LGBT Question and European Integration Conference: not special but equal rights

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The Question of LGBT and European Integration international conference held on March 15-16 in Kyiv has signalled that the Ukrainian LGBT community has support within the country and abroad. The Ukrainian and foreign politicians, diplomats, law enforcement officials, members of the human rights organizations from Ukraine, from the neighbouring states and Western countries,  and, of course, the LGBT activists were among the conference speakers. More than 150 delegates from 15 countries took part in the event. The delegates voiced two main objectives: changes to the Ukrainian legislation and reduction of homophobia in the society.

 “European Commission should put forward a strong LGBT action plan”

The EU can become an example for Ukraine, state the foreign delegates. Therefore, the European Parliament member Sophia In’T Veld (the Netherlands) underlines, “Same-sex couples can marry or have a civil union in 22 countries. There is a growing body of law and case law of both the European Union and the Council of Europe providing real protection against discrimination. The resounding “Yes” to same-sex marriage in the Irish referendum, recognition of same-sex unions in Greece, Cyprus and Italy, or the Maltese law on Gender Identity show us progress is possible. Since last November, we can add the Ukrainian Labour Code reform to this list. An encouraging step forward.”

Read also: Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine condemned the assault on the Equality Festival participants in Lviv

However, much more must be done, both in the EU and Ukraine, to make further progress and avoid backsliding, according to her. “Within the EU, discrimination, harassment and violence against LGBT persons are still widespread. Pride marches are being banned or obstructed, and conservative governments try to limit the rights of LGBT community. That’s why the European Commission needs to put forward a strong LGBT action plan to safeguard the rights of all EU citizens”, told the European Parliament member, adding that Ukraine is heading in the right direction, but it is only three years ago that the Russian-style “anti-gay propaganda” law was under consideration of the Verkhovna Rada. That is why it is important to prevent such steps backwards. “We welcome the very supportive stance of the Ukrainian political leadership”, said Sophia In’T Veld.

“We provide for LGBT not special but equal rights. I hope, in 5 years Ukraine will catch up with Great Britain in protection of the human rights. For this to materialize, positive examples of LGBT openness are necessary, and we will be ready to support such Ukrainian initiatives”, told the British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough, who came out as lesbian just a few days ago, saying that she had to weigh it up before taking a posting in Ukraine, a country beset by anti-gay sentiment.

Read also: The British Ambassador to Ukraine Judith Gough came out as lesbian

“Further efforts are necessary to protect the LGBT rights in Ukraine. Last year sexual orientation and gender identity were included as prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Labour Code. It is a good step forward, but a stronger protection is necessary. There is a great need to reform the rules of gender recognition. I am glad that the National action plan on human rights includes measures to improve the rights of the LGBT people, and I call for the rapid implementation of these measures“, underlined the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks.

Bjorn van Roozendaal, programmes director of ILGA-Europe reminded that Ukraine was ranked 44th out of total 49 countries on equality of the LGBTI rights on the rainbow Europe map: “Despite some positive developments and further political commitments Ukraine made with regard to the equality policy, much remains to be done“. In addition to the legislative changes, the law enforcement officers should be retrained, he thinks. It is important to work with the society in the context of breaking stereotypes about the LGBT people.

“Political class changes only under pressure”

Ukrainian politicians and officials also addressed the Conference.

To find the way to promote freedom from discrimination on any ground is the subject of a constant attention of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, assured Aksana Philipishyna, the representative of the Ombudsman of Ukraine. “There is a high level of prejudicial attitude towards the representatives of the LGBT community in the Ukrainian society”, she says. – “It is present in numerous cases of the discrimination, breach of bodily integrity, violation of the right to human dignity, violation of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, as well as in the hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Philipishyna calls for non-discrimination on the grounds of SOGI in all aspects of public life. According to her, the absence of all necessary legal mechanisms impedes effective combating of the discrimination.

Read also: “Marriage is anachronism”: the MPs about same-sex partnerships in Ukraine

“Ukraine is a leader in the area of human rights among the post-Soviet states and maybe, it will become a model even for Russia in the future. Nevertheless, we should not become the victims of our own successes. We must decisively move forward in the area of human rights, improve anti-discrimination legislation, and especially for the LGBT – legalize the institution of the civil partnership”, says the MP from Petro Poroshenko Bloc Svitlana Zalishchuk. Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine for European Integration Serhii Petukhov underlines that homophobia is a kind of anti-value imposed by the Russian propaganda.

Anti-discrimination amendments and other laws in this field are the movements, we chose at the Maidan, states the MP from Petro Poroshenko Bloc Serhiy Leshchenko, “Now the politicians are lagging behind the society. The demand of the society is higher than the MPs can respond to it. We also should take account of what discourse the country developed in — the imperialistic values haven’t been outdated yet. However, it is very good that we are getting rid of it, inter alia in the context of the LGBT initiative. I wish all these legislative initiatives would be adopted as soon as possible.”

Read also: Reforms in Ukrainian style: one step forward, two steps back (PHOTO, VIDEO)

The time of politicians writing the rules for the society has passed, now the rules are the output of the joint efforts of the politicians and the society, underlined Leshchenko.

He also urged the society and the LGBT community in particular to push more the authorities. “The political class changes only under pressure. The more you push, the faster it changes, said the MP, paying tribute to Harvey Milk. “If you are active, we will work with you and we will do that the LGBT community has the same voice like the faith community. There are very few liberal parties here. If they see the active LGBT environment, this movement will emerge in the political spectrum. A political force will appear which will not be reluctant about it, but which will carry flags with these slogans. The Equality March will be on the Khreshchatyk soon.”

Leshchenko added, one should push the authorities the way they have no choice but to respond, “The authorities are weak now. There is a big window of opportunity for the institutions of the political society, the opportunity to become the part of the reform movement.”

«#NEW_POLICE».  Formally, the police promise to tackle hate crimes more actively, including the crimes motivated by homophobia and transphobia. In fact, the process is being impeded. Instead of real work, the National police propose check marks from the crime victims, as we wrote in the article Our police protect us: check marks and posters against real work. Now I would like to provide some more figures, actually the well-known ones.

According to the statistics of the Centre “Nash Svit”, in 2015 six murders motivated by homophobia and transphobia, 29 cases of physical injuries of varying degrees of seriousness, 6 attacks on the LGBT activities (it will be 7 taking in account the developments in Lviv — Author), 29 cases of insult and violation of human dignity were registered. Officially, the police documented nine crimes motivated by sexual orientation; eight out of nine cases have an alleged motive. As we have written already, it is very difficult to collect real data because law enforcement does not maintain adequate statistics on the hate crimes and remains silent on the crimes motivated by homophobia and transphobia.

Read also: How much does it cost to beat up a person: about homophobia, statistics and violence against LGBT

In addition to physical attacks and threats, there were registered four cases of LGBT rights violations in employment, three — in education, two — in health care and three — in the field of services. We recall the action plan for the National strategy on human rights provides for the development of antidiscrimination legislation. There are plans to include the motive of homophobia in the Criminal Code as an aggravating circumstance. However, a practice still shows that it is difficult to cooperate with law enforcement in this area.

CHURCH AND HOMOPHOBIA ON THE PART OF THE AUTHORITIES.  The guests from the Eastern Europe shared information on the situation in their countries. For example, the activists from Russia recognize that their state moves in the direction opposite to the development of the human rights, and they cannot count on any protection from the authorities and the police. The Russian authorities follow a plainly homophobic policy, notes the activist of the Russian LGBT network Svetlana Zaharova: the activists are being penalized; the organizations are being declared foreign agents, and mass media are afraid to cover the topic correctly. Consequently, people are intimidated and afraid to be open.

Read also: “Hromadske TV”: LGBT activists talking about the authorities double play, intimidation and indirect repressions

It is also not easy in Georgia. The church tries to work against by the antidiscrimination laws. Recently the conservative politicians have proposed to hold a referendum in order to prohibit the possibility of the legalization of same-sex unions at the level of legislation. However, the representative of the organization Identoba Anna Iluridzе associates such ideas with electoral campaigning.

The Armenian and Azerbaijan LGBT organizations are also unable to count on the support from the authorities. In Azerbaijan, however, it is easier for the activists to work due to the position of the authorities on the religion – religion is clearly separated from the state. In Moldova, even the European parties seldom address the human rights issues; the politicians use sexism and misogyny in their speeches, said the representative of the information centre Genderdoc-М Artem Zavadovskyi.

The situation in Ukraine is similar in terms of our politicians’ position.  However, it has started to improve recently, both Ukrainians and foreigners recognize.

COMMON PROBLEMS. Another important point is the need for cohesion among the members of the LGBT community both within the country and at the international level. The activists emphasized that it was important to join the initiatives of the partners and create an international platform for the work of the LGBT organizations from the post-Soviet states. “We have common post-Soviet problems, the ones we face every day – allegedly, there weren’t any LGBT people, but when we moved towards Europe, they suddenly appeared. We are told our sponsors are West European countries. We all work on to dispel stereotypes“, underlined Yurii Yorskyi, the programme director of GAU.

He thinks, the amendment of the Labour Code is a huge success, but we should continue working with a general population and foreign partners, “What do the partners get working with us? It is very important for the Western Europe to develop democratic values in our countries, because it is a key to their safety as well. We can also learn from the invaluable experience of Russia — the conditions they work in are unique. But we don’t know what will happen in our country tomorrow.”

Read also: Volodymyr Naumenko: “People in ski masks assaulting a peaceful meeting is provocation

Pride movement is an invaluable experience, GAU is one of its main sponsors, notes Yurii: “This year there will be a fifth Equality March in Ukraine. We started to invite the partners from the Eastern Partnership countries for them to see how it is here. We can share experiences about the work with the politicians, and our colleagues can tell about their experience.”  Ukraine can also share experiences about the work with internally displaced people, adds Yorskyi. It is very important to keep working with politicians, who are not afraid to speak up for the community. Moreover, the development of the LGBT tourism could become a good perspective, he thinks.

INSTEAD OF THE CONCLUSION. Without development of the legislation in the context of respect for the human rights, inter alia, gender equality on the grounds of SOGI, a full-fledged integration of Ukraine is unlikely to be implemented. The diplomats spoke of it for such a long time: almost every head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recognized the need to protect LGBT, as soon as he started to delve into the subject in terms of the relationship with Western countries. We heard many times that we would still have to amend the legal norms regardless of prejudices and opinions.

We moved beyond mere words only in the last year while adopting the amendment to the Labour Code on non-discrimination on the grounds of SOGI. Should we treat the law, which won’t yield results soon, as a huge progress? The need to protect the LGBT community from discrimination explicitly recognized by the politicians and officials became a small step forward. Although much effort and not simple contacts with authorities will be required, before we move forward together, leaving behind the phase of declarations and promises.

Автор: Alexandra Zakharova

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