Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent shockwaves of uncertainty to its western neighbour. If Putin ultimately wins, it’s unclear what vestiges of Western freedoms would remain intact. But one thing is clear: the rights of the country’s LGBTQ+ population would come under fire.
While not an international leader in advancing LGBTQ+ rights, Ukraine took significant steps over the past decade to improve the lives of its gay citizens. In 2015 it implemented anti-discrimination employment laws, and in 2016 it began allowing gay and bisexual men to donate blood, as part of an effort to become a more fair.
In contrast, Russia has moved in the opposite direction. In 2013 it banned same-sex couples from adopting Russian children and in 2020 it banned same-sex marriage. The Kremlin has also repressed on the ability of LGBTQ+ activists to organize and enabled law enforcement to Chechnya region wage violent campaigns against the community.
“There are many reasons to be concerned for the Ukrainian people in general, but in particular for marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+ community,” said Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, who serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House and chairs the committee for LGBTQ+ equality. Newsweek.
“Vladimir Putin often makes reference to LGBTQ+ people not being welcome in Russia and other derogatory comments about the community,” he added, “so that’s a really big difference.”
Cicilline notes that many of Ukraine’s pro-LGBTQ+ actions in recent years are part of a promotion of democratic values aimed at making it a more attractive candidate for NATO membership. Last November, the United States and Ukraine signed a Charter on strategic partnership who “confirmed the importance” of advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Prior to signing the statement, Cicilline said Ukraine had for years strengthened its LGBTQ+ civil society and promoted the community’s public visibility by offering protection from opposition groups that was trying to disrupt Pride events.
Bogdan Globa, who heads the nonprofit LGBTQ Ukrainians in Americafears that individuals who have spent years fighting for these advances will become Putin’s prime targets.
“LGBT activists are generally the same people who care about human rights,” Globa said. Newsweek. “These are people who work locally but travel overseas to speak to the media.”
He added a chilling warning.
“Russia will kill them,” he said, “because after taking control of Ukraine, they will have to install their puppet government to control the territory, and human rights activists are the ones which prevent this control”.
Globa spoke to activists on the ground in Ukraine, who told him they felt scared and helpless. Most do not want to leave their homeland, but those who do face a difficult journey. Cicilline asserted that the persecution of gay activists is a real concern and argued that the United States must take action to combat this threat by passing the law of global respect (GRA).
Sponsored by Cicilline last May, the GRA would impose visa blocking penalties on those responsible for or complicit in violating the human rights of others on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. The bill passed the House on February 9, garnering six Republican votes as well as those of all Democrats present that day. It is now awaiting adoption in the Senate.
Cicilline said the measure would be an effective tool to crack down on Russians who commit violence against LGBTQ+ Ukrainians. He stressed that the federal government must continue to work with members of civil society working with LGBTQ+ organizations on the ground to ensure that America can provide continued assistance to gay Ukrainians as the situation evolves.
“We have a well-established reputation for defending freedom and human rights around the world,” Cicilline said. Newsweek.
“I hope that we will continue to be a place where those people who leave Ukraine for fear of being tortured, imprisoned or killed because of their membership of the LGBTQ community can come to find comfort and refuge,” he said. -he adds.