Violation of LGBT rights and hate crimes have become commonplace in Ukraine. Beyond facing discrimination in employment, healthcare and education, LGBT people in Ukraine are targeted for violent attacks, sexual abuse and even murder. Despite the efforts of LGBT-friendly President Poroshenkoto improve the situation, social change is unlikely to be achieved without addressing the underlying causes of these failures.
Although Ukraine has a responsibility to ensure non-discrimination and equality for sexual minorities in exchange of its EU integration, visa liberalisation and Association Agreement, it has failed to do so in law and in fact. Legal changes that Ukraine has made to this end have been more marginal than effective. Specifically, Ukraine has included sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in its Labour Code, which, nonetheless, does not foresee any punishment for such discrimination. Ukrainian healthcare laws are less discriminatory towards LGBT people than its family laws.Faced with homophobic appeals from the public, Ukraine is also neither willing to legalise registered civil partnerships nor lift the ban on the adoption of children by transgender people, and only the Ukrainian Law on the Missing Persons’ Legal Status provides some legal basis for banning LGBT discrimination.
The Ukrainian Criminal Code foresees a punishment for anti-LBGT hate crimes, however, it leaves it to the Court to decide whether such crimes should qualify as hate crimes. This may provide excuses for the police not to adequately investigate such crimes, and treat them merely as hooliganism by disregarding any discriminatory motives. Bolstered by impunity, the police also shies away from ensuring an adequate protection for the Equality March participants who continue experiencing violent attacks.The key contributing factors to such injustice are the prevalent negative stereotypes towards sexual minorities among the police, MPs, government officials, public service officials and churches.
For example, LGBT people consistently face discrimination in accessing political asylum and new ID document issuance services, despite a number of positive measures taken in Ukraine to tackle education, healthcare and military service discrimination. MPs’ attitudes towards sexual minorities also remain extremely negative, resulting in passing of the Bill 8489 that bans gay rights demonstrations. All Ukrainian churches, except the Orthodox Church, condemn homosexuality. This contributes to a more widespread public intolerance of LGBT people.
Such intolerance also depends on the people’s level of education, residence, age, gender, etc. In other words, women, the highly educated, and the younger generation seem to be more tolerant of sexual minorities. There is also a strong association between the level of economic development, religious traditions and levels of intolerance. That said, public dissatisfaction with the living standards translates into more hatred and aggression towards vulnerable groups.
The Ukrainian actors who influence discrimination-related decisions are mostly conservative minded people, such as religious groups and political elites. They advocate for traditional values and frame the issue as being about the propagation of homosexuality. They deny any existing discrimination and argue that freedom for LGBT people would restrict the freedoms of religion, speech and conscience for others. Homosexuality is also associated with prostitution, AIDS and perceived as a threat to public health and national security. Conservative activists also regard EU integration as a threat to Ukrainian sovereignty, while pressure groups regard EU integration as a means to decrease Russian influence. The negative framing appeared to be more effective which, along with a higher number of homophobic opponents, has resulted in immense flaws in the anti-discrimination laws of Ukraine. Moreover, negative public attitudes towards LGBT people have blocked the bottom-up approach to social change, while the political elites’ abuse of power results in only top-down reforms.
Ukraine which is situated between the two extremes – Russia and the West, reflects the struggles between the two cultures. On the one hand, it wishes to move out of Russia’s influence, while on the other, it continues to reject democratic standards imposed by Europe. Whilst Ukraine is making a very slow progress towards a sustainable democracy, its EU integration will still be a long way off as it continues excluding non-state actors’ power from decision-making. In order to bring its laws closer to the European standards, Ukraine must take all appropriate actions to implement law reforms, reduce stereotypes, ensure effective response to LGBT violence by radical groups and encourage victims of hate crimes to report such cases. Ukraine should also ensure that negative bias and hatred are taken into consideration in the prosecution of hate crimes and ensure the protection of LGBT people’s rights to freedom of assembly and expression. These would only be possible by changing the conservative mind-set, in order to avoid further marginalisation of the LGBT community in Ukrainian society.