One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Ukraine’s Missteps on Protecting the Rights of LGBT People

By Dylan Rasnick

In mid-March, Equality Festival Lviv was forced to cancel its weekend events because venues retracted sponsorship, the local government banned all public events, and masked assailants issued an anonymous bomb threat. While this event was meant for all social minority groups, the festival ignited a dialogue of hate protesting against LGBT people’s inclusion.

Ukraine has seen its fair share of LGBT rights abuses, with violence erupting at previous LGBT pride events. The country received just a 12 percent rating from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association-Europe (ILGA-Europe), which measures a country’s level of equality based on its legislation. Religious leaders, conservative groups, and some members of parliament openly express anti-LGBT sentiment.

But Ukraine has also made some positive strides towards protecting minority groups’ rights. In November, Ukraine passed an employment nondiscrimination law that specifically bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. While this progressive legislation is encouraging, the recent violence in Lviv underscores the serious issues that remain.

The local authorities failed to promise protection after threats against the festival, contributing to its cancellation. At least two individuals trying to attend were severely beaten. Police failed to investigate.  This represents a regressive step since police forces protected participants from protestors at last year’s Pride March in Kiev.

But civil society activists are working tirelessly to ensure the advancement of the human rights of LGBT people. In a response to the events of the weekend, Olena Shevchenko, executive director of Ukrainian NGO Insight, writes that the organization, “will still defend the freedoms and equality for all people – without exceptions and limitations.” She affirmed that LGBT activists will continue to plan events like the Equality Festival in the future.

As LGBT Pride Month quickly approaches, the violence in Lviv is of particular concern. The Ukrainian government should make good on its commitment to protecting the rights of LGBT people. Simply enacting legislation is not enough. Instead, the Ukrainian government should actively commit to promoting the rights and freedoms of all people—regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Ukrainian government should take the necessary steps to ensure supporting future events like Equality Festival go forward unencumbered, guaranteeing the security of participants, and condemning future violence. The U.S. government should support and protect the efforts of activists like Shevchenko, and dialogue with its Ukrainian counterparts to ensure they support the basic rights and freedoms of LGBT Ukrainians. U.S. support for civil society activists would help ensure Ukraine’s recent advancements in protecting the human rights of LGBT people are not marred by violence and intolerance.

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Published on March 31, 2016

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