Borys Zakharov on LGBT rights in Ukraine and KyivPride 2016

Head of UHHRU’s Advocacy Center speaks about LGBT rights in the context of human rights.

The International LGBT Forum KyivPride 2016 will take place in Kyiv between 6 and 12 June 2016. The event aims to promote equality, freedom of speech and transparency.

KyivPride 2015

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union supports the forum and its key event, the Equality March. Numerous restrictions to LGBT rights made it necessary to discuss the situation on a public forum.

Borys Zakharov, head of UHHRU’s Advocacy Center, explained the importance of this subject and why it’s always the right time for human rights.

– Will KyivPride 2016 influence the government when it comes to promoting human rights?

– The goal of the international forum KyivPride 2016 is to draw attention to LGBT rights. As Europe’s experience shows, it’s an effective human rights protection mechanism, and I fully support the organizers and participants of the event in this. You often hear that with the war going on, it’s not the right time for the issue of LGBT rights, that there are more pressing issues: human rights in the ATO zone, occupied territories and over 1.8 million IDPs. I disagree with this approach. The only way we can win is by building a European state governed by law. If we only pay attention to the most urgent problems and forget about long-standing human rights issues, the state we’re building will come out crooked and we’ll never escape the clutches of the “Russian world”. There are organizations dedicated to the protection of LGBT rights and I see no reason for them to abandon this field for another.

– Would banning homophobia and transphobia at the legislative level improve the situation of the LGBT community?

– In this matter I prefer the American approach over the European one. The First Amendment to the US Constitution states that no one may restrict freedom of speech at the legislative level or through other means. People are free to stand up for their rights and say that they belong to a sexual minority while those with opposite perspectives are also free to voice them, be it religious views, support of traditional family values, and to protest against the legalization of same-sex marriage. As long as such protests are peaceful and neither side insults specific people, there should be no restrictions here.

Borys Zakharov (UHHRU)

– How can LGBT people deal with discrimination? For instance, in matters of marriage registration, child custody and guardianship, employment, administrative services, etc.?

– At the legislative level, a number of issues can be addressed by the Law of Ukraine “On Civil Partnership” that should be adopted in the second quarter of 2017 according to the Action Plan to the National Human Rights Strategy.

In order to change society’s attitude toward sexual minorities as a whole, I believe that the LGBT community needs a mass coming out. Society needs to adjust to people of different sexual orientation. However, it’s a difficult step to take. Unfortunately, our society is quite traditional and prejudiced and is slow to accept those who are different. I’d say it’s torn between traditional provincial prejudices and Soviet totalitarian consciousness. First there will be a culture shock, with a spike in manifestations of hate speech and even hate crimes. But eventually Ukrainian society will learn tolerance toward everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, skin color or religion. This will cause strategic changes in the country.

– How are violations of LGBT rights dealt with in Europe? What EU experience could be of use to Ukraine?

– In Europe, civil partnership laws have already been adopted by 29 states, same-sex marriage is legal in many states. The European Convention on Human Rights and relevant case law of the ECtHR have also proven to be an effective instrument for protecting LGBT rights. An important precedent was set by the case Oliari and Others v Italy. Three gay couples complained to the Court of their inability to marry or otherwise register their relationship in Italy. The Court found that the government violated Article 8 of the European Convention (the right to respect for private and family life). Now all parties to the Convention must sooner or later bring their legislation in line with the Convention and ECtHR case law. Ukraine is also a party to the Convention and must comply with ECtHR’s judgments, which means that we must adopt appropriate laws and establish appropriate administrative practices.

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