From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters
LGBTQ+ Ukrainians are reacting in a variety of ways to the Russian invasion. Some are fleeing, others have enlisted or been drafted to fight; and others are staying to help their country in other ways.
PROGRESS BEFORE THE WAR
Before the war, Ukraine’s LGBTQ+ community was making progress. Employment discrimination is illegal. Trans people face fewer barriers in changing their legal status, even though the process is lengthy. It was encouraging that in 2019 President Volodymyr Zelensky shouted down an anti-Queer heckler at a press conference, saying, “[I] won’t say anything bad about people with non-traditional orientation to you, because we’re living in an open and free society….Leave those people finally at peace for God’s sake!” But a proposed hate crimes law, introduced in 2020, has yet to be taken up.
Some continue to run Queer organizations that provide safe space and community and are working for Queer rights. Insight is a Ukrainian human rights NGO whose members remain in Ukraine to fight Russia and continue helping LGBTQ+ people as they always have.
Lenny Emson, director of the NGO Kyiv Pride, returned to Ukraine to provide food and housing. Kyiv Pride tells stories and asks for help on their Facebook page and is gathering supplies for Ukrainian soldiers. Then there’s Nash Mir LGBT Human Rights Center, whose office was broken into and activists sheltering there were beaten by the intruders. That shows there is still much oppression and harassment of Queer people in Ukraine.
Some Queer Ukrainians fleeing the war are entering countries that are anti-Queer. Trans women, who are technically legally allowed to leave Ukraine, are often blocked because they are still identified as male on their IDs and then forced to serve in the Ukraine army. If you are Queer and Brown or Black skinned, your chances of being stopped at the border are great.
There are also people outside Ukraine helping LGBTQ+ people leave. A couple in Derbyshire, UK, host Queer Ukrainian refugees because they know they “face additional persecution.” An international network of allies including Warsaw Pride, Rainbow Railroad, and Asylum Access, has sprung up to help refugees find safe haven in Poland, Hungary and other neighboring countries, all of which are hostile to LGBTQ+ people. They look within those countries or into Queer-friendly nations.