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Monday, May 21, 2012

Yesterday I Tried to Cover Ukraine's First Gay-Pride Parade

Posted by on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 4:47 PM

The location of Ukraine’s first gay pride parade was kept secret right up until the moment the event was supposed to take place. I called and emailed the organizers, Ukrainian gay websites, and even spoke to a group that tries to battle Ukraine’s AIDS problem, but nobody would tell me where it was going to take place.

Finally, I got in touch with a woman named Olena, who told me she was escorting members of the press to the event. She told me to meet her at the University metro station at 1:30—30 minutes before the parade was supposed to start. I arrived at the metro station about 20 minutes early and got a text message from one of my contacts, who said there were 500 angry right-wing activists waiting where the parade was supposed to begin.

This video shows a group beating one of the pride-parade's supporters:

Eventually, Olena showed up and told us that someone had leaked the parade’s location and that there were in fact a bunch of ultra-nationalist Cossacks hanging out where the parade was supposed to happen. They were some kind of nationalist group, “like militants in Arizona or something,” a woman told me. Meanwhile, a group of 200 “football hooligans” were reportedly on a metro headed for the parade location—and we heard that it had been cancelled.

Police in the city of Kyiv never supported the parade. According to one of the parade organizers, cops initially refused to provide officers for the event and had urged the city to ban it. But the city gave it the green light, possibly to avoid yet another diplomatic row with the European Union ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer matches next month. Police did show up, but according to organizers and a German member of the European Parliament who was there observing, they made little effort to control the mobs of angry protesters.

A dwindling group of Orthodox Christians get ready to call it a day.
  • Chris Collison
  • A dwindling group of Orthodox Christians get ready to call it a day.

By the time I got down to the river, most of the protesters had cleared out, except for a few dozen Orthodox Christians. I then met up with my group for a press conference that was supposed to take place several miles away from the center, but it had also been cancelled. I learned later that shortly before we arrived, a group of men had attacked a few of the organizers with pepper spray while they were talking to Ukrainian reporters in a nearby park. Two of them were beaten, as the video above shows.

The 100 hand-selected people who were supposed to march in the parade were split up into small groups and met at different metro stations throughout the city and planned to make their way to the site at staggered intervals as not to attract attention.

Nobody knew for sure how the location got out. Olena suspected Russian journalists. Others suspected the police. Still, the organizers considered the day a success. To them, the fact that the city administration approved it and the police actually showed up was progress.

But even with a small victory, there is a chance that the LGBT movement may face even further setbacks. The Ukrainian parliament is considering a so-called “anti-discrimination” bill similar to one passed in March in Saint Petersburg that, rather than making discrimination against sexual minorities illegal, would ban “homosexual propaganda.” Another organizer, Stas, said he worries that the bill could be interpreted in such a way that it would allow authorities to ban news media from covering anything that has to do with the LGBT community.

With pressure from the West, activists hope the bill can be killed so Ukraine’s developing LGBT community can fully emerge from the shadows.


Comments (22) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Oh god. What a great report on a brave, brave day for those Ukrainians. Thanks for covering their struggle.
Posted by gloomy gus on May 21, 2012 at 5:02 PM · Report this
Ex-Soviet provinces and satellites are famously backwards and wrongheaded on matters of treatment of minorities of almost any variety.

There are articles written on the subject, but I at least don't remember any conclusive reasons as to why.
Posted by Central Scrutinizer on May 21, 2012 at 5:09 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 3
I'm so humbled by these sorts of stories of courage. GLBT people putting their bodies on the line for freedom.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on May 21, 2012 at 5:30 PM · Report this
laterite 4
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...humanity! Isn't it wonderful?

*jeers, tomatoes, raspberries, etc.
Posted by laterite on May 21, 2012 at 5:34 PM · Report this
Camembert 5
@2 - what is interesting is that in a lot of the old Warsaw Pact countries, legislation has been leading public opinion and public opinion is following. In all EU countries, including Latvia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality in employment matters. That is better than 29 states. In Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria all discrimination is unlawful. Expect to see gay marriage in at least 4 former Soviet/Warsaw Pact countries before it is recognised at the federal level in the US.

Sadly, none of that applies to either Russia or Ukraine, the 2 most populous countries in Eastern Europe. I lived briefly in Ukraine and the casual bigotry directed at anyone who wasn't a straight Slavic superman was sickening.
Posted by Camembert on May 21, 2012 at 5:45 PM · Report this
Thank you so much for doing this. The bravery required of the organizers, marchers and sympathetic reporters such as yourself is awe-inspiring. I'm going to forward this piece to my Canadian Member of Parliament and demand to know just what Canada can do to help put pressure on the Ukrainian authorities.
Posted by teamcanada on May 21, 2012 at 5:46 PM · Report this
Fnarf 7
Great report, live from the ground. This is shocking thuggery. These kinds of thugs aren't always real picky about who they bash on; I wonder if the Euros are going to get ugly.
Posted by Fnarf on May 21, 2012 at 6:05 PM · Report this
Camembert 8
@5 - Correcting myself - in Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria the anti-discrimination laws include areas such as employment, provision of goods and services, housing and education but sadly not marriage or adoption (though single gay people can adopt in Bulgaria).
Posted by Camembert on May 21, 2012 at 6:07 PM · Report this
Camembert 9
@7 - Donetsk is probably the best place for England to play as it is very difficult to get to, there are no hotel rooms, and it isn't as openly backwards as some other Ukrainian cities.

The tournament I think - hope - might pass without too much physical violence because it'd be a big deal for tourism, especially in Ukraine. I think they'll find a few battalions of paramilitary police to keep the local neo-fascists in order.

But there will definitely, without a doubt, be some sickening racist abuse of non-white players.
Posted by Camembert on May 21, 2012 at 6:17 PM · Report this
TheMisanthrope 10
This only has nine comments? That almost makes me angrier than the actual content in the post. Maybe people have nothing to add. I have a hard time finding anything pithy and any valued commentary to add. But, comments are revenue and this writing should be encouraged.

Of course, this should also be a full article. But, withstanding that, this is one piece of importance regarding the state of gay around the world.

And, a final statement to say it reminds me of the doc that won awards at the SGLFF, Beyond Gay. Which makes me grateful for the work done here in the past to push us ahead of some of the foreign countries.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on May 21, 2012 at 9:19 PM · Report this
JensR 11
We (Sweden) had two ministers who was supposed to walk in the parade, about ten people from the LGBT-community here who was also on site for Pride.

At the moment they are talking about a blockade on Ukraine during the European Football Championships (Ukraine is hosting) and the minister (who's one of our representatives in the EU) is kicking up a little storm about this.

The biggest problem in a large part of the former eastern block is poverty. With the economic collapse this is even worse and reactionary conservative groups like the "cossacks" gain more and more ground and they are supported by the most conservative parts of the orthodoxy.

Also a still from the beating [… ], the guy their jumping on is Svyatoslav Sheremet the leader for "Gay Forum of Ukraine"
Posted by JensR on May 22, 2012 at 12:59 AM · Report this
Thank you for the story.

I'm currently living in Belgrade, Serbia.

The situation in Serbia is arguably way worse than this when it comes to gay parades. In Serbia, in 2001, there was a first attempt at a gay parade, and it ended much like this. In 2009, they tried to have one, and hooligans, days before the parade, started randomly attacking foreigners, killing on in the centre of the city, sending a message to the authorities that they are in control when it comes to this. Authorities capitulated and cancelled the parade.

In 2010, there was the one and only successful parade. 500 marchers walked one block in what was probably the world's most muted gay parade ever. FIVE THOUSAND police were required to reign in SIX THOUSAND protesters who came to kill. There was a massive roit and many (mostly police officers) were hospitalized.

In 2011, gay parade was cancelled, because the authorities just couldn't stomach it, so they gave in to the thugs.

So, I'm tempted to say it's way worse in Serbia but, in a way, it's not, because at least once there was a huge force mobilized to protect the parade.

You can still see "death to faggots" and "we're waiting for you" spraypainted on almost every wall from the last gay parade and the last attempted one.

Terrible stuff, no matter how you look at it.

Here's a video from 2010 from just one part of the city of people rampaging. They're shouting in unison "kill the fag(s)"

Posted by Doot on May 22, 2012 at 3:30 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 13
Great reminder how many other countries have a long way to go. And makes our Pride in Seattle look like nothing more than a huge advertisement for big corporations.

If Pridefest was to be taken seriously it would find a way to fly those marchers in Ukraine to an all expense paid trip to our pride next month. But I suppose that would be up to the corporate sponsors.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on May 22, 2012 at 5:18 AM · Report this
"And makes our Pride in Seattle look like nothing more than a huge advertisement for big corporations."

IMO, that's a wonderful thing when "gay" is simply another consumer-demographic. How wonderful it would be in Serbia if it were beer and other companies, as opposed to rampaging thugs, tripping over themselves to show up at the gay parade.
Posted by Doot on May 22, 2012 at 6:09 AM · Report this
@11 That photo is incredible and awful to behold.
What a world-a man trying to hold his head up while others would see him dead for it.
Posted by Beth on May 22, 2012 at 6:56 AM · Report this
@10, you're right. These stories should be much bigger than they are. What sort of bridges are we building with their community?

@13, I'd chip in for that.
Posted by jt on May 22, 2012 at 7:44 AM · Report this
long-time reader 17
It's nice to know that Arizona's infamy has has emigrated so much farther than the Mexicans they're trying to keep out.
Posted by long-time reader on May 22, 2012 at 8:04 AM · Report this

me too.
Posted by Doot on May 22, 2012 at 8:28 AM · Report this
"The Police Let the Beatings Happen [...] And as Collison explains, this is actually progress."

You know, I sort of expected this sort of shit from Copeland, but I honestly though Sting was better than this.
Posted by Staring into the abyss and laughing on May 22, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 20
Now that the Orthodox Church is free to function it is also free to oppress. Behold.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on May 22, 2012 at 10:28 AM · Report this
Ipso Facto 21
This is humbling and inspiring.

Thank you for the report.
Posted by Ipso Facto on May 22, 2012 at 3:14 PM · Report this
Yes, thank you for the vivid reminder that there's lots of places worse than Portland.
Posted by clashfan on May 22, 2012 at 8:37 PM · Report this

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