Between ‘the Russian World’ and ‘the Ukrainian Nation’: Kyiv Pride before and after Euromaidan

Activists of LGBT communities hold an action outside the Verkhovna Rada under a slogan "Don't FU€K with us!" on November 10, 2015. They urge the parliament to adopt laws required for the visa liberalization with the European Union.

LGBT activists hold a protest in front of Verkhovna Rada  on November 10, 2015.


Troubles with rights: LGBT politics in independent Ukraine

As in other Eastern European countries, the transformation of sexual policies in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union was driven by processes of democratization. In 1991, right after Ukraine obtained its independence, criminalization of consensual same-sex relations between adult men (which had been punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment in all Soviet republics and up to eight years in cases that involved minors or the exploitation of the dependent position of the aggrieved party) was abolished as part of a general process of guaranteeing civil rights and freedoms. This decision did not receive much public attention at the time, due to the complete social invisibility of a homosexual subculture and the resulting absence of strong public opinion on the issue. When remembering the social climate of the 1990s, members of the gay community often admit the surprising absence of homophobia in Ukrainian society until the beginning of the 2000s[1], when gay and lesbian organizations started to collaborate with international HIV/AIDS foundations. Financial support from HIV/AIDS programs allowed Ukrainian gay and lesbian organizations to build their networks and extend the scope of their activities. The resulting growth in visibility of the LGBT community provoked a backlash on the part of religious conservatives. In 2003, the NGO “Love against homosexualism” was founded, and it remains the most prominent anti-gay organization in Ukraine today.

Homonegative attitudes in Ukrainian society have gradually increased since the beginning of the 2000s. According to the results of surveys conducted by the LGBT organization “Nash Mir Center” (March 2002, March 2007, and March 2011) the percentage of those who believe that “citizens of Ukraine who have a homosexual orientation should have the same rights as other citizens” decreased from 43% in 2002 to 36% in 2011, and the number of those who thought “there should be some restrictions [of their rights]” rose from 34% to 49%. The percentage of opponents to marriage equality for gay couples also increased from 54% to 64%. The most recent study of attitudes towards LGBT people in Ukraine conducted by The Center of Social Expertises of the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine in September – November 2013[2] revealed that only 15% of Ukrainian citizens aged 18-86 agreed that homosexuality should be accepted in the society, while 59% were against it. Among those who opposed the social acceptance of homosexuality, 68% cited their religious/moral views as the reason for their position; 44% stated that “it is bad for children/family”; 38% agreed with the statement “It is just not right / I don’t agree with it”; and 10% indicated “social condemnation” as the reason. The study also revealed highly negative attitudes towards legal partnerships (9% for, 62% against) and child adoption/parenting by homosexual people (7% for, 68% against).

Unfortunately, there has been no systematic monitoring of discrimination against LGBT people in Ukraine. The only available statistics on discrimination and hate crimes against homosexual people is based on unrepresentative internet surveys conducted by “Nash Mir” and the National LGBT Portal. According to a 2013 “Nash Mir” survey, 61% of gays and lesbians[3] had faced violations of their rights at least once in the preceding three years; among those who did not conceal their sexual orientation, the discrimination rate reached 89%. Most cases of discrimination were found in the spheres of private relations and interactions with the police. The police were identified as the state institution most intolerant towards homosexual people: 23% of respondents had experienced prejudice, violation of search and seizure procedure, blackmail, and demands to provide information about other homosexuals. Discrimination in the labor sphere was experienced by 16,8% of respondents. The picture of discrimination reflected in a 2014 National LGBT Portal survey was quite different. The private sphere and educational institutions appeared to be the most hostile environments for homosexual people (29% and 24% of respondents faced discrimination in these areas respectively). Extortion by law enforcement institutions held the last position in the list of spheres of discrimination with only 2% of respondents affected by it.

During the presidency of Victor Yanukovych in 2010-2014, general homonegative attitudes in society were reinforced by anti-gay legislative initiatives in the parliament supported by major churches[4] and the religious Right. The Ukrainian government tended to adopt statements from the general moralizing discourse produced by anti-gay non-governmental organizations, churches, and the right-wing party Svoboda (Freedom), which lead to the entrenchment of far-right rhetoric on the state level[5]. Homophobic media buzz generated by anti-gay NGO’s (some of which were founded and run by members of parliament) was represented as the “concerned voices of civil society” and used by parliamentarians to justify the initiation of anti-gay bills[6]. In 2011 — 2013, three bills aimed at prohibiting “propaganda of homosexualism”, i.e. any positive mentions of homosexuality in public among adolescents (bills № 8711, № 10290) and in the public sphere in general (bill № 10729), were introduced. During public discussions of these bills, Svoboda, churches and the religious Right developed complex argumentative strategies against LGBT rights, organized around the conspiracy theory of a “gender/gay dictatorship” which suggested that homosexuality is promoted by Europe and “the West” to destroy the Ukrainian nation.

After the Euromaidan revolution, the situation of LGBT rights in Ukraine seems to have improved, at least on the legislative level. Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the labor sphere was legally prohibited on November, 13, 2015. Moreover, the Governmental Strategy on Human Rights for 2016-2020 included the introduction of civil partnerships and provisions for the development of a new procedure of sex correction for transgender people and for granting transgender people permission to adopt children, among other goals. These changes became possible due to the dramatically increased importance of strategic relations with the EU for Ukraine, in light of Russian aggression. Under these circumstances, the external incentive mechanism for the promotion of human rights exercised by the EU in neighboring countries, including Ukraine, became much more effective than it had been in 2012-2013[7].

However, positive changes were again accompanied by a certain backlash against LGBT rights.  After the anti-discrimination amendment to the Labor Code was passed, the government introduced the position of Commissioner on Family, immediately given to Adrian Bukovyns’kyi, a former activist in a totalitarian religious sect, the Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church (better known as “the Dohnal group”, named after its founder Illia Dohnal). He was soon dismissed because of the massive public outcry from civil rights organizations and opinion leaders. But the position of the Commissioner on Family, which was established under lobbying pressure fro the churches as a counterweight to LGBT rights advocates, was preserved (though the next Commissioner will be selected after an open competition). Also, human rights activists point to the growth of street violence against LGBT people after Euromaidan, which partly resulted from the overall increase of far-right violence and the militarization of Ukrainian society. The most prominent media example of homophobic street violence came during a social experiment conducted by two LGBT rights activists who walked around the Kyiv capital holding hands and were attacked by a group of youngsters right on Khreshchatyk, the city’s main street[8].

In this article, I will examine Kyiv LGBT Pride as an emblematic case for a detailed analysis of the transformations of LGBT politics in Ukraine in recent years. KyivPride was launched in 2012 as a series of public events on LGBT issues (lectures, screenings, round tables), but in the very first year of Pride’s existence the planned public march was canceled by the organizers due to numerous threats from individuals and conservative groups and because of the police’s refusal to guarantee security for the participants. The first Pride march took place in 2013 during Yanukovych’s presidency. In 2014, the Pride march, which was renamed the March of Equality, was cancelled again for the same reason: the unwillingness of the police and city authorities to protect participants. And in 2015, the March of Equality was held for the second time, under very different political circumstances. The two cases of KyivPride in 2013 and 2015 provide suitable material for a systematic comparison of the structural conditions of LGBT politics before and after Euromaidan and the strategic choices made by the Ukrainian LGBT movement in an unstable political environment. The conclusions of this essay are drawn relying on the analysis of media articles, policy documents, posts in social media which I collected during 2013-2016, while working on my PhD thesis on media representation of political discourse on LGBT rights in Ukraine, and also on my personal experience of participation in KyivPride – 2015. As long as it was not a systematic sample, I tried to provide as many references as it was possible to support my arguments.

KyivPride 2013: a democratic veil for an autocratic regime

Beginning in 2010, Ukraine was working to strengthen its political and economic ties with the European Union, which led to the creation of two important international agreements. The Association Agreement, aimed at political association and economic integration, including the creation of a free trade area, was supposed to replace the existing Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Ukraine and the EU signed in 1994. Visa liberalization was meant to establish a visa-free regime for short-term travel between Ukraine and the EU. With the conclusion of the two agreements, president Victor Yanukovych probably expected to gain sympathy among the electorate in the pro-European Central and Western regions of Ukraine ahead of the next elections[9]. In 2012-2013, the international politics of the Azarov government sought balance between the EU and Russia in order to maintain good relationships with both. However, until Yanukovych’s sudden turn to the Customs Union (which seemed to be unexpected even by the Ukrainian government, which was dominated by the pro-presidential Party of Regions), sympathies towards the EU were more visible.

The issue of LGBT rights became a cornerstone of the Eurointegration process in Ukraine. Horror stories of a “homodictatorship” in Western countries (where marriage is corroded, venereal diseases are widespread, and children are taken away from families in order to be left at the mercy of perverts) were used by pro-Russian political actors as simple and catchy explanations for why Ukraine should seek closer relations with Russia and keep away from the EU[10]. Under these circumstances, the first KyivPride march was initially perceived as a litmus test for Ukraine’s European aspirations.

The march was scheduled to take place on May 25, the first day of celebrations of the Day of Kyiv. This coincidence was not properly explained by the organizers of Pride (it probably occurred due to practical, not political, reasons), but was eagerly exploited by the city authorities, who tried to ban the event in order to prevent clashes among groups with “polarized views”. According to media reports, 5 to 10 applications for public activities were submitted to the Kyiv City Administration by opponents of Pride. Subsequently, the city government (temporarily headed by Oleksandr Popov) tried to cancel all public activities on May 25-26, excluding those which were part of Kyiv Day celebrations, via a court decision. However, Pride organizers managed to submit another application for a public gathering near the Dovzhenko film studio, which is outside the city center, in the few days between the court ban on all additional public activities in the city center and the planned date of Pride. The Kyiv City Administration did not have enough time to cancel it again.

For security reasons, participation in Pride required a sophisticated procedure of registration. Those wanting to participate had to indicate two well-known members LGBT community who could vouch for them – a measure which obviously excluded LGBT people who do not maintain close contacts with activists, as well as friendly heterosexuals. However, in practice, the requirements imposed on potential participants appeared to be even more strict. Even among those who managed to provide the contacts of LGBT activists (including the author of this article), many people did not receive the promised SMS notification of the time and place of the meeting point, which should have been sent on the morning of May 25. Subsequently, only around 50 participants gathered for the march, most of whom were professional activists from LGBT and human rights organizations, as well as several EU citizens (in particular, the vice-mayor of Munich and some members of the Munich city council, as well as representatives of the Munich LGBT community).

On May 25, participants were picked up at at the meeting point by pre-arranged buses and moved to the Dovzhenko film studio. The 200 meters over which the march was going to be held were surrounded by three lines of policemen. And behind these three lines, a number of Christian activists, mostly elderly people, priests, and pro-Russian Cossacks, gathered, blocking the nearby Pobeda Prospekt (nationalists from the Svoboda party arrived late, but in time to provide aggressive commentaries to journalists after the march had already ended). Under these circumstances, fifty participants went along the blocked road and entered the Dovzhenko film studio, where buses waited to take them away. Only one conservative activist managed to break through the police line and tear some posters held by the marchers. He was quickly detained by the police.

It is still an open question why such a limited number of willing people were allowed to participate in the Pride. Some of those excluded criticized the organizers for turning an important civil rights event into a private club. The organizers were unable to provide any public explanations. It may seem that the Ukrainian authorities simply used KyivPride to fulfill their own political goals. Pride provided a picture for the West that showed that the rights of all people in Ukraine were well protected, but that Ukraine remained a country with strong “traditional values”, where the small number of LGBT people (half of whom were European officials) is outweighed by the number of those unhappy with sexual freedoms.

On the one hand, some LGBT rights activists considered the first Pride March to be a great political success for the Ukrainian LGBT movement and praised the authorities and police for their protection of the participants, despite the ambivalence of the situation. At the same time they were happy with what they suggested was a recognition of the LGBT community on the governmental level: the inclusion of LGBT in the list of influential social movements in the yearly Presidential message to Parliament. Later, after Euromaidan, when asked about his support of Yanukovych’s politics in a Facebook discussion, the leader of “Gay-Forum Ukraine” Sviatoslav Sheremet answered: “Any authority serves the people, including LGBT people. That is why we have cooperated with all Presidents and all governments. And this cooperation was fruitful. This also holds true for Yanukovych and Azarov”.

On the other hand, there were activists who maintained a more critical position towards the government and pro-governmental activists. The most prominent example comes from the Kyiv-based LGBT NGO “Insight”. Unlike other LGBT organizations which had grown out of HIV/AIDS services and were (and to a large extent still are) subsequently focused on gay men, “Insight”, founded in 2007, was initially focused on the problems of lesbians and transgender people. A couple of days before May 25, the head of “Insight”, Olena Shevchenko, announced that she was withdrawing herself from the organizing committee of KyivPride-2013 in protest of the unclear registration procedure, which excluded most of the community from the event: “The far right activists are coming anyway, – she commented in a private interview, – and those who would like to support us are not. As a result, it looks like a small group of people is hiding on the fringes. I advocate for an open format, where people can come and express their support, and see no point in a closed Pride”[11].

LGBT people in Euromaidan protests: unproblematized exclusion

During Euromaidan, the LGBT community actively supported the pro-European trajectory of Ukrainian international politics, since it was obvious to everyone that if Yanukovych stayed in power as President, Ukraine would turn into a colony under Putin’s protectorate, similar to Belarus. The situation surrounding LGBT rights in Russia is disappointing. The protection of “traditional values” in the Russian Federation, which includes denying homosexual people full citizenship, has turned into a kind of state ideology that provides the wider public with a simple and easily intelligible justification for Vladimir Putin’s opposition to “the West”. At the geopolitical level, it has become a cornerstone of the new messianic idea of saving humanity from modern European degeneracy[12]. A ban on “homosexual propaganda” in Russia was understood by society as state sanction of violence against LGBT people, which  led to the harassment and dismissal of LGBT educators; the growth of radical right groups, such as “Occupy Pedophilia”; and even ordinary citizens involved in hate crimes now trying to use their homophobic motives as extenuating circumstances.

Subsequently, an overwhelming majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Ukraine became dedicated supporters of Euromaidan. The Facebook community for LGBT activists “Stop Homophobia” (previously “Stop 8711”) regularly posted calls for participation in major Euromaidan gatherings on weekends. It resulted in tighter bonds between activists and the growth of collective solidarity. As Zorian Kis’ from Amnesty International wrote on December 2, 2013, “our group is de-virtualizing gradually… [Today] we discussed our participation in the peaceful protests and agreed that it is very good that we have met and are going to Maidan TOGETHER”. However, they were only able to participate in Euromaidan protests when concealing their identity as LGBT people and activists. When two young feminists in Kyiv stood up with posters in support of LGBT rights in the very beginning of the Euromaidan protests, they were attacked by right-wingers (fortunately, only their posters were harmed). Another united feminist/leftist public event[13] within Euromaidan on November 28, 2013, in which I took part personally, did not made any explicit references to gay rights at all, but was nonetheless aggressively criticized by passing male protesters: “Are you promoting homosexuality? If you don’t get rid of these posters [about gender equality] by the time I come back, I will tear them up!”

The general danger of clashes with the far Right was eagerly exploited by the Azarov government, which organized several provocations using LGBT symbolism. The first one took place in the very beginning of the protests, on November 24, 2013, when a group of people, who looked as if they were probably homeless, went to the march “For a European Ukraine” with LGBT flags to express their support for Euromaidan. The provocation was recognized as such, and Euromaidan participants tried to take the rainbow flags away, but no one was harmed. As a result, the fake LGBT activists were not able to join the protest and left the location before the march “For a European Ukraine” started. Another provocation was arranged on January 11, 2014, taking into account the previous mistakes. This time, at least some participants in this event, unofficially sponsored by the government, were members of the LGBT community; they danced and sang, enacting popular stereotypes about gay people, such as the excessive femininity of gay men and the carnivalesque nature of LGBT political activities, which highly contrasted with the overall atmosphere of the Maidan protests of that time, by then radicalized by the disproportionate use of violence by the police.

The Coalition of LGBT Organizations immediately provided a unified response to the second provocation with an open statement and a press conference, addressed above all to other members of Euromaidan. They denied any connection to participants in these pseudo-LGBT actions, condemned them, and claimed that as patriotic citizens they would never endanger the overall peaceful nature of the protests through any provocative actions. At the press conference, the head of the LGBT NGO “Tochka opory” / “Fulcrum”, Bohdan Hloba, justified the LGBT community’s decision to participate in Euromaidan exclusively under the flags of Ukraine and the EU, and without LGBT symbols, in the following way:

“In this decision, the community was guided by the consideration that today for LGBT people, as well as for all Ukrainians, the primary task is to change the power system, to develop a new social contract in our country, and to construct a new state. Only then can we talk about rights and freedoms. <…> And we realize that we can speak of the prohibition of discrimination only in a democratic country. Now Euromaidan is fighting for a democratic country, for a new quality of politics and politicians, and, of course, we could not stand by – we have participated in it and are still participating”.

These official statements were supported by social sanctions within the LGBT community itself: LGBT participants in the second action were banned from gay clubs and some of them ended up providing public apologies on LGBT internet resources later.

The response of LGBT organizations was obviously dictated by the need to present themselves as a conscious and devoted part of the Euromaidan community, and to persuade those protesters who were hostile to LGBT people to change their views. Altogether, it was a strategic decision aimed at future integration into Ukrainian society as a legitimate part of a post-revolutionary political order, which ultimately turned out to be fairly successful (see the next section).

However, what was left untouched was the political exclusion of the LGBT community from Maidan, which went unarticulated in the public discourse around the statements made by prominent Maidan speakers about the total inclusiveness of the protests, such as one that was widely shared from the head of the self-defense forces of Euromaidan Kyiv, Andrii Parubii:

“We’ve got the “Sambir Hundred”, the “Afghan Hundred” [veterans of Afghanistan], the “Vidsich [rebuff] Hundred”. As well as the “Gandhist Hundred” [followers of nonviolent resistance] that protects the civilian population. So tell me how can I explain to you, my European friends, that we’ve got a “Gandhist Sotnya” here? That we’ve got priests, Ultras, students, Cossacks, Afghanistan veterans, radical leftists, poets, mountain climbers, Buddhists, Hutsuls, and Crimean Tatars on the same side! One for all, and all for one! And you’re asking what the percentage of far-right protesters involved is…”.

Notoriously, LGBT people were not mentioned in this long list. This unarticulated exclusion was part of the more general problem of the far-right presence at Maidan, pointed to in the rhetorical question at the end of the quotation above. The participation of the far right in the protests was a nuisance for pro-European liberals. On the one hand, a public critique of the far right reinforced Putin’s strategy of delegitimizing Euromaidan protesters as a “junta” and justifying the Russian occupation of Donets’k and Luhans’k districts as the protection of Russian-speaking people oppressed by mythical “Banderists”. It also discredited the protests in the eyes of the EU, which lowered the chances of their political support. One the other hand, ignorance of the far-right presence could have resulted in the scarecrows of Russian propaganda becoming real, at least partly. Thus, the LGBT exclusion from Euromaidan appeared to be a part of this bigger uneasy problem, which was never entirely solved, and remained unarticulated as a separate issue. Even LGBT-rights activists themselves have chosen not to challenge the dominant narrative of the unity and inclusiveness of Euromaidan and have labeled those people who came out with rainbow flags as provocateurs, thus implicitly agreeing that the aggressive hostility towards rainbow flags from the side of the community which sought to represent the Ukrainian nation as a whole was totally justified.

Pride 2015: Gaining respectability

In 2015, the political context changed dramatically. The annexation of Crimea and invasion of Russian military under the guise of “volunteers” into the Eastern districts of Ukraine caused Ukraine to further distance itself from Russia and to seek help from the EU and the US. Whereas in 2013 Eurointegration aspirations were limited to a better economic future, now the EU and the US started to be perceived as guarantors for Ukrainian political independence and a barrier against a full-scale Russian military invasion. The issue of LGBT rights has been gaining more and more social acceptance as an integral part of European democratic norms. Public condemnation of LGBT people has gradually become associated with the ideology of “the Russian World”, – as one Twitter commentator aphoristically summarized it, “homophobia” now “turns you into a moskal’”. These conditions were much more favorable to the organization of KyivPride in 2015, in comparison to 2013.

The general shift in public opinion caused by growing identification with Europe was prominently reflected by the mainstream political discourse, particularly in relation to Pride-2015. For the first time the question of LGBT rights was articulated by the president of the state, and in a favorable manner. Just before KyivPride-2015, Petro Poroshenko emphasized that the right to peaceful assembly is the constitutional right of every citizen and although he personally was not going to participate in Pride, he called for respect for the civil rights of LGBT people. Two members of the pro-presidential “Block of Petro Poroshenko”, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Serhii Leshchenko, were present at Pride and took part in the social media campaign in support of it.

However, the organization of the Pride-2015 faced certain challenges as well. The Kyiv city mayor Vitali Klitschko, despite being known as a liberal and highly pro-European politician, who lived in Germany for a long time and in his earlier career as a boxer had even posed with his brother Volodymyr for a photo session in a gay magazine, suddenly appeared to be quite unsympathetic to Pride. He called for the cancellation of the March due to the military conflict in the Eastern Ukraine which made any “mass events that are moreover ambivalently perceived in society” untimely. Leaving aside the fact that festivals and entertainment shows were frequently held in the capital, as well as in other cities (in my subjective view, cultural life in post-Maidan Ukraine even intensified, despite totally impotent state politics in the cultural field, due to the general rise in volunteering and the understanding that people can do something when united), this statement strategically undermined political claims for civil equality, the attainment of which was the Equality March’s main aim.

Despite opposition from the side of the city administration, the March of Equality took place on June 6, 2015, at the Obolon’ river embankment. Again, the choice of location was made by law enforcement agencies for safety reasons, while the Pride organizers had been asking for a location closer to the Kyiv city center. Unlike the central streets, the Obolon’ embankment is a naturally limited location, a narrow pass between the river on the one side and a residential neighborhood on the other; it has good visibility over its full length and was easy for the police to control. The registration procedure remained the same (two well-known warrantors needed to get the notification about the time and place of the March), but no additional criteria for the participants’ selection were used. Thus, unlike in 2013, probably all of those who managed to provide the necessary contacts were given the chance to participate. As a result, the demonstration brought together approximately 250 people, in comparison to 50 people in 2013.

Despite the considered choice of location, the security issues at the March were far from manageable. The police were unable to control the perimeter effectively, and for a certain amount of time the passage on the high bank of the river (next to the private houses) remained accessible to everyone. If an attacker with a bomb had reached this passage during the demonstration, the number of victims during Pride would have been horrifying. Fortunately, no attackers managed to do this, and a group of young far right activists attacked the March from the front, where the police cordon met them. The homemade bomb thrown by a right-winger hit one of the policemen in the front line; the policeman was immediately hospitalized with a neck injury. (Fortunately his life was saved and the grateful LGBT-community gathered a significant amount of money for his rehabilitation).

Moreover, participants’ departure from the location of the March was left to themselves. The organizers of the event simply thanked everyone for their attendance and advised them “to disperse” in the local neighborhood. By the time the event was over, all the far right activists willing to attack Pride had gathered from all over the city and were waiting around the corners of the surrounding buildings. As a result, the “dissolution” turned into open season for the far right on the March participants, with the confused policemen running around the area, trying to protect the mass of people which quickly fell apart into small groups, attacked here and there by the far right. Altogether, 18 people were injured, half of whom were policemen; however, the real number of victims among March participants might have been higher, since people who received minor injuries were often not willing to turn to hospitals or the executive authorities. Nearly 30 attackers were detained.

The public reaction to Pride and the attack on it was quite favorable to the LGBT community. Ukrainian media, especially those independent media that were established during and after the Euromaidan protests (such as Hromads’ke TV and Hromad’ske radio), as well as popular pro-European media such as “Ukrains’ka Pravda” and “Radio Svoboda”, were sympathetic towards participants in the March and unanimously condemned the right-wingers. Facebook discussions on the pages of opinion leaders and popular bloggers also reflected certain shifts in the public perception of LGBT-rights issues; however, many homophobic comments were also made. Overall, the public reaction was more supportive than in 2013, when the popular media mostly focused on the counter-actions, arranged by religious conservatives (there was a number of such events during the year, held in protest of the anti-discrimination amendment on sexual orientation discrimination and KyivPride-2013).

The composition of the group of those opposed to LGBT rights also changed in 2015. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the religious right and pro-Russian organizations vanished from the Ukrainian public sphere after Euromaidan, a fact often explained by Russia ceasing to fund them. Pro-Russian organizations such as “Narodnyi Sobor” and “Ukrains’kyi Vybir” moved to the so-called “people’s republics” of Luhans’k and Donets’k. The official website of the Christian fundamentalist organization “Love against Homosexualism” (LPG) was hardly updated at all in summer 2015, whereas during the campaign against bill no. 2342, articles about the horrors of “Euro-Sodom” were published almost daily. In lieu of the religious right and pro-Russian opponents, now nationalist far-right organizations campaigned against LGBT rights. KyivPride-2013 prompted a counteraction by priests and senior orthodox fundamentalists donning icons and crosses; KyivPride-2015 was attacked by young members of the paramilitary organization “Right Sector” and the battalion “Sich” with a homemade bomb.

The discursive strategies used by the organizers of Pride also changed. In 2013, they used civil rights as a main argumentative frame, while the main aim of the action was formulated from a minoritarian perspective[14]: “to introduce equal conditions and opportunities for the inhabitants of Ukraine who belong to the LGBT community”. Not a single reference to the nation was made in this statement; only citizenship and residency were mentioned. Besides appeals to freedom, democracy, non-discrimination, and equal rights, common to the Ukrainian human rights discourse, the official statement of the Pride organizers in 2015 also contained a new feature: the framing of the LGBT community as part of a newly-emerged Ukrainian political nation: “We are a part of the Ukrainian nation, Ukraine is our land, and we consider its destruction to be unacceptable <…> We understand everything  we do through the prism of the fact that we are part of the people and the land on which we are living is part of Ukraine, untouchable and inseparable”. Before Euromaidan, nationalist discourse in Ukraine was fully dominated by the right-wing party Svoboda and the supporting radical grassroots movements which understood the Ukrainian nation in entirely ethno-cultural terms. During Euromaidan, the concept of the nation was rearticulated in liberal terms, as a political one, grounded in citizenship, not ethnicity. This was partly thanks to the conscious efforts of public intellectuals, who tried to prevent the dominance of the far right and their ideology in the Euromaidan movement, and partly due to the practical fact that the first victims of police violence were not ethnic Ukrainians – the Armenian Serhii Nigoyan and the Belarussian Mikhail Zhyznevsky.

In the short-term perspective, the homonationalistic strategy[15] employed by the Ukrainian LGBT movement appeared to be more successful than not. Of course it did not prevent opponents of LGBT rights from further counter-actions and even violent attacks, as the recent case of the Festival of Equality in Lviv has shown. However, in the long-term perspective, the consequences of this strategy may turn out to be more ambivalent. The course of gaining respectability taken by white, middle class, and predominantly male LGBT leaders often results in the social, political, and economic exclusion of the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community, as the experience of the US has already demonstrated. In her famous article “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism”, Lisa Duggan carefully documented how the US LGBT movement turned from intransigent rebels focused on sexual emancipation for all as a part of a broader political emancipation project, which they were in the 1970s, into narrow-minded defenders of neoliberal state politics in the 1990s[16]. Feminists, lesbians, transgender and gender-nonconforming people; those exposed to multiple discriminations based on race, age, and disability; and those suffering from extreme poverty were all excluded from the political agenda of the mainstream LGBT movement, aimed at respectable middle-class citizens who tried to pass as “normal” in an overtly heteronormative society[17].

Nevertheless, the Ukrainian LGBT movement is the logical product of the Ukrainian social, economical, and political context. For queer politics to appear in Ukraine, different conditions and possibilities have to be created. It will take years for currently isolated queer activists to rearticulate the existing heteronormative order through many scattered tactical interventions into the public sphere, which will undermine the gender and sexual binaries that provide grounds for further economic and political inequalities between men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals. This strategy will not provide immediate results, as the homonationalist one currently employed by mainstream LGBT political leaders does, but ultimately it is this strategy which will allow us to build a new and more equal society.

I would like to thank Olena Shevchenko and Yuri Frank from the NGO “Insight” and Anna Dovgopol  from Heinrich Böll Stiftung Kiev for their comments on an earlier version of this article.

Maria Teteriuk is a senior lecturer in Media Studies, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and Ukraine in Global Dialogue Junior Visiting Fellow at the IWM in 2016.

© Author / Transit Online

[1] See interviews with Kostia Hnatenko, Igor Tyshchenko, Aleksandr Zhilko and others in Ukrainskoe LGBT-Dvizhenie, 25 [Ukrainian LGBT Movement, 25] (2015), ed. by Naumenko S., Karasiichuk T. Gay-Alliance Ukraine, Kyiv.

[2] Pryvalov, J., Trofymenko, O., Rokytska, O., & Kasianchuk, M. (2013). Opytuvannia hromads’koi dumky dlia vyznachennia suspil’noho spryniattia LGBT ta shliakhiv ioho polipshennia [Survey on social attitudes to LGBT and ways of their improvement]. Kyiv, Tsentr Sotsial’nykh Ekspertyz Instytutu Sotsiolohii Natsional’noji Akademii Nauk Ukrainy.

[3] The sample included 1721 respondents, of whom 82% were male, 18% female; 2% indicated being transgender; subsequently, the results are extremely unlikely to represent problems with discrimination which transgender people face in Ukraine.

[4] According to a survey conducted by the Razumkov Centre for Economic and Political Studies the most influential Ukrainian churches are the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (39,8% of all respondents who indicated themselves as religious), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (29,4%), and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (14,1%) (Razumkov Centre, 2006). Support for anti-gay initiatives was also expressed by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations which represents 15 churches and religious organizations, including those belonging to Protestant, Jewish and Muslim confessions.

[5] Chermalykh, N. (2012). Feministychnyi analiz politychnoi amal’gamy mizh radykal’nymy i pomirkovanymy natsionalistamy ta relihiinymy pravymy: konservatyvnyi konsensus dovkola gendernykh ta minorytarnykh problematyk suchasnoi Ukrainy [Feminist analysis of the political amalgamation between radical and moderate right-wingers: Conservative consensus around gender and minority problematics in contemporary Ukraine]. In Gender, relihiia i natsionalizm v Ukraini [Gender, Religion and  Nationalism in Ukraine] (pp. 13–57). Kyiv: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Warsaw.

[6] Pahulich, L. (2012). «Na zakhyst ditei Ukrainy»: nastup na seksual’ni prava u dyskursi relihiinykh pravykh ta zakonodavchykh initsiatyvakh [”To protect Ukrainian children”: an attack on sexual rights in the discourse of religious right-wingers and legislative initiatives]. In H. Iarmanova (Ed.), Gender, relihiia i natsionalizm v Ukraini [Gender, Religion, and Nationalism in Ukraine] (pp. 59–93). Kyiv: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Warsaw.

[7] The prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was among the requirements of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan between Ukraine and the EU and was implicitly part of the requirements of the Association Agreement, signed in 2014. For a scholarly analysis of Europeanization processes in Eastern European countries in relation to LGBT rights see O’Dwyer, C. (2012). Does the EU help or hinder gay-rights movements in post-communist Europe? The case of Poland. East European Politics, 28(4), 332–352; O’Dwyer, C. (2010). From Conditionality to Persuasion? Europeanization and the Rights of Sexual Minorities in PostAccession Poland. Journal of European Integration, 32(3), 229–247; O’Dwyer, C., & Schwartz, K. Z. S. (2010). Minority rights after EU enlargement: A comparison of antigay politics in Poland and Latvia. Comparative European Politics, 8(2), 220–243; Huseby, D. O. (2009). The Catholic Church and the Europeanization of Anti-Discrimination Protection–the Case of Post-Communist Poland and Croatia. Western Balkans Security Observer-English Edition, (14), 102–119; Teteriuk, M. (2015). Gay Rights and Europeanization Processes in Eastern Europe: The Case of Bill 2342 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning the Prevention and Combating of Discrimination in Ukraine.” Employment and Economy in Central and Eastern Europe, (1). Retrieved from

[8] “Napadenie na geev v Kieve” [“Attack on gays in Kiev”], Bird In Flight magazine, 22.07.2015, (in Ukrainian, with English subtitles); See also the discussion “Prykhovana kamera: ukraiinska tolerantnist” [“Hidden camera: Ukrainian tolerance”], Hromads’ke TV, 28.07.2015,

[9] Kudelia, S. (2014). The House That Yanukovych Built. Journal of Democracy, 25(3), p. 26–27.

[10] For a broader analysis of public controversies over the legal prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Ukraine see my article in Eurozine: Teteriuk M., “Anti-discrimination legislation: A litmus test for post-Maidan democracy”,

[11] Interview with Olena Shevchenko, 28.03.2016.

[12] See more in Oleg Riabov, Tatiana Riabova, “The decline of Gayropa? How Russia intends to save the world”, Eurozine, 5 February 2014, and Julie Reshe, “Gayropa”, Opustoshitel, Issue 15, 19 March 2016, (in Russian).

[13] On participation of the leftist in Maidan protests see more in Kravchuk, Yustyna. “Pro tykh khto “siie rozbrat” na Maidani” [“On those who “sow discord” on Maidan”], Krytyka, 6.12.2013,

[14] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick distinguishes between minoritarian and majoritarian perspectives on homosexuality. The minoritarian perspective defines homosexuality as a feature of a limited minority, which constitutes a relatively stable (5-10%) part of society. The majoritarian perspective regards homosexuality as a constitutive part of sexuality as such, which makes it a relevant issue for all human beings. See more in Sedgwick, E. K. (1990). Epistemology of the closet. University of California Press.

[15] For the broader discussion of homonationalism see, for example, Q&A with Jasbir Puar [Interview], Darkmatter Journal, 02.05.2008,

[16] Duggan, L. (2002). The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism. In R. Castronovo & D. D. Nelson (Eds.), Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics (pp. 175–190). Duke University Press.

[17] For a critique of the homonationalist strategy of the post-Euromaidan politics of the Ukrainian LGBT-movement see Martseniuk, T.  “Prava liudyny dlia LGBT-spilnoty i Yevromaidan 2013-2014” [“Human rights for LGBT-community and Euromaidan 2013-2014”], Commons: Journal of Social Critisizm,


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    Paul Starr ist Professor für Soziologie an der Princeton University und Mitherausgeber von The American Prospect. Er ist Pulitzer-Preisträger.   Print

  • Martina Steer

    ÖAW APART Fellow (History)
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  • Kristina Stoeckl

    Research Director
    APART Fellow, Austrian Academy of Sciences; Department of Political Sciences, University of Vienna
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  • Roman Szporluk

    Roman Szporluk is Professor em. of Ukrainian History at Harvard and Professor em. of History at the University of Michigan. He is a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev, Ukraine. His research focuses on modern Ukrainian, Russian, and Polish history, and on Marxism and nationalism in Eastern Europe.   Print

  • Charles Taylor

    IWM Permanent Fellow
    Professor em. of Philosophy, McGill University, Montréal
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  • Maria Teteriuk

    PhD candidate in Mass Communications and senior lecturer in Media Studies, National University of 'Kyiv-Mohyla Academy', Ukraine
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  • Philipp Ther

    Junior Professor of Polish and Ukrainian Studies, Europa-Universität Frankfurt / Oder
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  • Maria Todorova

    Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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  • Balázs Trencsényi

    Balázs Trencsényi, Ph.D., is Associate Professor at the Department of History, CEU. His research focuses on the comparative history of political thought in East Central Europe and the history of historiography. He is co-director of Pasts, Inc., Center for Historical Studies at CEU and Associate Editor of the periodical East Central Europe (Brill). He was …
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  • Stefan Troebst

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  • Marius Turda

    Lecturer in the Education Abroad Program, Eötvös Lorand University, Faculty of Humanities, Budapest
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  • Andreas Umland

    Andreas Umland ist Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter am Institut für Euro-Atlantische Kooperation Kiew sowie Herausgeber der Buchreihe Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society, ibidem-Verlag Stuttgart. Print

  • Victoria Vasilenko

    Assistant Professor of Contemporary History and International Relations, Belgorod National Research University
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  • David G. Victor

    David G. Victor is a Professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.   Print

  • Harald Welzer

    Harald Welzer ist Forschungsprofessor für Sozialpsychologie an der Universität Witten/Herdecke und Direktor des Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research am Kulturwissenschaftlichen Instituts Essen.   Print

  • Karolina Wigura

    Adjunct of the History of Ideas, University of Warsaw; Co-Editor of Kultura Liberalna
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  • Volodymyr Yermolenko

    Volodymyr Yermolenko is a Ukrainian philosopher and essayist. He has a degree in Political Science from the EHESS, Paris, and teaches at Kyiv Mohyla Academy in Kyiv. He is the author of the book Narrator and Philosopher: Walter Benjamin and his time (2011, in Ukrainian). Print

  • Oksana Zabuzhko

    Free-lance writer, Kiev
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  • Tatiana Zhurzhenko

    IWM Research Director, Russia in Global Dialogue and Ukraine in European Dialogue
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