City Officials Pull Plug on Odessa Pride March
Odessa, Ukraine – Human Rights First today expressed alarm that the Odessa City Council’s executive committee has succeeded in efforts to cancel the city’s annual lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Pride march scheduled to take place tomorrow, August 13. Local authorities claim a high probability of conflict and confrontation that could lead to increased criminal incident was the reason behind the last minute Thursday legal challenge that banned the primary event of Odessa’s multi-day Pride celebration. Organizers of the celebration confirmed that several venues facing outside pressure have also cancelled their agreement to host Pride events.
“The legal challenge and the court’s decision to ban the march are part of a strategy to marginalize the LGBT community by limiting their basic freedoms of speech and expression, which are guaranteed to every Ukrainian citizen.” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord, who is in Odessa through August 14. “Leadership needs to protect these rights, not infringe on them, and allow Saturday’s march to safely proceed.”
Staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev have been in contact with municipal and regional leaders, including members of Odessa’s police force. Human Rights First appreciates their ongoing efforts and urges them to continue engaging to ensure that all planned events can safely take place.
The Odessa executive council action is not the first time the city has prevented LGBT inclusive events from taking place in Ukraine. Last year’s Pride march was similarly banned by a court order. In March of this year, organizers of Lviv’s Equality Festival were also forced to cancel events after venues retracted sponsorship, the local government banned all public events, and masked assailants issued an anonymous bomb threat. Yet in June, in the country’s capital, Kiev, authorities took steps to protect Pride participants and prevent verbal and physical assault, giving many hope that the situation for the LGBT community in Ukraine was improving.
“It is alarming to see this happening in Odessa once again,” said noted Gaylord. “But this isn’t over. If Odessa’s authorities follow the example of Kiev, and allow the event to safely proceed, Odessa Pride can be a victory for human rights in Ukraine.”