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LGBTQ Ukrainians band together in the face of war

In Ukraine, queer people are pouring their hearts into the campaign to repel Russia’s advance

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Ivanna Sakhno and Polina Buchak, both from Kyiv, hug at the Stonewall Inn on February 26. MATT TRACY/GCN

By Matt Tracy | NEW YORK – Hours before Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on his western neighbor, out gay Ukrainian soldier Viktor Pylypenko summed up his own feelings in one word: “Anxious.”

Pylypenko has played a major role as an LGBTQ leader in Ukraine, where he leads a group of more than 100 queer troops and veterans. He told Gay City News he served in active combat in 2014 during what he described as a brutal, grueling stretch of warfare when Russia annexed Crimea and aided separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region.

Pylypenko has since rejoined the military to defend his nation and save the LGBTQ community from Putin’s persecution.

From Kyiv to New York City, LGBTQ Ukrainians are standing up for their independence. Queer Ukrainian activists in New York City hosted a solidarity demonstration outside the Stonewall Inn on February 27, while their LGBTQ friends back at home are speaking out about the perilous situation on the ground as Russian forces bombard the nation with support from Belarus.

A combination of energy, emotion, and Ukrainian pride engulfed the area surrounding Stonewall on Christopher Street Saturday afternoon. Signs in the crowd overwhelmingly targeted Putin, with some comparing him to Adolf Hitler and others featuring messages such as “LGBTQ United Against Putin.” Many attendees also brought signs expressing general opposition to war.

Folks show support for Ukraine at Stonewall. DONNA ACETO/GCN

The protest was led in part by Bogdan Globa, an out gay activist who founded QUA, an organization dedicated to LGBTQ Ukrainians in the United States. Members of RUSA LGBTQ, an organization of Russian speakers, also showed up in support.

“We’re here to show solidarity for Ukrainians because there is a war going on,” said Globa, who said his loved ones back in Ukraine are hunkering down in shelters. He said many folks have been unable to leave Kyiv because the war has halted public transportation.

Ukraine native Bogdan Globa speaks at the Stonewall Inn. DONNA ACETO/GCN

Polina Buchak and Ivanna Sakhno, who both hail from Kyiv, embraced each other as they watched the demonstration. They were draped in a large Ukrainian Flag.

“Not surprisingly, everyone back home is terrified because at this point, we will never know when the next shelling is going to happen,” Buchak said. “Hopefully we will stop losing people — innocent civilians — because you can understand how terrifying it is. Sometimes there are not enough words to explain the emotions.”

Ukrainian restaurants in Manhattan’s Little Ukraine neighborhood were overwhelmed with patrons eager to support them. Long lines were seen at two Ukrainian restaurants over the weekend and another eatery was sold out of food.

Back in Ukraine, queer people are pouring their hearts into the campaign to repel Russia’s advance. Pylypenko — known as the first out gay person in the country’s military — sounded the alarm about an American intelligence report warning that the Russians drew up a “kill list” targeting LGBTQ activists in Ukraine.

“People are really scared that if the most dark prognosis will take place,” said Pylypenko, who is from western Ukraine and lives in Kyiv. “The first thing Russia will do is rid civil society of activists — especially those who belong to the LGBTQ community and who are fighting for human rights. Human rights are the number one enemy for Putin’s regime.”

Viktor Pylypenko, seen here on February 26, is in Ukraine’s military. FACEBOOK

Polina Buchak and Ivanna Sakhno, who both hail from Kyiv, embraced each other as they watched the demonstration. They were draped in a large Ukrainian Flag.

“Not surprisingly, everyone back home is terrified because at this point, we will never know when the next shelling is going to happen,” Buchak said. “Hopefully we will stop losing people — innocent civilians — because you can understand how terrifying it is. Sometimes there are not enough words to explain the emotions.”

Ukrainian restaurants in Manhattan’s Little Ukraine neighborhood were overwhelmed with patrons eager to support them. Long lines were seen at two Ukrainian restaurants over the weekend and another eatery was sold out of food.

Back in Ukraine, queer people are pouring their hearts into the campaign to repel Russia’s advance. Pylypenko — known as the first out gay person in the country’s military — sounded the alarm about an American intelligence report warning that the Russians drew up a “kill list” targeting LGBTQ activists in Ukraine.

“People are really scared that if the most dark prognosis will take place,” said Pylypenko, who is from western Ukraine and lives in Kyiv. “The first thing Russia will do is rid civil society of activists — especially those who belong to the LGBTQ community and who are fighting for human rights. Human rights are the number one enemy for Putin’s regime.”

Viktor Pylypenko, seen here on February 26, is in Ukraine’s military.FACEBOOK

Pylypenko and others said those fears are rooted in Russia’s treatment of LGBTQ people in war-torn eastern Ukraine since 2014. Kyrylo Samozdra, another gay Ukrainian man, told Gay City News he fled from the occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk in 2020 after he was interrogated and harassed by Russian authorities for his work with queer youth. LGBTQ Russians have often reported similar tactics used by the Russians to clamp down on public queer life.

Samozdra escaped to Kyiv and is now in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where he said he has heard numerous explosions since Russia launched the invasion. He feels safer now after getting in touch with a group of queer people.

“We went several times to shelters,” Samozdra told Gay City News. “It was hard when we had just arrived from the train. We didn’t sleep for 30 hours and we were forced to sit in the basement, but now everything is calm. With my queer acquaintances, we exchanged news, helped, and consoled each other. I see this war as a war of humanity and inhumanity. I am happy that the entire world has rallied against Putin and is helping Ukraine.”

Others who fear Russian occupation also recall being targeted by the homophobic Russian government. Globa and Pylypenko said Russian state media put their faces on television on multiple occasions and mocked Ukraine’s LGBTQ community.

“A lot of LGBTQ people are scared and afraid because they’re one of the first groups targeted by the Russians,” Globa said.

Pylypenko and Globa acknowledged that Ukraine still has much more progress remaining in the fight for LGBTQ rights, but they hailed the work underway to foster a more inclusive society. In 2015, Ukraine’s parliament voted to implement anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Men who have sex with men have been allowed to donate blood since 2016.

Like many places in the United States and elsewhere, Globa said cities like Odessa and Kyiv have gay bars and clubs, while rural areas tend to be more conservative. His mother, who remains in Ukraine, founded an organization for LGBTQ parents in the country.

Pylypenko, meanwhile, said he was widely embraced when he came out following his first stint in the military — and he knows trans troops who have found acceptance.

“As defenders, we had a high level of respect from civil people, so they easily could accept our second identity — our gay identity — and through that, we created an umbrella for the whole LGBTQ community,” he said.

The strong sense of national pride has become a main theme for a country that has united under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has called on citizens to take up arms and defend against the Russians. Globa and Pylypenko said people in Ukraine have been undergoing self-defense training — and images circulating on social media have shown citizens preparing Molotov cocktails to fend off enemy forces.

Putin’s rhetoric has intensified at a time when the Russians have encountered fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces during the early days of the invasion. The Russian president has twice issued ominous warnings to the west, boasting of his nation’s nuclear capabilities, but that has not deterred Ukrainian citizens.

“Members of the LGBTQ community are already at war fighting on battlefield,” Pylypenko said. As his nation was under siege on February 25, Pylypenko told Gay City News Ukrainians have scrambled to enlist in the military.

“The number of people willing to defend the country is immense,” he said. “Our brigade has enormous queues. We waited two days for our documents, uniforms, equipment, and weapons.”

Queer activists denounced Vladimir Putin at Stonewall. DONNA ACETO

LGBTQ Ukrainians who are not fighting have been raising money, aiding in medical efforts, and preparing items for soldiers at war, Pylypenko said. He urged other countries, including the United States, to continue supporting Ukraine.

Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan — who was one of the speakers at the Stonewall demonstration — said New York State can help Ukraine at the state level by targeting Russia’s wealthy elite.

“The way we get to Putin is to go after the oligarchs here in New York City,” Hoylman said. “On Monday I am introducing legislation in Albany that is going to expose all of those secret limited liability corporations.”

While many countries are imposing sanctions on Russia and Belarus, others are sending weapons to Ukraine — and the Biden administration said it would provide an additional $350 million in military aid. Ukrainians know, however, that they are otherwise fighting the war on their own because the country is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Russia has long warned against Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO.

“Our unity is our main instrument,” Pylypenko said. “We don’t have any foreign troops in Ukraine; we only have our local army. We are ready to accept any challenges.”

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Matt Tracy is Gay City News’ editor-in-chief.

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The preceding piece was originally published by Gay City News and is republished with permission.

Eastern Europe

Huge show of support for Slovak LGBTQ+ people after murders

“Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are intensively & increasingly inciting spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community”

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20,000+ people gathered to honor victims of the hate crime in the Slovakian capital city (Photo Credit: Barbora Slivkova/Košice PRIDE)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – A vigil held Friday evening in the Slovakian capital city to honor the two victims killed and a third who was badly wounded in a Wednesday night shooting outside of the Tepláreň bar, a popular LGBTQ+ establishment in the old city, was also attended by the nation’s president and the European Parliament’s Vice-President.

Organized by the Initiative Inakosť (Iniciatíva Inakosť), a LGBTQ+ non-governmental agency, there were an estimated 20,000 plus people gathered according to officials. The murders shook the tight-knit Slovakian LGBTQ+ community and its allies. Slovakia is a fairly conservative European Union member country where same-sex marriage is not legal.

A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, said that his agency has classified the shootings as premeditated murder, motivated by hatred of a sexual minority.

19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right extremist Vlast party, a radicalised student from Bratislava, had left social media posts filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ messages including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage.

Krajcik, who had an online history of hate-filled rhetoric had posted a picture of himself outside the Tepláreň bar this past August along with other writings and posts that led Polícia Slovenskej republiky investigators to conclude that the crime was planned.

Gunman’s August pictures taken in front of the Tepláreň bar from his Twitter & 4 Chan accounts

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

During the vigil for the shooting victims, Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told the crowd, “I’m sorry that our society was not able to protect your loved ones,” adding, “You belong here, you are valuable for our society.”

BBC Europe reported that European Parliament Vice-President Michal Simecka was also at Friday’s event. Simecka expressed his determination to have the European legislature discuss the murders during a session next week.

“To express our sympathy, but also to call on the Slovak authorities to take clear steps to put an end to the language of hatred towards LGBTI people,” he said.

In addition to political leadership at Friday evening’s vigil, Elena Martinčoková (Eleny Martinčokovej) the president of the Association of Parents and Friends of LGBTI+ people spoke expressing her grief and anger towards the environment in the country that fostered far-right hate.

In a Facebook post published by Košice PRIDE, she told the crowd;

I’m going through a lot of pain. Since I heard about this tragedy, I’m in spirit with the parents of the murdered children. They were adults, but they were mainly children, grandchildren, cousins, friends, colleagues who will be greatly missed and the wound and pain the survivors will feel will never heal.

Many tragedies affect us in life, some of them cannot be prevented. Yes to some of them. And this is exactly the one that could have been prevented. Long-term and intensively spreading and inciting hatred towards LGBT+ people in our public space. It is hatred that blinds people, prevents them from thinking sober.

Certain people are responsible for this tragedy. They are the ones who are intensively and increasingly inciting and spreading hatred towards the LGBTI community. They are all over the place. In the National Council of Slovakia, in government, among many church representatives, in extremist groups, among disinformation spreaders and those who do not have credible information, or when they have it, they do not understand them or do not want to understand. I hope this tragedy will not leave the public indifferent. We must act, we must act now. We will not be quiet. We are not going to be intimidated.

Video via România liberă, a Romanian daily newspaper founded in 1943 and currently based in Bucharest:

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Gunman dead in potential hate crime in Slovakian capital

A Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts

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Polícia Slovenskej republiky at shooting crime scene at LGBTQ bar on Oct. 12, 2022 (Photo Credit: Polícia Slovenskej republiky)

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Three persons are dead including the gunman in a shooting in front of a popular LGBTQ+ bar in the old town neighborhood of the Slovakian capital city Wednesday evening. A spokesperson for the Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the country’s national police force, told media outlets that the shooter was found deceased Thursday morning after an hours long search through the night.

Picture of the gunman from his now suspended Twitter account

The Polícia Slovenskej republiky said the incident at the Tepláreň bar on Zámocká Street in central Bratislava, left two young men dead and one woman injured, and investigators are naming the perpetrator, Local media identified him as 19-year-old Juraj Krajcik, the son of a prominent member of the far-right Vlast party, a radicalised 19-year-old student from Bratislava.

According to Polícia Slovenskej republiky, the gunman was outside of the bar for nearly an hour before opening fire at around 7 p.m. local time. Investigators said multiple rounds were fired but did not disclose the number nor the weapon used. Police say he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky also said that the female victim is in critical but stable condition at local hospital. She and one of two young men killed were both employed at the bar.

Allegations and speculation arose on social media as a Twitter account tied to the shooter was discovered and shared, filled with anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ+ posts including a so called ‘manifesto’ which the gunman had posted prior to the rampage. That account also had a picture of the gunman outside the Tepláreň in mid-August.

Gunman’s August pictures in front of the bar from his Twitter& 4 Chan accounts

On Facebook Dúhový Pride Bratislava said, “We’re shocked by the information about the shooting and casualties at Tepláreň, where we meet regularly.” The organization changed its Facebook page photo to black. Iniciatíva Inakosť, another Slovakian LGBTQ+ organization followed suit.

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger condemned the double murder on Thursday in a press conference telling media outlets that “extremism is unacceptable.”

President Zuzana Čaputová called on politicians to stop spreading hate. “My thoughts are with the family & friends of the victims of yesterday’s horrific attack in Bratislava & everyone in the #LGBTIQ+ community affected by it,” Čaputová said in her Twitter post.

“Words can become weapons. Hate kills. As politicians, we must weigh every word we say before it’s too late,” she added.

Čaputová came to the scene of the shooting on Thursday afternoon, laying flowers in front of Tepláreň and embraced the owner of the bar.

Polícia Slovenskej republiky in a statement issued late Thursday said:

First of all, we would like to thank conscientious citizens who provided us with valuable information on the shooting case in Bratislava at 158. We need to remind everyone again and again: don’t hesitate to call 158. Just putting something on social media may not help. Thank you!

Police act from the first moment. The physical presence of our uniformed colleagues was undoubtedly noticed in the streets throughout the night.

Not only uniformed policemen worked and are working and not all of them are active in the field. Due to the ongoing investigation, but also the tactics, we can’t comment more closely, so we can’t even defend ourselves when any “guaranteed” news regarding our activities appear at these moments. Hence our silence at this stage, please understand.

Procedures to be followed by a police investigator are firmly established in the Criminal Order. Of course, his top priorities include finding the perpetrator’s motive. In order to publish his motive as a Police Department, it is necessary to take necessary actions.

We will inform you about everything, we are thinking about active communication, but we all have to be patient and give the investigator time and space.

And whether it is a hateful motive or not, we want to assure the public that the Police Department maintains zero tolerance for any form of violence, bullying or hatred. We have our values, which we will always stand by, which we have announced long ago.

Thank you for your help and understanding of the legal procedures we follow.

In a tweet Friday morning, LGBTQ+ rights group ILGA-Europe condemned the attack:

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Eastern Europe

Slovenia legalizes same-sex marriage & adoptions

Slovenia has become the first country in Eastern Europe to legalize same-sex marriage & the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples

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Slovenian Parliament building, Ljubljana, Slovenia (Photo Credit: Parliament of Slovenia)

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia – This Eastern European country which emerged after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia has become the first country in the region to legalize same-sex marriage and the adoption of minor children by same-sex couples.

After considerable debate Tuesday in the Slovenian parliament, 48 lawmakers passed legislation that guarantees the rights of same-sex couples to marry. 29 Members of Parliament opposed the legislation while one MP abstained.

This past July, the country’s Constitutional Court, in a 6-3 ruling, found that Slovenia law that granted rights to only opposite-sex marriages and adoptions violated a constitutional prohibition against discrimination. The Court ordered the Parliament to amend the law within six months to guarantee that all marriages and adoptions would be equal in the eyes of the law.

At the time of the high court’s ruling, Luka Mesec, the minister of labor, family, social affairs and equal opportunities, said: “The Constitutional Court has ordered us to do it, and we will do it with the greatest pleasure.”

Euronews reported that most of Slovenia’s Eastern European neighbors do not allow civil unions or same-sex marriages.

The government of Estonia came the closest in 2016 by agreeing to recognize same-sex unions created in other countries. Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Montenegro have laws establishing same-sex civil partnerships – and in Hungary, even talking about homosexuality in front of minors has been punishable by a fine since summer 2021, euronews noted.

“With these changes, we are recognising the rights of same-sex couples that they should have had for a long time,” State Secretary Simon Maljevac told MPs when presenting the amendment.

The main opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party, criticised the court’s decision and organised several rallies against the new law.

“The best father will never replace a mother and vice versa,” said SDS parliamentary group chairman Alenka Jeraj prior to the debate and vote.

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Eastern Europe

Activists in Ukraine to celebrate Pride

March scheduled to take place in Kharkiv on Sept. 25

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Kharkiv Pride (Photo courtesy of Kharkiv Pride)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Activists in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv will hold a series of Pride events in the coming days.

A press release that Kharkiv Pride released notes events that will take place from Saturday through Sept. 25 include a march, a performance that highlights efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Ukraine and a “Memorial Day” for “LGBTQI+ people killed by the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv Pride and Kharkiv with You Charitable Foundation, a local NGO, will also hold “a crowdfunding campaign to collect money for the needs of women serving near Kharkiv.” 

“Just as Kharkiv stands at the forefront of Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy, Kharkiv Pride actively resists at the forefront of the battle for human rights,” said Kharkiv Pride. ” Because this is our principal position, and this is the difference between Ukraine and the totalitarian regime of the Russian Federation.”

Kharkiv, which is Ukraine’s second-largest city, is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride.

Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have recaptured large swaths of territory east of Kharkiv that had been under Russian control. Kharkiv Pride will also take place less than two months after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky announced his support for a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine president backs civil partnerships law

Volodymyr Zelenskky responded to Kyiv Pride petition

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A participant in the Christopher Street Day parade in Berlin on July 23, 2022, indicates her support for LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskky, has publicly endorsed a civil partnership law for same-sex couples. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky on Tuesday said he supports a civil partnership law for same-sex couples.

Kyiv Pride backed a marriage equality petition that was submitted to Volodymyr Zelenskky on July 12 with more than 28,000 signatures, which is higher than the legal threshold that requires him to consider it. 

Zelenskky in his response to the petition notes his support for marriage equality, but acknowledges the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman and it cannot be amended while the country is under martial law. Zelenskky on Tuesday nevertheless directed his government to submit a report on whether same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships through the country’s existing legal framework or a bill that would go through Parliament.

“I appealed to the prime minister of Ukraine with a request to consider the issue raised in the electronic petition and report about the relevant results,” said Zelenskky.

Zelenskyy last year pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with President Joe Biden at the White House. 

Anastasiia Baraniuk and Yulia Mulyukina, a lesbian couple who once lived in the Ukrainian city of Dniper, are among the millions of people who have fled the country since Russia began its war on Feb. 24. Baraniuk and Mulyukina last month told the Washington Blade in Berlin the fact that they are unable to legally prove they are in a relationship has prevented them from asking for asylum in the U.S. and Canada because the countries’ immigration systems are based on whether they are married or “common-law partners” respectively.

“Right now we are looking for a way to get the proof that we are a couple,” said Baraniuk. “We don’t want to stay in Berlin.”

From left: Yulia Mulyukina and Anastasiia Baraniuk fled their home in Dniper, Ukraine, in April. They now live in Berlin. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Kyiv Pride on Tuesday welcomed Zelenskyy’s announcement.

“Congratulations to the community, the Pride movement,” tweeted Kyiv Pride. “Thank you to the authorities.”

Maksym Eristavi, who chairs Kyiv Pride’s board of directors, desribed Zelenskyy’s announcement as “historic.”

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LGBTQ+ pride parade in Bucharest draws ten thousand plus people

Dancing & waving rainbow, trans, and progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation that would ban future Pride gatherings

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Screenshot/YouTube Euronews

BUCHAREST, Romania – Supporters and activists of the LGBTQ+ movement numbering an estimated ten thousand people took part in Bucharest Pride 2022, marching along Calea Victoriei to Izvor Park in the city’s center Saturday afternoon into evening.

Pride was organised by ACCEPT, the non-governmental human rights organization in Romania that defends and promotes LGBTQ+ rights.

Dancing and waving rainbow, trans, and LGBTQ+ progress flags, participants protested proposed legislation in the Parliament of Romania that could potentially endanger future LGBTQ+ Pride parades and foster further anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

A bill already approved by one body of lawmakers in Parliament would bans so-called “gay propaganda” in schools, mirroring similar legislation in Hungary and Russia.

EURONEWS Romania: Bucureștiul, scena a două marșuri, Bucharest Pride și „Marșul pentru normalitate”:

(Romanian language broadcast)
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Eastern Europe

Gay Lithuanian MP sharply criticizes Russia

Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius elected to Seimas in 2020

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Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius. (Photo courtesy of Lithuanian MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius)

VILNIUS, Lithuania — A gay man who is a member of the Lithuanian Parliament last week said his country could be Russia’s next target.

“Historically after independence in the early 90s, Lithuania was very critical and fearful of its attitudes towards its neighbors,” MP Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius told the Washington Blade on April 28 during a telephone interview from Vilnius, the country’s capital, in reference to Russia. “The current events in Ukraine simply prove that we were right.”

“We have to understand very clearly that Russia is using not only military force, not only its gas and oil, but it is also using its soft powers,” added Raskevičius. “These soft powers are certain, specific world views which Russia tries to impose to its neighboring countries and those ideas are usually anti-human rights and anti-liberal democracy, so they are portraying human rights and liberal democracy as a threat, rather as a benefit to the society.”

Raskevičius further stressed that LGBTQ+ rights are “part of this Russia propaganda campaign.”

“They’re portraying the West as being rotten, plagued with abominations,” he said.

Lithuania borders the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, Latvia, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic Sea. The country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, a year before it dissolved.

Raskevičius, 33, is a member of the liberal Freedom Party.

He worked for what is now called the Brooklyn Community Pride Center in New York and the Lithuanian Gay League, among other NGOs, before his election to the Vilnius City Council in 2019. Raskevičius in 2020 won a seat in the Lithuanian Parliament, which is known as the Seimas.

Raskevičius noted he is the second openly gay person elected to the Seimas, but the “first one” with a “pro-LGBT human rights agenda.” Raskevičius currently chairs the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee.

Russian, Belarusian LGBTQ+ groups relocate to Lithuania

Raskevičius said more than 50,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Lithuania since Russia invaded their country in February.

He told the Blade he knows of “isolated incidents” of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians in the country, noting that “LGBT people went to more open or progressive places than Lithuania.” Raskevičius said LGBTQ+ organizations are among the NGOs from Russia and Belarus that have relocated to Lithuania after their governments cracked down on them.

“Our local community demonstrates quite a high level of solidarity,” he said. “This is what the struggle for freedom is all about. It’s not only about physical security, but also security from Russian propaganda or soft power.”

Raskevičius also called for continued military cooperation and more economic sanctions against Russia.

“What is really important is not to get used to the war,” he said. “It has already been more than 60 days and you know people are getting used to seeing the terrible things on their TV and it becomes routine … we should be very mindful that we push harder because if Ukraine doesn’t win, we become the next one in the line.”

Raskevičius added Lithuania places “a lot of trust in our security partners, including the United States and NATO.”

“I wouldn’t say there is panic or any kind of that stuff, but it’s very close,” he said. “(Ukraine is) less than 1,000 km (621 miles) away and we have quite a nasty history with the Soviet Union and Russia, so we know what it’s all about it.”

Raskevičius sponsor of civil partnerships bill

Lithuania bans discrimination based on sexual orientation

The country on Sunday officially lifted restrictions for male blood donors who have sex with men, but opposition to LGBTQ+ rights remains strong. Raskevičius noted Lithuania is one of only six European Union member states that do not legally recognize same-sex couples.

He has introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

LGBTQ rights opponents who Raskevičius said have “documented ties” to Russia in 2021 launched a petition to remove him as chair of the Seimas’ Human Rights Committee “because apparently a person who is gay cannot chair the committee who is in charge of all human rights.” Recall supporters claimed more than 300,000 people signed the petition, but Raskevičius noted journalists discovered the vast majority of them were fake.

Raskevičius told the Blade that opposition to the civil partnership bill was the “pretext” behind the petition. He acknowledged the ongoing debate over whether lawmakers should consider the measure “with war in our neighborhood,” but he stressed “it’s the best time to do so.”  

“We have to choose whether we want to belong to the sphere of influence coming from the East, or we want to move into the West,” said Raskevičius.

Raskevičius’ son is 2 1/2. He told the Blade that fatherhood has shaped his work in support of LGBTQ+ rights and human rights.

“For a very long time LGBT people were not visible in Lithuania,” said Raskevičius. “LGBT parents was another level of invisibility. These people exist, but they don’t publicly share their experiences because they are concerned about the well-being of their kids.”

“Me and other parents involved in my child’s upbringing made the conscious decision to talk about our experiences publicly,” he added. “We want to encourage people they are not alone.”

The European Court of Human Rights last month heard a challenge to Lithuania’s so-called “gay propaganda law” that specifically bans the distribution of information to minors that “expresses contempt for family values, encourages the concept of entry into a marriage and creation of a family other than stipulated in the Constitution of the republic of Lithuania and the Civil Code of the republic of Lithuania.”

Author Neringa Dangvydė Macatė in 2019 filed a lawsuit against the law after Lithuanian authorities censured her children’s book that featured two same-sex couples. Bob Gilchrist, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, is among those who have publicly criticized the statute.

“Our law is also framed in terms of protecting minors from the detrimental kinds of public information and defines information about LGBT relationships as potentially detrimental,” noted Raskevičius. “Based on that legislation, public authorities could censor public information.”

Raskevičius during the interview also praised the U.S. Embassy and Gilchrist himself for their support of LGBTQ+ rights in Lithuania.

“The current ambassador demonstrates not only the embassy’s leadership, but he’s demonstrating personal leadership,” said Raskevičius. “He’s very open about who he is and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.”

Raskevičius noted Gilchrist attends public events and speaks about LGBTQ+ rights on Lithuanian television.

“It’s a very powerful message because we see the United States as a strategic ally,” said Raskevičius. “They would not only defend our territory, but also defend the same values and regarding that, anti homophobic sentiments should have no place.”

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine LGBTQ+ group chair attacked

Man approached Olena Shevchenko in Lviv on Thursday

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LVIV, Ukraine — A man on Thursday attacked the chair of an LGBTQ+ rights group in Ukraine with pepper spray.

Insight Chair Olena Shevchenko in a Facebook post said the man attacked her in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that is close to the country’s border with Poland, after she and her colleagues had loaded “humanitarian aid for women and children” onto a bus.

Shevchenko said “a guy in dark clothes” approached her on the street while she was talking on her cell phone and asked her a question. Shevchenko wrote the man attacked her with a balloon full of tear gas when she turned around to speak with him.

“I called (the) police and emergency (services),” wrote Shevchenko. “I have chemical injuries to my face and eyes, hands.”

Shevchenko posted pictures to her Facebook page that show her washing the tear gas out of her eyes. Shevchenko also wrote hospital personnel “gave me all the assistance I needed in this case.”

Shevchenko told the Washington Blade the man who attacked her “recognized me.” Shevchenko also said he was Ukrainian.

“I think it was planned,” said Shevchenko.

Shevchenko in her Facebook page wrote she hopes “the police identify him.”

“I am angry and very disappointed,” Shevchenko told the Blade.

Shevchenko on March 10 left her home in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and evacuated to Lviv where she and her colleagues continue to support LGBTQ+ Ukrainians and others whose Russia’s invasion of the country has displaced.

A Russian airstrike on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, an activist who volunteered with Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride, in Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country. A group of “bandits” on the same day broke into the Kyiv offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ+ rights group, and attacked four activists who were inside.

Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians, on March 2 used her bicycle to flee the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. Her son, Bogdan Globa, and his husband, Harmilee Cousin, brought her to New York a few days later.

The U.S. is among the countries that have condemned Russia over the atrocities its soldiers committed in Bucha while they occupied it. President Biden this week described the war as genocide.

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Eastern Europe

Anti-LGBTQ+ autocratic Orban declares victory in Hungarian elections

Besides parliamentary elections there was a referendum on LGBTQ+ issues about sex ed & availability of info on sex reassignment to kids

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addressing supporters (Screenshot/BBC)

BUDAPEST – Declaring himself the winner with 91% of the votes counted in the national parliamentary elections Sunday evening, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban addressed supporters and members of his Fidesz Party telling the enthusiastic crowd it was a “huge victory.”

“We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” Orban said referring to his ongoing battles with the European Union.

Orbán’s Fidesz party has a good chance of being reelected.

“The whole world has seen tonight in Budapest that Christian democratic politics, conservative civic politics and patriotic politics have won. We are telling Europe that this is not the past, this is the future,” he added.

Once the results are confirmed and Orban settles in for his fourth consecutive term as prime minster, it is almost certain that recent tensions between him and the leadership of the European Union, especially over the question of LGBTQ+ civil rights, will continue to escalate.

Further adding tension has been Orban’s longtime close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The prime minister has insisted that Hungary remain neutral in the Russian leader’s war on neighboring Ukraine, although Hungary has maintained close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil on favorable terms.

Orban, although he had previously condemned the Russian invasion, has refused to participate in assisting Ukraine or allowing EU and NATO members to ship much needed supplies, including weapons, across Hungarian borders to Ukraine.

At his final campaign rally Friday, the Associated Press reported that Orban claimed that supplying Ukraine with weapons — something that Hungary, alone among Ukraine’s EU neighbors, has refused to do — would make the country a military target, and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary’s own economy.

“This isn’t our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told western media representatives on Saturday that Orban is out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united to support sanctions against Russia and sent aid including weapons assisting Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression.

“He is virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin,” Zelenskyy said.

Peter Marki-Zay, the man who challenged Orban in national elections on April 3 on behalf of a united opposition, warned of worsening isolation under Orban’s “illiberal” model and likened him to a “traitor” putting Hungarians at risk. Marki-Zay in an interview with RFE/RL’s Hungarian Service said; “Let’s for once be on the right side of history, for once on the winning side.” 

Critics have charged that there will be further erosion of civil rights and democratic norms, especially for Hungary’s LGBTQ+ community which has been under relentless attack from the Orban government and the Fidesz Party over the past nearly three years.

“We have heard a lot of nonsense recently about whether there is democracy in Hungary,” Orban’s state secretary Zoltan Kovacs told reporters in recent interviews. “Hungarian democracy in the last 12 years has not weakened, but been strengthened.”

Lawmakers in December of 2020 approved proposals that would effectively ban same-sex couples from adopting children and define marriage as between a man and a woman. That same year parliamentarians from the the Fidesz Party approved a bill that would prevent transgender and intersex people in the country from legally changing their gender.

Then in 2021, a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors in Hungary took effect.

“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,” said the Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQ rights group.

On August 6, Orban’s government issued a decree that restricts the sale of children’s books with LGBTQ-specific themes.

Orban has garnered the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson who traveled to Budapest. Carlson at the opening of his show described Orbán as “an elected leader who publicly identifies as a Western-style conservative.”

Carlson referred to transgender athletes and critics of President Biden’s policies as he introduced his interview with Orbán. The Hungarian prime minister, for his part, defended his record.

“The Western liberals cannot accept that inside the Western civilization there’s a conservative national alternative, which is more successful at everyday life and the level of it than the liberal ones,” he added. “That’s the reason why they criticize us. They are fighting for themselves, not against us. But we are an example that somebody, or a country which is based on traditional values, on national identity, based on a tradition of Christianity, could be successful or sometimes even more successful than a leftist liberal government.”

The European Commission last year announced it would take legal action against Hungary after a law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors took effect. “I’m treated like the black sheep of the European Union,” Orbán told Carlson.

Along with the election to parliament, a referendum on LGBTQ issues was being held Sunday. The questions pertained to sex education programs in schools and the availability to children of information about sex reassignment.

“Orbán’s policy in the last 12 years has always been to pick a target and then start to shoot,” Anna Szlavi, co-founder of the Qlit network, an organization and website for gay women in Hungary, told The Daily Beast in a March 29, 2022 interview. “In 2021 the so-called ‘pedophile law’ was introduced, which basically kind of conflated the LGBT+ [community] with pedophiles,” Szlavi says. “Orbán repeatedly upholds this idea that [being] LGBT is an abnormal thing and it’s OK to equate them with pedophiles.”

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Eastern Europe

Ukraine LGBTQ+ group co-founder details harrowing escape from Kyiv suburb

Helen Globa arrived in New York on March 6

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NEW YORK — Helen Globa, co-founder of Tergo, a support group for parents and friends of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians, was in her apartment in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded her country.

Globa and her neighbors sought refuge in a makeshift bomb shelter in their apartment building’s basement. Globa’s son, Bogdan Globa, who lives in New York with his husband, Harmilee Cousin, told her to leave on March 2 because her diabetes had caused her health to deteriorate.

Helen Globa rode her bicycle to a bridge that Ukrainian soldiers had blown up in order to stop Russian tanks from using it. Her son’s friend met her on the other side.

“I was afraid of sliding down into the river,” Helen Globa told the Washington Blade on Monday during a telephone interview. “The stress empowered me, and I managed to cross the bridge.”

Helen Globa said Ukrainian soldiers greeted her on the other side of the bridge.

“I was very happy to meet them,” she said. “They were men who you could rely on, who you could trust. I was crying when they instructed me how to behave in case if I heard some shooting or some bullets flying or maybe even some bombings.”

“I was crying,” added Helen Globa. “It was the first time during these seven days because when I was hiding in my basement, I wasn’t able to eat or to think about anything, or cry.”

Her son’s friend drove her to the Hungary-Ukraine border the next day. A man from Munich drove her and two other people to Budapest.

Helen Globa spent the night at a hotel near the Hungarian capital’s main train station. She told the Blade that she was afraid to leave her room, even to get something to eat.

“During those bombing days in Bucha, I guess I acquired some nervous disorder,” said Helen Globa.” Even in Budapest when I was in a safe place, when I was in a quiet place, in the evening I had a strong feeling of fear, unreasonable fear.”

Helen Globa on March 6 flew from Budapest to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and reunited with her son and Cousin.

“I said to them, ‘Guys, you saved my life,'” said Helen Globa.

The Globas and Cousin flew to New York on March 6. Helen Globa is currently living with a PFLAG family in Manhattan.

“I wish to go (back to Ukraine) tomorrow if I could,” she told the Blade. “My heart is with Ukraine.”

“I have a kind of guilt that I am not with them, that I do not have a gun, that I am not fighting, that I am not cooking for Ukrainian soldiers,” added Helen Globa.

From left: Bogdan Globa and his husband, Harmilee Cousin, with Globa’s mother, Helen Globa, in Paris after she fled Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Bogdan Globa)

Helen Globa is one of the more than 4 million Ukrainians who the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates have fled the country since the war began.

The Biden administration last week announced it would welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into the U.S. The White House has indicated it will prioritize LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable Ukrainians.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad, earlier this month told the Blade that she and her office continue to provide support to advocacy groups in Ukraine and in countries that border it. A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday noted to the Blade in response to a request for comment about LGBTQ+ Ukrainian refugees and reports of Transgender women unable to leave the country that “our international organization partners are surging staff to focus exclusively on the protection needs of the most vulnerable fleeing Ukraine.”

“The United States supports Ukrainian organizations that work in Ukraine with vulnerable populations, and where necessary, is supporting efforts to facilitate the ability for many of these vulnerable groups to safely exit Ukraine,” said the spokesperson.

A Russian airstrike in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country, on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law student who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride. A group of “bandits” on the same day broke into the Kyiv offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ+ rights group, and attacked four activists who were inside.

Helen Globa said one of her group’s members who fled to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine that is close to the country’s border with Poland, is volunteering at a shelter for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians. Other Tergo members have sought refuge in other parts of Ukraine or have left the country.

“People tried to escape to any safe places that they could find,” said Helen Globa.

‘Third World War has started’

Helen Globa throughout the interview praised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“Zelenskyy is the first president I’m in love with, I’m deeply in love with,” she said.

Zelenskyy last November pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with Biden at the White House. Letters that Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality and Ukraine Caucuses sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken before the war began note that Ukraine in recent years “has made great strides towards securing equality for LGBTQ+ people within its borders and is a regional leader in LGBTQ rights” that include a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and efforts to protect Pride parades.

Helen Globa told the Blade that she is among the Ukrainians who had previously criticized Zelenskyy, but she added “right now I admire how this person acted, what he said to people, how often he talked to Ukrainians, what he said and how brave he is.”

“He’s a very courageous president,” said Helen Globa. “The whole country is around him.”

She said she supports calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Helen Globa also praised the speech that Biden gave in Warsaw on March 26 in which he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”

“Biden is pretty sincere and he vocalized his position,” said Helen Globa. “He was absolutely right and I share this opinion that Putin is a criminal and a humanitarian criminal and Putin shouldn’t stay as the leader of the country any more.”

Helen Globa, whose brother and his family live in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, also categorized the war as World War III.

“The administration and Biden should understand and they shouldn’t be like I was at the beginning of the war,” she said. “I didn’t believe the war could start. Biden shouldn’t also lie to himself. The administration shouldn’t also lie to themselves. The Third World War has started.”

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