From Zhytomyr to Zaporizhia: how regional LGBTIQ+ organizations operate in Ukraine

Every summer LGBTIQ+ Pride events are held around the world and in Ukraine in memory of the Stonewall riots, during which thousands of gays and lesbians took to the streets to protest against police oppression. This year, due to restrictions on mass demonstrations, there will be no equality march. However, this has not deterred LGBTIQ+ organizations from standing up for human rights.

Let’s discuss how LGBTIQ+ organizations work in regions of Ukraine, what problems they face in their dealings with local authorities and the police, and how they combat aggression when organizing and holding mass events.

Photo from fb-page of Nataliya Lobach

Regional LGBTIQ+ organizations: Zhytomyr and Zaporizhia

Dayana Asadcheva, Insight NGO regional coordinator in Zhytomyr:

“Before the quarantine we had been engaged in powerful educational activities targeting young people in Zhytomyr. In particular, we began, step by step, to organize inclusive meetings for the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as other activities. The meetings were very varied, such as gaming nights, movie nights or discussion clubs. We would invite as volunteers mostly heterosexual people who were tolerant but hadn’t had a chance to meet those in the LGBTIQ+ community.

Unfortunately, there’s been a decline in our activities due to quarantine. Our activities have also been affected by the fact that a young man who identifies as a transgender person had become a victim of assault and torture.

Now the community that’s closed to begin with has become even more intimidated, fearing for its security and privacy. Most of those that had been involved in our activities in the past are now passive and don’t plan on returning.

Although the work of our organization in Zhytomyr has only just begun taking off, we already have ideas, for instance, for environmental activism, such as walks along the waterfront combined with a cleanup of the area, or promoting tolerance, for instance, by organizing “human library” events for young people.

Nataliya Lobach, Insight regional coordinator in Zaporizhia:

“I represent Insight’s Zaporizhia branch. Zaporizhia also has Gender Z as well as regional offices of other LGBT organizations. Everyone’s vision is different, but we all know we have a common cause – trying to improve the quality of life for LGBTIQ+ people.

It’s important for our organization to help people grow as individuals within the community. Naturally, our activities serve to demonstrate the need to unite, to show our combined strength and desire for change, to support our colleagues and develop civil society together.

It’s also very important to us to help people realize their own social needs, so that they may become leaders themselves. We’re creating a cultural and artistic platform, encouraging people to speak about themselves, make themselves heard, communicate, seek out information and feel a part of society.

Photo from fb-page of Nataliya Lobach

We hold events for advancing the professional skills of LGBTIQ+ people and strengthening their capacity for actualizing their ideas and aspirations. When people from the community become more confident, more open and ultimately happier, it benefits us directly.

We have a regular therapy group, and we also hold lectures about the LGBTIQ+ movement and women. About the activities and arts where women from the LGBTIQ+ community distinguished themselves. For example, in June we had lectures about the artist Yayoi Kusama, doctor, educator and LGBTIQ+ activist Magnus Hirschfeld, queer artist Grayson Perry, as well as Dana Fesenko’s lecture entitled “The rhetoric of correspondence between Lesya Ukrainka and Olga Kobylianska”. In addition, we organize master classes and lectures to strengthen people’s professional skills, or motivational events to help them choose a profession or second job. This includes Semen Prozorov’s lecture “20 professions in 18 years”, a collage master class “How to quickly and accurately design posters and announcements for your activities”, Alina Yermolayeva’s lecture “How to quit an office job and become a successful photographer”, as well as a tour of the old town with Petr Boyko entitled “Women of Oleksandrivsk” and much more.

Problems in communication between LGBTIQ+ organizations and regional authorities

Nataliya Lobach, Insight regional coordinator in Zaporizhia:

“I think, in terms of communication, the experience of LGBTIQ+ organizations isn’t all that different from that of other civil society organizations, such as environmental ones. On one side we have people asking for justice, equality, respect, on the other – a massive bureaucratic machine that slaps numbers on incoming correspondence and wages wars of attrition against petitioners.

This brings to mind Vladyslav Marchenko, the region’s commissioner for gender issues, whose name has been systematically and prominently cropping up in homophobic and sexist scandals. After his latest misogynistic post we organized a protest. It brought together LGBTIQ+ organizations, women’s organizations as well as activists from other NGOs. Official requests were made to remove that person from office for behavior that is at odds with his duties; we had journalists there covering the whole situation; we had people who went against the bureaucratic machine to find out why and to what date the examination of this case was pushed back. So far we have been unable to win this fight.

Another case involved an attack on the Equality Festival in Zaporizhia when several hundred masked men attacked the peaceful human rights event. It’s been three years now but the culprits have not been found and we haven’t heard a single word from the authorities about the attack. This is hardly an example of successful communication.

Dayana Asadcheva, Insight regional coordinator in Zhytomyr:

“There is no actual support, although they are not trying to interfere with us either. A few deputies may join certain actions or initiatives, but it’s minimal support. For example, Zhytomyr City Council member Vladyslav Puchach and his wife were present at one of our actions; he co-organized the action “All People Are Equal”, which took place in Zhytomyr in August 2019.

Photo from fb-page of Dayana Asadcheva

Addressing issues related to combating aggression when holding mass events

Nataliya Lobach, Insight regional coordinator in Zaporizhia:

“We’re very thorough when organizing mass events. There are stages that involve coordinating things with the authorities and the police, discussing how to ensure the safety of all participants. However, anti-aggression measures also involve educational and cultural efforts which are always ongoing in our organization as well as other LGBTIQ+ organizations. The number of friendly, partner organizations, the number of residents who support the LGBTIQ+ community is on the rise. This is the real fight against aggression.

Dayana Asadcheva, Insight regional coordinator in Zhytomyr:

“A last summer action showed us that it’s necessary to educate the police. Back then they didn’t do their job properly, which resulted in confrontations, during which the police were mostly passive spectators. So, awareness raising is clearly necessary here. They should also take into account precautions and recommendations that are provided before every Pride event.

In lieu of a conclusion

As we can see, no matter the region where they operate, regional LGBTIQ+ organizations consider educational and cultural activities an effective mechanism for combating aggression at the local level. Networking and creating coalitions are also important considerations for these organizations, as this helps bring new faces into the process of promoting the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Regional activists sometimes find it difficult to formulate what makes communicating with the authorities and police so complicated. At the same time, they note the need for active cooperation with the police as well as for educating police officers, in order to improve their ability to respond, actively and within the law, to dangerous situations arising during mass LGBTIQ+ events.


Author: Yelyzaveta Kuzmenko

Prepared with the support of Freedom House Ukraine

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