Violence Erupts in Lviv as Ukrainian Equality Festival is Cancelled
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today expressed alarm over reports of violence that took place against members of Ukraine’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community this weekend following the cancellation of the Equality Festival in Lviv, Ukraine. Ukrainian human rights activists reported that at least two festival guests were severely beaten by a group of young men in Lviv this weekend, while many others experienced threats and intimidation by groups of masked protesters.
Last week, Human Rights First issued a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, calling on him to raise concerns with his Ukrainian counterparts over the possible cancellation of the Equality Festival. Ambassador Pyatt spoke out in support of Ukraine’s LGBT community.
“Ukraine’s LGBT community is under attack, and the Ukrainian government and police forces are not doing enough to protect their basic human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We thank Ambassador Pyatt for publicly supporting the rights of Ukraine’s LGBT community, and urge the U.S. government to press Ukraine to hold the perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.”
The Equality Festival is an event designed to promote tolerance, equality, and anti-discrimination toward various social groups, including the LGBT community. In response to threats of violence prior to the event, the festival venue refused to host the event and a pre-booked hotel denied accommodations for the festival organizers claiming that they had received a warning from city officials. In the weeks prior to the event, festival organizers wrote a letter to Lviv Mayor Andrij Sadovyj asking for his public support and participation in the festival. Activists did not receive a response from the mayor, and—on the eve of the festival—a local court banned all public events from March 19-21.
Ukrainian human rights activists have emphasized the importance of continued support from the United States and the international community.
“I believe the support of the United States is very important for us, as the United States is the most significant partner of Ukraine in many things, including promoting human rights,” said Olena Shevchenko, who leads the Ukrainian LGBT organization Insight.
Ukrainian member of parliament Mustafa Nayyem, one of the leaders of the 2014 revolution that led to the removal of president Viktor Yanukovych, publicly condemned the violence, saying, “The authorities should always react when people’s rights are infringed upon. It doesn’t matter whose rights it is—LGBT people, the opposition, patriots, migrants, women, the elderly, or children. The silence of the Lviv authorities and response to these events differs little from the indifference of the authorities under Yanukovych.”
Human Rights First notes that there is a possibility for similar violence to occur during Kiev Pride, which is scheduled to take place in June, and calls on the United States to work to support the rights and protection of Ukraine’s LGBT community.
Human Rights First continues to urge the U.S. government to prevent the spread of Russian-style propaganda laws in the surrounding region. Human Rights First’s blueprint, “How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia” details how Russia’s homophobic laws and policies have spread throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and outlines key steps that the U.S. government can take to stop the spread of laws and policies that infringe on the human rights of the LGBT community.