War turns Kyiv Pride Parade into Warsaw Peace March
Ukraine’s biggest LGBTQ rights event, KyivPride, took place on Saturday, but not on its home streets or as a celebration.
Due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, the event normally held in Kyiv, the capital, was held at the same time as the annual Warsaw Equality Parade, the largest gay pride event in Central Europe, with Ukrainian organizers using it as a platform to keep international attention focused on their country’s struggle.
Around 300 people traveled from Ukraine to the Polish capital, which is now home to a quarter of a million Ukrainians who have fled the war. Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags waved among a sea of rainbow flags, and some attendees chanted “Slava Ukraini” – glory to Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, we cannot march in Kyiv,” said Maksym Eristavi, a Ukrainian journalist and KyivPride board member, citing the dangers of bombings in Ukraine.
“However, it is important for us to keep marching,” said Eristavi, who carried both Ukrainian and European flags. “It’s always a question of pride, but the pride of being Ukrainian and of having survived the genocide.”
KyivPride trucks had the honor of leading Saturday’s parade, one of the many ways Poles stepped up to help their beleaguered Ukrainian neighbors.
“We want to unite against war, to march for Ukraine’s freedom, for liberation, for equality, tolerance and acceptance,” said Julia Maciocha, chairwoman of the Warsaw Equality Parade .
KyivPride director Lenny Emson said this year’s event aims to call for political support for Ukraine and basic human rights.
“It’s not a party,” Emson said. “We will wait for the victory to celebrate.”
Ukrainian civilians and soldiers killed by Russian forces during the four-month-long war include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Ukraine has seen pressure for the country to recognize same-sex partnerships, not least because partners want to know they would have the right to bury themselves if one of them is killed.
Emson said it would be a tragedy for Ukraine as a whole if the country was defeated by Russia, but LGBTQ people would risk being “completely erased” – killed, forced to flee or forced to hide their identities.
His organization runs a shelter for LGBTQ people who have fled Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces. An LGBTQ rights activist from occupied Kherson has disappeared.
In a manifesto, KyivPride calls on people to realize that the geographical border between democratic Ukraine on one side and autocratic Russia and Belarus on the other “is not only a dividing line between states, but also a border between the territory of freedom and an area of oppression”.
Russia passed a law in 2013 that prohibits portrayals of homosexuality to minors, which human rights groups see as a way to demonize and discriminate against LGBTQ people. Dubbed the “gay propaganda” law, it came amid a greater crackdown on civil liberties in Russia and inspired the passage of a similar law in Hungary last year.
Klementyna Suchanow, the author of a book on global efforts to roll back the rights of women and LGBTQ people, argues that if Ukrainians lose the war, it would mark a defeat for a range of progressive causes, including feminism , LGBTQ rights and efforts to fight climate change.
“That’s why the war in Ukraine is about everything,” said Suchanow, a prominent Polish feminist activist and author of “This Is War: Women, Fundamentalists and the New Middle Ages.”
Poland’s conservative government has been a strong ally of Ukraine, sending humanitarian aid and arms and allowing other countries to use its territory to transfer their own aid.
But his stance on LGBTQ rights has also made Poland an unlikely host for a gay rights event.
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In recent years, the government has portrayed the LGBTQ rights movement as an attack on the country’s Roman Catholic traditions and a force that threatens to corrupt young people, echoing the rhetoric behind Russian and Hungarian laws.
But Polish society as a whole is increasingly accepting of LGBTQ people.
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, from a liberal opposition party, joined Saturday’s parade as he does every year, joined by EU Equality Commissioner Hanna Dalli.
Emson said KyivPride organizers considered staging their event in other European capitals, but decided Warsaw’s young and energetic rights movement was a better fit.
LGBTQ people in Ukraine still face considerable discrimination, but they have made progress in recent years as the country has sought to tie its fate to the West. The evolution of LGBTQ rights is underscored by KyivPride’s own evolution since its inception 10 years ago.
In 2012, the participants so outnumbered the angry counter-protesters that they dared not march. The demonstrators have been beaten and a large police presence is needed to protect them. However, the event has continued to grow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose courageous wartime leadership captured worldwide attention, won the respect of LGBTQ people in Ukraine when a man wearing a cross and spouting homophobic rhetoric heckled him during a a press conference in 2019.
Zelensky angrily fired back, “Leave those people alone, for God’s sake.”
Since then, however, his party has also taken steps that LGBTQ rights activists see as a threat to their struggle.