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Ukraine LGBTQ+ activists strongly condemn Russia invasion

Kyiv Pride urges supporters to defend country

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Ukraine, LGBT, Olena Shevchenko, gay news, Washington Blade
Olena Shevchenko of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group, in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014. Shevchenko and other Ukrainian activists have condemned Russia's invasion. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko)

KYIV, Ukraine — LGBTQ+ activists in Ukraine spoke on Thursday strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of their country.

Kyiv Pride in a tweet urged their supporters around the world to “call on your governments to stand up and to take action against the war in Ukraine.” 

“We need to stop it now, we need to show how powerful we are all together, and Putin will stand no chance,” said Kyiv Pride.

Kyiv Pride in another tweet it wrote in Ukrainian mocked Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We have left the past to which (Putin) seeks to draw us far behind,” said Kyiv Pride. “We are a country that has chosen the values of human rights, humanity, life and personality. Putin lives in the past.”

Activists in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, with whom the Washington Blade spoke after the invasion began said they are scared.

Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians, said she saw “clouds of black smoke” and heard “bombs exploding” and the “sounds of planes.”

“(It’s) scary, damn it,” said Globa.

Olena Shevchenko, chair of Insight, another Ukrainian LGBTQ+ rights group, echoed Globa.

“It’s bombing all around,” said Shevchenko from Kyiv. “We hear explosions.” 

Ruslana Panukhnyk, a Kyiv-based LGBTQ+ activist, told the Blade that she is now in the capital’s suburbs because “there were a lot of explosions this morning.”

“As of now everything is silent near the place I am staying, but my friends in the city are noticing some blast sounds and planes flying over the city,” said Panukhnyk. “We are closely following the situation and it looks like Russian troops are invading from all directions, except the Western one.”

Shevchenko sent to the Blade a video from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country, that appears to show a Russian airstrike. Shevchenko also provided pictures of damaged buildings in Mariupol, a port city that is near the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that Russia has now recognized as an independent country. 

Sphere, a Kharkiv-based LGBTQ+ rights group, on Wednesday in a post to its Facebook page said the “escalation of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine currently has an unprecedented impact on vulnerable groups, including the LGBT+ community.” Nash Mir, another Ukrainian advocacy organization, also has offices in Kharkiv, Odessa and other cities across the country. 

“As we have written, this war is not about dividing the spheres of influence,” said Nash Mir in a statement it posted to its Facebook page on Thursday. “This war is a war of civilizations. The Free World opposes the Russian world, freedom and democracy oppose its traditional values.”

“Propaganda and protection of these ‘traditional values,’ among which homophobia occupies anan honorable place, is a direct aid to the Russian world,” stressed Nash Mir. “This is the ideological justification of the Russian aggression. This is a direct assistance to our mortal enemy.”

“This is the time for Ukrainian advocates of these values to decide on which side they are,” it added.

Advocacy groups outside of Ukraine have also condemned the invasion.

“We stand with the brave people of Ukraine,” tweeted Tbilisi Pride in Georgia.

ILGA-Europe echoed these sentiments.

“Like everyone, we woke this morning with shock and regret to hear of the invasion of Ukraine,” it said. “We will play our part to support and stand with everyone in Ukraine, Russia and the entire region who works towards peace and democracy, and to support those who are made even more vulnerable.”

Rainbow Railroad, a Canada-based organization that assists LGBTQ+ refugees around the world, said it is “alarmed by the attack on Ukraine and are concerned about the impact this conflict will have on Ukraine’s LGBTQI+ community.” 

“We are preparing, in consultation with our partners, possible ways we can help people at risk in the region,” said a Rainbow Railroad on Thursday.

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Eastern Europe

ELLE magazine thumbs its nose at an anti-LGBTQ government

On the cover of Elle Hungary, a gay couple with a small child is presented to highlight the simple truth: love knows no limits

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Elle Hungary has defiantly featured a same-sex married couple and their daughter on its cover. (Photo Credit: Elle magazine Hungary)

BUDAPEST, Hungary – The September issue of fashion and culture magazine Elle Hungary features a prominent married gay couple with their infant child on the cover.

While seemingly innocuous, the photograph of Hungarian restaurateur Hubert Hlatky Schlichter and his neurosurgeon husband Laszlo Szegedi kissing their daughter Hannabel is in open defiance of the homophobic government of Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán.

On June 15, 2021, a Hungarian Law purportedly aiming at taking stricter action against pedophile offenders and amending certain laws to protect children was adopted. Some of the new provisions target and limit the access of minors to content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality.”

Prime Minister Orbán has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with this law which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called a “disgrace.”

Orbán, who has publicly proclaimed that he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values,” has been criticized by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people.

Publishing the cover on its Instagram account Monday, Elle Hungary stated that the magazine’s intention was to “contribute to the acceptance of rainbow families” and help the publication to “campaign all over the country for love and all forms of family.”

(Translated from Hungarian):

Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, caring and supportive environment, and no one can prevent that because of their parents’ gender identity or sexual orientation.

On the cover of our latest issue, we present a Hungarian rainbow family: we can get to know the story of their becoming a family, their honest and loving everyday life with their little girl, Hannabell. Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter and Dr. László Szegedi confess honestly about the difficulties and prejudices they had to face as a gay couple at home and how fate-changing the arrival of their daughter was for them. With their story, we want to send a message to everyone who has felt that they or their loved ones have been attacked more recently: you are not alone, and there is a positive scenario!

We hope that with our current issue, even if on a small scale, we contribute to the acceptance of rainbow families, and manage to give inspiration, encouragement and support to the many thousands of readers who share the same values with us. The slogan of our cover page sums up our message beautifully: Born From Love, because families, regardless of their structure, are rooted in deep, unconditional love. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #BornFromLove to campaign for all forms of love and family across the country!

In the featured article written by Elle Hungary editor-in-chief Vivien Mádai that accompanies the cover, the couple discussed the division of parental roles, and candidly about discrimination they’ve faced in Hungary, particularly as they welcomed their infant daughter into the world.

PinkNewsUK noted that while a same-sex couple featured on a British or US-based magazine would seem innocuous, in Hungary, it marks a landmark step for positive queer representation in the media.

On Instagram, the magazine’s comment section has been flooded with people celebrating the cover.

This past April, Hungary’s President Katalin Novak vetoed a legislation that included a provision for citizens to anonymously report on same-sex couples who are raising children. In a rare departure from the policies of Orbán whom she generally supports, Novak returned the bill to the parliament telling lawmakers to strike that provision.

The country’s constitution states that the institution of marriage is ““between one man and one woman,” and notes that “the mother is a woman, the father a man.”

This law’s passage and Novak’s veto came after the country’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling in February that will continue to block new applications from transgender people for legal gender recognition. The judgment effectively creates two categories of trans people in Hungary: those who applied early enough to pursue gender recognition and those who did not.

A spokesperson for the German government told the media earlier this year that Germany and France joined with other EU member states in the European Commission lawsuit over a Hungarian law which discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The move by Elle to feature the gay couple on its cover follows a July incident where Hungary’s second-largest bookstore chain was fined for violating the nation’s 2021 law that limits the access of minors to books, media content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality.”

The chain was fined for selling copies of British author Alice Oseman’s LGBTQ+ graphic novel series ‘Heartstopper,’ a global phenomena due to the runaway hit Netflix show based on her books in the series.

The Budapest Metropolitan Government Office, (BMGO) fined Lira Konyv bookstore chain for placing the book series in its youth literature section, and for failing to place it in wrapped plastic packaging as required by the 2021 law.

The bookstore chain was fined 12 million forints ($35,930 Euros)

French daily afternoon newspaper Le Monde reported that as a result, bookshops have decided that books deemed “sensitive” must be wrapped in plastic or moved them to the adult section, if they have not decided to refrain from selling them altogether.

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Trans soldier from US named Ukrainian military spokesperson

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo was journalist before she enlisted

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Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in D.C. on May 19, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

KYIV, Ukraine — The Armed Forces of Ukraine have named a Transgender soldier from the U.S. as one of its English-speaking spokespeople.

The Kyiv Post, an English-language newspaper, last week in a tweet noted Sarah Ashton-Cirillo “has become one of the speakers for the Defense Forces.” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar is among those who praised Ashton-Cirillo.

“Sara informs the English-speaking audience — she objectively covers the events of the Russian-Ukrainian war, debunks Russian fakes and propaganda,” said Malyar, according to the Kyiv Post. “Sarah’s audience reach on Twitter alone was 28.3 million users. So, the enemies get excited on hateful social networks, of course. However, this has only increased Sarah’s audience.”

Ashton-Cirillo was a journalist when she began to cover the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Defense Forces at the beginning of Russia’s war against the country in 2022. She eventually enlisted, and a commander from the Defense Ministry on Jan. 31, 2023, facilitated her transfer to the unit’s 209th Batallion of the 113th Brigade.

Ashton-Cirillo, who was born in New York, was working as a senior combat medic in a trench near Kreminna in eastern Ukraine on Feb. 23, 2023, when shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell wounded her. Ashton-Cirillo suffered injuries to her right hand and to her face, and her fellow soldiers had to wait seven hours to evacuate her. Ashton-Cirillo eventually received treatment for her injuries in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is roughly 130 miles northwest of Kreminna.

The Washington Blade spoke with Ashton-Cirillo in May while she was in D.C.

“The big key there was I wasn’t able to take any painkiller by staying in the trench because I was still technically in battle,” she recalled. “Seven hours after my injury, I finally got to a hospital.”

Ashton-Cirillo on Tuesday told the Blade her “new role within the Armed Forces of Ukraine is a position that has been earned due to my performance on the physical and informational battlefields.” 

“What this means is that in today’s Ukraine being a part of the LGBTQ community is neither a benefit nor hindrance, but simply an accepted part of whom a person is,” she said. “The vocal support shown by LGBTQ groups in Ukraine, such as Gender Stream, Kyiv Pride and Ukraine Pride, upon news of this taking place, along with the statement of confidence in me issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar, made me understand that this battle for the country’s liberation is not about tolerance or acceptance for any one group but freedom and liberty for all Ukrainians.”

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Hungary’s prime minister accuses EU of “LGBTQ offensive”

“The EU is rejecting Christian heritage, it is conducting population exchanges, & waging an LGBTQ campaign against family-friendly nations”

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán, (Left) speaking at the 32nd Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp in Băile Tușnad, Transylvania, Romania, on July 22, 2023. (Photo Credit: Office of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán/Facebook)

BAILE TUSNAD, Transylvania, Romania – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán in his speech at the 32nd Bálványos Summer Free University and Student Camp on Saturday castigated the European Union for what Orbán defined as rejecting ‘Christian heritage.’

The government of the conservative ruling party of the prime minister has been feuding with the EU since passage of Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ education law in June of 2021. Orbán, who has publicly proclaimed that he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values,” has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with this law which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called a “disgrace.”

“This bill clearly discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and it goes against all the values, the fundamental values of the European Union and this is human dignity, it is equality and is human fundamental rights, so we will not compromise on these principles,” said von der Leyen.

The European Commission, the ruling body of the EU, referred Hungary to the Court of Justice of the EU over the anti-LGBT law in mid-2022. The commission has said it considers that the law violates the EU’s internal market rules, the fundamental rights of individuals and EU values.

Addressing the audience at the gathering outside of Băile Tușnad, Orbán said [that] “at the heart of the conflicts between the EU and our country lies our fundamental law. The EU is rejecting Christian heritage, it is conducting population exchanges, and it is waging an LGBTQ campaign against family-friendly nations.”

The Prime Minister said that Europe has created its own political class, which is no longer accountable, no longer Christian or democratic in its beliefs.

“We do not want everyone to have the same faith, or to live the same family life or to share the same holidays. We insist, however, that we have a common home, a common language, a common culture and a common public sphere, which must be protected at all costs,” he said adding: “We will not compromise and we will not back down, we will insist on our rights. We will not give in to political or economic blackmail.”

Orbán then pivoted warning: “Asia and China stand before us in full superpower garb, with self-respect and a vision. They want to end a century of humiliation. They want to regain dominance over Asia. And the universal values of the US are laughed at by the Chinese.”

“Every day we are moving towards a confrontation- we are in a dangerous situation in world politics because the number one power sees itself sinking to second place.”

Rebuking the EU the prime minister said the EU is plagued by anxiety. “It is a rich and weak Union, which sees around it a world in revolt, millions of people heading for Europe,” he noted referring the migrant crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine and other factors.

“If we look at the International Monetary Fund’s list of countries by GDP, we see that by 2030 Britain, Italy and France will slip out of the top 10, and Germany, now in fourth place, is slipping back to tenth,” he said adding; “The EU is like an aging boxing champion, showing off his medals but no longer willing to go back into the ring.”

Referring to the greater EU Orbán noted: “If you read the constitutions of European countries, you will see that the “I” is at the center of their constitutions, while the “we” is at the center of the Hungarian constitution.”

Circling back to his theme stressing that “peace, family, law and freedom cannot be achieved alone,” he noted that common things in the life of the individual are expressed as relationships, while “liberal constitutions were not written on the basis of relationships, but on the basis of detachment.” Then without direct reference of autocratic governance and in critique of the EU, Orbán restated his belief the migration crisis and the “LGBTQ campaign” “cannot be fought on liberal foundations.”

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman on June 16 criticized the crackdown on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights in the European country.

Pressman, who is openly gay, in a speech he gave at a Budapest Pride reception noted he recently visited the Hungarian capital’s House of Terror Museum, which honors those persecuted during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Hungary and the post-World War II Communist governments that ruled the country until 1989.

Pressman said one of “its most haunting elements is the depiction of government efforts to turn Hungarians into informants against other Hungarians, neighbors against neighbors, brothers against brothers and parents against their own children — families against themselves — and all in service of oppression … and of empowering the few at the expense of the many.”  

“It is impossible not to see echoes of this in your Parliament’s vote earlier this year to encourage neighbors to report to the authorities their gay neighbors raising children,” he added. “Turning neighbor on neighbor conjures a dark past of covert agents and informants, of fear and betrayal, in this country and this region that I do not need to recount. You have a museum for that. While this legislation did not become law, the fact it was ever considered, let alone supported by this government and passed by the legislature is chilling.”

Pressman noted “this proposal is not unique; others became and remain law.”

“Laws prohibiting ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships’ were adopted by Russia in 2013,” he said. “These Russian laws found a new home here in Hungary eight years later — like a virus spreading — when the government adopted laws to forbid ‘educational programs aimed at the promotion of … homosexuality.’ And this law remains in force today.  And — in both Russia and in Hungary — the crackdowns on discourse related to gayness were preceded and accompanied by a closing of space for independent institutions and civil society.”

“History teaches us that when governments start discriminating against one group — whether for who they love or what they believe, their politics or their race, or the color of their skin — others are usually not far behind,” added Pressman. “It teaches us clearly what can happen when we fail to speak out and stand up to these laws and policies as soon as they infect our democracies.”

Budapest Pride President Viktoria Radvanyi told the Washington Blade in February after U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power met with her and other activists in the Hungarian capital that it is “impossible to change your gender legally in Hungary” because of a 2020 law that “banned legal gender recognition of transgender and intersex people.” 

Hungarian MPs in 2020 effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children and defined marriage in the country’s constitution as between a man and a woman. Pressman and his partner of 22 years, who was in the room when he gave his speech, have twin sons. 

The European Commission last July sued Hungary, which is a member of the European Union, over the country’s propaganda law.

Additional reporting by Blade International Editor Michael K. Lavers

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Hungarian bookstore chain fined for selling ‘Heartstopper’

“In the book Heartstopper, you will find boys kissing. Parents don’t know if they are being provoked or if their child is being converted”

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(Photo by Viktória Serdült/Twitter)

BUDAPEST – Hungary’s second-largest bookstore chain was fined Thursday for violating the nation’s 2021 law that limits the access of minors to books, media content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality.”

The chain was fined for selling copies of British author Alice Oseman’s LGBTQ+ graphic novel series ‘Heartstopper,’ a global phenomena due to the runaway hit Netflix show based on her books in the series.

The Guardian pointed out that the law has also come under fire for conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. According to the interpretation of the Háttér Society, a Hungarian organization focused on LGBTQ+ rights, a parent could break the law solely by buying a child a young adult novel that features an LGBTQ+ character.

The Budapest Metropolitan Government Office, (BMGO) fined Lira Konyv bookstore chain for placing the book series in its youth literature section, and for failing to place it in wrapped plastic packaging as required by the 2021 law.

The bookstore chain was fined 12 million forints ($35,930 Euros)

In a statement to MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda, translated as “Hungarian Telegraphic Office”) the nation’s oldest press agency, the BMGO noted that it had conducted an investigation into the bookstore chain selling the graphic novel.

“The investigation found that the books in question depicted homosexuality, but they were nevertheless placed in the category of children’s books and youth literature, and were not distributed in closed packaging,” the statement read. The BMGO also noted that it ordered Lira Konyv “to ensure the lawful distribution of the book,” and that it “will always take strict action against companies that do not comply with the law.”

Bence Rétvári, Parliamentary Secretary of State of the Ministry of Human Resources, in social media postings took aim at Oseman’s Heartstopper writing: “In the book Heartstopper, you will find a comic of boys kissing. Parents don’t know if they are being provoked or if their child is being converted.”

The Associated Press reported that the fine against the chain comes just two days before the Budapest Pride march, an annual event that draws thousands of LGBTQ+ people and their supporters in Hungary’s capital.

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Far right-wing nationalists attack Pride festival in Tbilisi, Georgia

President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili said that “freedoms of expression & assembly guaranteed by our constitution were both violated!”

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President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili held a press conference condemning the violence. (Screenshot/Euronews Georgia)

TBILISI, Republic of Georgia – Upwards of 2,000 plus anti-LGBTQ+ protesters violently disrupted the LGBTQ+ Pride festival in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Saturday, scuffling with police and destroying rainbow flags, signs, festival banners and placards in what Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili labeled as “a shame for a country, which has for centuries considered tolerance as its identity.”

Russian freelance journalist Sergei Dimitrov spoke with the Blade by phone late Saturday afternoon from Tbilisi and said that a vast majority of the anti-LGBTQ+ nationalists he spoke with claimed membership with the group Alt-Info.

The right-wing, anti-Western group rose to prominence for leading anti-queer pogroms in Georgia in 2022 last year, had registered was registered by the National Public Registry Agency on December 7, 2021 as political party with a pro-Russian sentiment, in part Dimitrov noted due to Putin’s war on Ukraine.

According to a spokesperson for Tbilisi Pride, the group and Pride participants were forced had to leave the area where the event was being held. On social media the group posted a warning: “Please do not come to the festival territory! We had to evacuated. The Ministry of Interior could not ensure the safety of the festival. ” The group noted that police and failed to protect the event, forcing the evacuation, which was carried out by bus and taxi cabs.

Speaking to reporters, Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze noted that despite best efforts of the police, “The protesters managed to find… ways to enter the area of the event, but we were able to evacuate the Pride participants and organisers,” he said.

“Nobody was harmed during the incident and police are now taking measures to stabilise the situation.”

Later, Tbilisi Pride accused the Ministry of Internal Affairs, based on public statements by the nationalistic extremists, which indicated that the attack was pre-coordinated and agreed between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Alt-info.

Dimitrov told the Blade that another Alt-info leader Shota Martynenko told reporters present before the event: “Our plan is simple, under no circumstances will they be allowed to hold the festival. Now the roads will be closed and the area will be besieged. Whatever resistance we meet on the ground, we will respond accordingly.”

Georgian news service JAM News, which covers the Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and other parts of the Caucasus region, had reported that in June of 2022, the Georgian Interior Ministry detained 26 members of Alt-Info, including its leaders Zurab Makharadze and Irakli Martynenko, as well as Guram and Alexander Palavandishvili. That detention took place as a cautionary measure to prevent violence by the group at the LGBTQ+ Pride festival week organized by Tbilisi Pride ending on July 2 of last year.

Mariam Kvaratskhelia, the director of Tbilisi Pride, told reporters that Alt-Info and other groups had made public statements and social media posts to incite violence against LGBTQ+ activists and her organization in the week leading up to Saturday’s Pride events and that the police and Ministry of Internal Affairs declined to investigate.

“I definitely think this (disruption) was a preplanned, coordinated action between the government and the radical groups. We think this operation was planned in order to sabotage the EU candidacy of Georgia,” she said.

“People were not given the opportunity to hold their own event in a closed space that was planned in advance, agreed with the law enforcement officers, which the law enforcement structures had promised to protect,” President Salome Zurabishvili said in a press briefing after the event was cancelled. “I want to call on the Ministry of Internal Affairs to actually prevent all violent acts — this is their duty and it is called law enforcement,” she added.

Later on Twitter, President Zourabichvili expressed her outrage regarding the cancellation of Pride and the president also took aim at the Ministry of Internal Affairs for what she termed a failure to protect the event and its participants.

The Ministry blamed what it alleged was excessive turnout at the anti-LGBT rally against the “Pride Festival” which in turn made it difficult for police to effectively manage the crowd, resulting in the evacuation of the festival’s organizers and participants.

Dimitrov told the Blade his impression witnessing the events unfold was that the police were intentionally holding back deployment of additional officers to counter the far-right extremists, instead he noted, the police seemed focused on evacuation of the Pride participants.

Tbilisi Pride released a statement regarding Saturday’s events:

“Today we clearly saw that the attack on LGBTQ+ activists and on the territory of Tbilisi Pride Festival was a joint, well-planned operation against human rights and democracy by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Alt Info.

“Our tax-funded police who “guarded” the festival grounds assured us that far-right groups couldn’t come close, while media and social networks saw footage of police and violent groups coming unabatedly towards the area.

“Members of Alt-info put us in trouble, and the police, instead of disrupting them, made us leave our premises with pre-prepared transport.

“It is clear from the statements of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that they considered this shameful “evacuation” as a victory, and in fact, it was a pre-planned step and a proof of their inaction.

“Ministry of Internal Affairs and Deputy Minister Alexander Darakhvelidze were giving us guarantees of protection during the preparation period, for weeks and even on the festival day, and in return, the police allowed Alt-info members to enter the private, closed area of the festival, attack civilians and cause irreparable emotional trauma.

“Police didn’t block the road leading to the festival grounds to interfere with a violent group; police didn’t use proportional force against the attackers.

“The government did not arrest the organizers of the July 5 violence;

“The authorities did not arrest the organizers of the July 5 violence even when the July 8 violence was announced;

“The government encouraged and supported the violence.

“It was an attack on democracy, human rights and innocent people organized by the Georgian authorities, together with the Putinist violent group, who wanted to use the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights.

“We hope that all those who are not allowed to violence, who want democratic and European development of Georgia, will condemn the development developed today

“Will make things happen and confirm solidarity.”

The leadership of the far-right group saw the evacuation and cancellation as a victory. Zurab Makharadze told reporters that he had assessed the incident as a “victory” saying: “Now the most important thing for our people is not to be arrested.”

The socially conservative South Caucasus nation has passed laws against discrimination and hate crimes, but LGBTQ+ rights groups say there is a lack of adequate protection by law enforcement officials and homophobia remains widespread.

In 2021, during a regular press briefing, then U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters that the situation in the Republic of Georgia was being closely monitored after violent protests against a LGBTQ Pride parade erupted resulting in the death of a TV cameraman.

Protests and violence have marked attempts by the LGBTQ+ community to rally for Pride month. The first Tbilisi Pride march was to have taken place in June 2019, but organizers postponed it amid protests against a Russian MP who spoke at the Georgian Parliament. A small Pride demonstration took place a few weeks later.

In early July of 2021, a violent mob forced the cancellation of a Pride march that was to have taken place. “They declared war against civil society, democratic values and the European course of the country,” said Tbilisi Pride in a statement it released after it officially cancelled the march.

Related:

Anti-LGBT Protesters Break Up Pride Parade in Georgia | VOA News:

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Ukrainian LGBTQ+ organization’s community center attacked

Insight office in Lutsk damaged

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Insight's community center in Lutsk, Ukraine, was attacked on June 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko/Insight)

LUTSK, Ukraine — The executive director of a Ukrainian LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group on Tuesday said a group of unknown people attacked one of their community centers.

Insight Executive Director Olena Shevchenko told the Washington Blade the people who attacked her organization’s community center in Lutsk, a city in northwestern Ukraine, destroyed a door at the entrance. Shevchenko also said the assailants destroyed equipment that was inside.

“We don’t know who it was,” said Shevchenko.

Shevchenko told the Blade that she and her colleagues notified the police.

“We still don’t know how they will qualify this attack,” said Shevchenko. “We still don’t have a law on hate crimes.”

Russia on Feb. 24, 2022, launched its war against Ukraine.

Insight is among the many Ukrainian advocacy groups that have continued to work inside the country since the war began.

Insight’s community center in Lutsk, Ukraine, was attacked on June 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Olena Shevchenko/Insight)
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Transgender journalist who enlisted in Ukrainian military returns to U.S.

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo wounded on battlefield in February

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Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in D.C. on May 19, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Sarah Ashton-Cirillo was a journalist when she began to cover the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Kharkiv Defense Forces at the beginning of Russia’s war against the country. She eventually enlisted, and a commander from the Ukrainian Defense Ministry on Jan. 31 facilitated her transfer to the unit’s 209th Batallion of the 113th Brigade.

Ashton-Cirillo, a Transgender woman who was born in New York, was working as a senior combat medic in a trench near Kreminna, a Russian-occupied city in eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 23 when shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell wounded her. Ashton-Cirillo suffered injuries to her right hand and to her face, and her fellow soldiers had to wait seven hours to evacuate her. Ashton-Cirillo eventually received treatment for her injuries in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is roughly 130 miles northwest of Kreminna.

“The big key there was I wasn’t able to take any painkiller by staying in the trench because I was still technically in battle,” she recalled to the Washington Blade on May 19 during an interview that took place at a coffee shop near the U.S. Capitol. 

Ashton-Cirillo noted her unit won the battle during which she had been wounded.

“Seven hours after my injury, I finally got to a hospital,” she said. “By that point I hadn’t taken any antibiotics (because) we didn’t have any antibiotics and infection had set in. They took me to a hospital in Kharkiv and they had to clean the wound. They had to wait to make certain that it was healing before they could do surgery.” 

“I was living with this open wound for eight days,” added Ashton-Cirillo, who was in uniform when she spoke with the Blade. “They were able to close my face up on the second day.”

Two small scars on her face are visible. She said she has limited mobility in her right hand, and has no feeling from her wrist to her fingers.

“For the most part, I’m so blessed and very lucky,” said Ashton-Cirillo.

Ashton-Cirillo now a junior sergeant

The Blade first spoke with Ashton-Cirillo last December while she was in D.C. to speak with lawmakers on behalf of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry about the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s medical needs. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden and spoke to a joint session of Congress less than three weeks after the interview. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and President Joe Biden at the White House on Dec. 21, 2022. (Public domain photo courtesy of the White House)

Ashton-Cirillo early last month became a junior sergeant. She returned to D.C. on May 15.

Ashton-Cirillo met with U.S. Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and aides for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) before she left the nation’s capital on May 19. Ashton-Cirillo also spoke to journalists from the Global South at the National Press Club and met with José Andrés, whose World Central Kitchen continues to operate in Ukraine, and Amnesty International representatives. 

“We had some successes on my trip in December,” she said. “Members of Congress … in the House and Senate were interested in my experiences regarding my service.”

Ashton-Cirillo specifically praised Andrés for his work in Ukraine.

“There is nobody that’s done more for our cause,” said Ashton-Cirillo. “Nobody has done more to save the Ukrainian people as a foreign civilian than World Central Kitchen and Chef José Andrés.”

No timeframe for spring offensive

Ashton-Cirillo sat down with the Blade two days before Zelenskyy met with Biden and other world leaders at the G7 summit in Japan. (Biden met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Feb. 20.)

Ukrainian officials this week denied Russia’s claims that it had captured Bakhmut, a city in Donetsk Oblast. (Ashton-Cirillo last December told the Blade she had previously worked to counter Russian propaganda that claimed Russian troops had captured the city.) The Associated Press reported a group of anti-Kremlin Russian partisans — the Russian government described them as Ukrainian “military sabeteurs” — attacked an area near Belgorod, a Russian city that is roughly 25 miles from the country’s border with Ukraine.

Sarah Ashton-Cirillo in Bakhmut, Ukraine, in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Ashton-Cirillo)

The International Criminal Court in March issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova over the abduction of children from Ukraine. Zelenskyy earlier this month visited the ICC while he was in the Netherlands.

Ukraine continues to ask the U.S. and other countries for more weapons as it prepares to launch its long anticipated “spring” offensive.

Patriot missiles on May 16 shot down 29 of the 30 missiles that Russia launched at Kyiv. Ashton-Cirillo said Ukraine specifically needs DPICMs (dual-purpose improved conventional munition), a type of smart munition, “so we can soften up the Russian trench lines.” 

“I know what these trenches are,” she said. “They are going to be absolutely fortified as we attempt our counter attacks and any potential counter offensive.”

Ashton-Cirillo said she does not have a “timeframe” for when the offensive to begin. 

“We want all the weapons we can get now before launching,” she said. “We will beat the Russians under any circumstances and we are we have the history to prove it.”

“We’re trying to make certain that we’re not losing unnecessary Ukrainian lives,” added Ashton-Cirillo. “We’re not wasting U.S. taxpayer dollars and the best way to do that is have an efficient, effective attack method, and that’s why we need some of these more technologically advanced weapons. We can fight with RPGs and our assault rifles, and we’ll win, but at high cost, high cost to us, high cost to the American taxpayer. We understand as stewards of the Americans’ trust that we have to do everything in a proper way to bring victory as soon as possible.”

Gender identity ‘less of a spectacle among the international press’

Zelenskyy last summer said he supports a civil partnerships law for same-sex couples. Ukrainian lawmakers later approved a media regulation bill that will ban hate speech and incitement based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Zelenskyy, a former actor and comedian, in made a broad reference to LGBTQ and intersex rights in a virtual appearance at this year’s Golden Globes. Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova during a Jan. 26 event in D.C. that highlighted Ukrainian LGBTQ+ servicemembers applauded Kyiv Pride and other LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in her country.

From left: Then-Kyiv Pride Executive Director Lenny Emson, QUA – LGBTQ Ukrainians in America President Bogdan Globa and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova at a photo exhibit that highlights LGBTQ+ and intersex soldiers in Ukraine. Ukraine House in D.C. hosted the event on Jan. 26, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ashton-Cirillo pointed out the Ukrainian military is creating a group that will work directly with journalists in the country and from around the world. She said the initiative’s goals are “to guarantee free speech during war time, to guarantee a clear message based on truth and facts from the journalist standpoint during wartime and also to ensure that we have free speech, and free thought among the press post victory in Ukraine.” Ashton-Cirillo also told the Blade that her gender identity is “becoming less of a spectacle among the international press, and that’s important to me, too, as well.” 

“There’s no denying I’m trans. I don’t hide it,” she said. “I’m very proud to be a member of the LGBT community. My work and my focus is on this war, this liberation for Ukrainians and liberty for everyone who cares about freedom, and that includes trans people. That includes Crimean Tatars, that includes any immigrants from the Global South that live in Ukraine.”

“This victory will help strengthen the LGBT community around the world because there’s going to be one less country that will be able to persecute Ukrainians, LGBTQ members,” added Ashton-Cirillo. “We are going to inflict a transformative defeat upon the Russian invaders such that Russia themselves will have to look inward as to the mistakes they’ve made with human rights … and understand the price that they’re paying is very high for things like taking (Wall Street Journal reporter) Evan Gershkovich hostage.”

She also said she and her comrades “understand the cascading effect of a Ukrainian a clear transformative Ukrainian victory over Russia will have for human rights around the globe.”

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Eastern Europe

Hungary’s president vetoes “snitch on your gay neighbor” law

The president’s veto letter to the National Assembly of Hungary contained unusually sharp critique from a member of Orban’s inner circle

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President Joe Biden, Hungarian president Katalin Novak & Dr. Jill Biden at the September 2022 meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. (Official White House photo by Adam Schultz)

BUDAPEST – Hungary’s President Katalin Novak vetoed a legislation that included a provision for citizens to anonymously report on same-sex couples who are raising children. In a rare departure from the policies of Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom she generally supports, Novak returned the bill to the parliament telling lawmakers to strike that provision.

While lawmakers can still override her veto, the president’s veto letter to lawmakers of the National Assembly of Hungary contained unusually sharp critique from a member of Orban’s inner circle.

The wording of the provision specifies that Hungarians may report those who contest the “constitutionally recognised role of marriage and the family” and those who contest children’s rights “to an identity appropriate to their sex at birth.” The latter wording specifically aimed at acknowledging trans youth.

The country’s constitution states that the institution of marriage is ““between one man and one woman,” and notes that “the mother is a woman, the father a man.”

This law’s passage last week comes after the country’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling in February that will continue to block new applications from transgender people for legal gender recognition. The judgment effectively creates two categories of trans people in Hungary: those who applied early enough to pursue gender recognition and those who did not.

Earlier this month according to a spokesperson for the German government, Germany and France joined with other EU member states in the European Commission lawsuit over a Hungarian law which discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 14 EU member states now joined the lawsuit’s proceedings: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Malta, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Finland and now France and Germany.

Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has publicly proclaimed he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values.” Orban has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with this law which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called a “disgrace.”

On 15 June 2021, the Hungarian Law purportedly aiming at taking stricter action against paedophile offenders and amending certain laws to protect children was adopted. Some of the new provisions target and limit the access of minors to content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality”.

Prior to its passage over 5,000 people, LGBTQ activists and supporters along with human rights activists demonstrated in front of the Parliament in Budapest, angered by legislation banning any content portraying or promoting homosexuality or sex reassignment to anyone under 18. 

It was sponsored by Fidesz, Orban’s ruling conservative party and essentially equates sexual and gender diversity people to paedophilia.

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Eastern Europe

Hungarian parliament passes “snitch on your gay neighbor” law

The country has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people

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Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, standing center right, addresses parliament (Photo by Elekes Andor)

BUDAPEST – Earlier this past week lawmakers of the National Assembly of Hungary approved legislation that included a provision for citizens to anonymously report on same-sex couples who are raising children.

The wording of the provision specifies that Hungarians may report those who contest the “constitutionally recognised role of marriage and the family” and those who contest children’s rights “to an identity appropriate to their sex at birth.” The latter wording specifically aimed at acknowledging trans youth.

The country’s constitution states that the institution of marriage is ““between one man and one woman,” and notes that “the mother is a woman, the father a man.”

This law’s passage comes after the country’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling in February that will continue to block new applications from transgender people for legal gender recognition. The judgment effectively creates two categories of trans people in Hungary: those who applied early enough to pursue gender recognition and those who did not.

Earlier this month according to a spokesperson for the German government, Germany and France joined with other EU member states in the European Commission lawsuit over a Hungarian law which discriminates against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The 14 EU member states now joined the lawsuit’s proceedings: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Malta, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Finland and now France and Germany.

Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has publicly proclaimed he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values.” Orban has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with this law which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called a “disgrace.”

On 15 June 2021, the Hungarian Law purportedly aiming at taking stricter action against paedophile offenders and amending certain laws to protect children was adopted. Some of the new provisions target and limit the access of minors to content and advertisements that “promotes or portrays” the so-called “divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality”.

Prior to its passage over 5,000 people, LGBTQ activists and supporters along with human rights activists demonstrated in front of the Parliament in Budapest, angered by legislation banning any content portraying or promoting homosexuality or sex reassignment to anyone under 18. 

It was sponsored by Fidesz, Orban’s ruling conservative party and essentially equates sexual and gender diversity people to paedophilia.

 

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Eastern Europe

Hungary’s Justice Minister vows to fight EU on anti-LGBTQ law

The law that banned the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors in Hungary took effect on July 8, 2021

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Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga (Photo credit: Judit Varga, Government of Hungary/Facebook)

BUDAPEST – In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga stated that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán would continue to battle the European Commission over Hungary’s anti-LGBTQ education law that the EU governing body maintains discriminates against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Varga wrote in her post [Translated]:

Today I filed a complaint with the Court of the European Union regarding the breach of obligations initiated under the Hungarian Child Protection Act. We continue to stick to our conviction and those enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, that education is a national jurisdiction and it is the right of the parents to decide on the upbringing of children.

As before, we will continue to go against the wall when it comes to the protection of our children. Cases revealed in recent weeks prove that there is a great need for the Child Protection Act and even further measures. 🇭🇺✌🏻

Hungary will not surrender! 🇭🇺

Today I filed a counterclaim to the Court of Justice of the European Union over the infringement procedure on Hungary’s Child Protection Act. We continue to stand by our conviction and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union that education is a national competence and that parents have the right to decide on the upbringing of their children.

Like before, we will go clear on to the end when it comes to protecting our children. The cases that have come to light in recent weeks clearly shows the need for a child protection law as well as further measures. 🇭🇺✌

The law that banned the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors in Hungary was signed into law by Prime Minister Orbán and took effect on July 8, 2021. At the time, the Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQ rights group said in a statement:

“The homophobic and transphobic amendments to the law, which came into force on July 8, 2021, stigmatize LGBTQI people, deprive LGBTQI youth of information that is vital to them, and illegally restrict freedom of speech and the right to education.” 

Reuters reported the standoff comes at a time when the EU has suspended the disbursement of billions of euros of much-needed EU funds to Hungary until Budapest implements reforms to improve judicial independence and tackle corruption.

Orban, who has publicly proclaimed that he is a “defender of traditional family Catholic values,” has been criticised by international human rights groups as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people with this law which European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called a “disgrace.”

Court of Justice in the Palais de la Cour de Justice
(EU/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

The European Commission referred Hungary to the Court of Justice of the EU over the anti-LGBT law in mid-2022. The commission has said it considers that the law violates the EU’s internal market rules, the fundamental rights of individuals and EU values.

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