KIEV, Ukraine – A Ukrainian court on Thursday denied organizers permission to hold the country’s first gay pride demonstration in the centre of the capital, upholding a complaint by authorities that the rally would disturb annual Kyiv Day celebrations and could spark violence.
A demonstration scheduled for a similar spot last year was cancelled by organizers at the last moment when skinheads gathered at the planned location, intent on beating up the participants.
While the recognition of gay rights has advanced in much of the West, antipathy toward homosexuals remains strong in Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Homosexuality was a criminal offence in the USSR and societal resistance to it remains strong two decades later.
The highly influential Orthodox Church strongly opposes gay rights. A small gay pride rally in the capital of Georgia last week was attacked by a large mob that included Orthodox priests; attempted rallies in Moscow in recent years have attracted crowds of bellicose Orthodox conservatives.
Ukrainian gay activists are now pondering whether to try to hold their demonstration at a different location on Saturday, far away from the annual celebration of the capital.
Amnesty International said in a recent report that Ukraine’s gay community suffers attacks and abuses and widespread discrimination. Despite condemnation from the West, the Ukrainian parliament is debating several anti-gay bills, including one which would make any public positive depiction of homosexuality punishable by up to five years in prison.
Ukraine scored 12 out of 100 points on the so-called Europe rainbow map, a study of gay rights and freedoms conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. By comparison, Britain earned 77 points.
“There is not enough information about who gays and lesbians really are,” Volodymyr Naumenko, a leading Ukrainian gay activist, told The Associated Press earlier this week. “They are people, first of all. They are people who want happiness for themselves.”
While many Western countries have passed laws allowing gays to marry and adopt children, those notions are far off for Ukraine’s gays. Naumenko said his immediate concern is putting a stop to attacks on gays “and if they do beat you up, let it be prosecuted as a crime based on homophobia.”
Last year, a Kyiv gay-rights advocacy group, cited by Amnesty International, received 29 reports of violent attacks against gays and 36 complaints of threatened violence. Most of these crimes went unresolved, Amnesty said.
Even though last year’s demonstration was called off, a top organizer was chased down by masked youths who kicked him in the head, legs and arms and then stomped on his back. Several weeks later, another leading gay activist suffered a broken jaw and a concussion when he was attacked by men shouting homophobic insults.
Naumenko, 24, says it took him a while to reveal his sexuality to his friends and parents, but eventually he became tired of having to lie when asked about his plans for a family or having to describe a boyfriend walking next to him as merely a friend, a colleague or a distant cousin.
“It’s very unpleasant; you lie to the people who are dear to you,” Naumenko told AP on Tuesday at a hotel on the outskirts of Kyiv, where he was training organizers of the planned rally to maintain order and react to possible violence.
In recent days, gay rights opponents have been using social media to plot counter rallies and attacks. “How to stop this? Who to write to or call?” asked one member in a posting on one such online group. “Take a hammer and (strike) the skull,” replied another.
Gay community leaders say that less than 1 per cent of Ukraine’s gays and lesbians are open about their sexual orientation, while the rest are forced to hide it from friends and co-workers and deceive their loved ones.
“A situation in which people see you as someone from the Moon or from Mars or from a psychiatric hospital is painful,” said Danil Los, a gay 23-year-old medical student who attended Naumenko’s seminar.