the ‘white paper’ that’s needed for an exemption. Even people with official papers from outside agencies showing they are transgender have been turned away,” said Georgi.
She said the prospect of going to a military checkpoint to seek the necessary paperwork is a frightening prospect for some trans people, who fear they will be forced into service for the war effort. “Some trans people are managing to get out, but it seems to be getting more difficult now.”
Georgi says there are “lots of trans people in hiding all over Ukraine, fearful and finding hormonal treatment really hard to access. They need help.”
This week, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on protection from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, noted that some people trying to leave Ukraine are experiencing risks, and cited “trans and gender-diverse people whose legal identity documents do not correspond with their gender or physical presentation, who encounter severe difficulties at checkpoints, border crossings, reception centers, health facilities and other critical locations.”
For some years, Human Rights First has supported the LGBTQ+ community in Ukraine. In July 2014 I was in Kyiv to take part in the Pride events, but they were suddenly cancelled the day before, with authorities saying they could not guarantee our safety.
President Biden arrives in the region this week to discuss the war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis. We have called on him to remind Ukrainian authorities that transgender people and others from the LGBTQ+ community are at severe risk from the Russian invasion and should not be prevented from fleeing the country.
The White House is keen to show the Biden administration’s credentials on LGBTQ+ rights, highlighting their accomplishments in the U.S. and abroad. These include a directive telling all U.S. government agencies “engaged abroad to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
It includes a section on “Protecting Vulnerable LGBTQI+ Refugees and Asylum Seekers. LGBTQI+ persons who seek refuge from violence,” and Biden has specifically directed that the U.S. government undertakes “swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons abroad.”
Jessica Stern is the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights, and says the U.S. has been helping LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine with financial resources and that she is consulting with organizations in Poland, Hungary, and other countries that “would be receiving LGBTQI Ukrainian refugees.”
That’s encouraging, but for people to be helped in neighboring countries they first have to be able to get out of Ukraine.
This is not an unsolvable problem, and the U.S. needs to play its part. Biden should raise these issues in Europe this week.
“The world in general is a transphobic and homophobic place, but Russia in particular is known for its cruelty. We need to get queer Ukrainians out of this country, because they will probably be among those first targeted if Russia takes control of places,” said Georgi.