Details 12:23 08 Dec 2022

"Not only heteros defend Ukraine": how rights of LGBT military are (not) protected

There are brave Ukrainian men and women in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And everyone has their trials. But many have one thing in common—no legal right to marry their partner. Not everyone can document their family ties, officially participate in the upbringing of a joint child, or be let through to visit a loved one at the hospital in case of wounding.

Rubryka spoke to representatives of the public organizations KyivPride and Ukrainian LGBT+ Soldiers For Equal Rights about the Ukrainian military's position in the ranks of the armed forces, their problems, and solutions. Details are in our article. 

What is the problem?

7–10% of LGBT military personnel and discrimination that threatens them all

Twenty-year-old Pavlo Lahoida is openly gay and a defender of the Ukrainian state. He holds the position of an anti-aircraft gunner while at the same time engaged in LGBT activism. The guy has been serving since the first day of the full-scale invasion and is ready to be at the front as long as needed. But even this did not save him from discrimination and violation of his rights by his fellow comrades. 

Павло Лагойда, військовий

Pavlo Lahoida is on duty. Source: Pavel's personal archive

"I was in order. I was approached by another gunner who had just returned from a trip and was not in a very good state. Since everyone knows about me, most likely someone told him: 'See that sitting guy, he's gay.'

At first, there was no aggression. He came up, said hello, and then asked: 'Is it true that you are gay?' I replied that it was true. Questions began: 'How did you become like this?' and the like. I'm used to it and usually just calmly explain to people how it happens. His reaction was unexpected: he suddenly stood up and started beating me," says Pavlo Lahoida. 

Pavlo's case is not the only one during the full-scale invasion. Since the start of the war in 2014 that LGBT service members have been discriminated against or violated based solely on their sexual orientation. Earlier, Ukrainian journalists covered the same stories.

The NV publication reported the case of the theft of the personal data of a serviceman from his phone. They tried to use the information obtained against the soldier — particularly about his sexual orientation. Then they tried to resolve the conflict with the help of the command, but later everyone in the military unit learned about the guy's orientation. The increasing relevance of the issue and publicity helped to bring the situation under control on the part of the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights. The case was then referred to the Ministry of Defense for consideration, although it is still unknown whether anyone punished the perpetrators. 

In other cases, there may have been threats, intimidation, harassment, and insults. This is what almost all Ukrainian men and women from the LGBT community can face now, not only the military. 

Edward Reese, the project assistant at the NGO KyivPride, recalls the words of Viktor Pylypenko, head of the Ukrainian LGBT+ Soldiers For Equal Rights, and says that, like in any other community, in the Ukrainian army, approximately 7–10% are LGBT people. But the data may be inaccurate and only approximate. One should remember that not everyone has the opportunity to come out. People are afraid and do not want to draw attention to themselves.

Едвард Різ

Edward Reese. Source: Edward's personal archive. 

Even the figure of 5–10% of all defenders speaks of the need to draw attention to their rights, determine a worthy place in society and provide equal opportunities alongside other citizens.

According to a 2016 nationwide survey on LGBT attitudes, 60% of Ukrainians had a "negative attitude toward the community" at the time. Another 45% said that "Ukrainians from the LGBT community should have restrictions on their rights." And when asked about the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriages, 69% answered, "I don't support it."

 What is the solution?

"Increasing relevance, adoption of legislation and media attention"

Currently, there is no specific legislation in Ukraine that would solve the problem of discrimination based on hatred, including based on sexual orientation. Although Article 24 of the Constitution of Ukraine and Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state: "Any form of discrimination is prohibited in Ukraine."  

The Law "On Principles of Prevention and Counteraction of Discrimination in Ukraine" has been in force since 2014. It protects people based on political, religious, and other beliefs, skin color, ethnic and social origin, etc. Even though many experts mention this Law when it comes to protecting the rights of the LGBT community in Ukraine, it has no specific concept or phrase for "protection of LGBT rights" or "responsibility for discrimination against Ukrainians of the LGBT community."

LGBT people were mentioned only once in the draft law, in an amendment to the Labor Code of Ukraine, when it was proposed to supplement the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now, in the second article of the Labor Code, it is indicated that citizens of Ukraine are guaranteed equality and non-discrimination in the field of work based on sexual orientation, as well as suspicion or presence of HIV/AIDS disease, based on age, gender, beliefs, gender identity, family and property status and so on.

Therefore, from a legal point of view, Ukrainian men and women who belong to the LGBT community can receive protection from the state if they have become the object of discrimination during work.  

There is draft law No. 5488, which was worked on by lawyers, activists, and representatives of the authorities, including the LGBT community. It adds the concept of "hate crime" to Ukrainian legislation and penalties for discrimination or violation of the rights of representatives of the Ukrainian LGBT community. To date, the Verkhovna Rada has yet to vote on the draft law and its consideration. 

лгбт, протест, закон

Rally in support of draft law 5488 in 2021 in Kyiv. Source: Ukrainian Pravda

"The presence of anti-discrimination legislation is one of the factors for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union. And, of course, it helps to fight cases of violation of the rights of LGBT people with the help of existing laws," says Edward Reese. "The President of Ukraine signed the convention on applying for EU membership this year, so we hope this draft law will also be adopted."

The bill also:

  • proposes to add the motive of intolerance to aggravating circumstances for an administrative offense;
  • introduces liability for violations of legislation in the field of prevention and countermeasures against discrimination; 
  • expands the powers of the human rights commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, granting the right to draw up protocols on administrative offenses to combat discrimination.
закон, мітинг

Draft law No. 5488 also caused an adverse reaction—rallying against the adoption of the draft law in Kyiv. Source: ua.korrespondent.net 

"Until there is legislation, there is no concrete solution. We can only continue to raise this topic, update it, not be silent about the violation of rights, and of course, write about it in the media. All this helps and explains to the society why this is necessary," says Edward Reese.

In the case of military serviceman Pavlo Lahoida, it was the first and only case in his life when he was subjected to violence due to his sexual orientation. Later, the guy turned to the command and told everything. The reaction was quick; the offender was deprived of his weapons and salary for a whole month of work. 

According to the guy, you should not be silent and turn to your command in such cases. As a rule, discrimination against people based on sexual orientation is resolved quickly and not thrown away "in a distant drawer." 

"If it's an open gay or lesbian, they can speak openly and say everything as it is. In most cases I've heard of, the command is understanding and resolves the issue. If it's a guy or girl who won't come out, you can just talk about the situation that happened without any information about your personal life. The reaction should be the same," says Pavlo. 

Recently, a petition to the President of Ukraine regarding the legalization of same-sex marriages has collected more than 25,000 signatures. It was considered. Volodymyr Zelensky said in the summer that during martial law in Ukraine, it is not possible to make changes to the Constitution. It is in this document that it is said that "marriage is the family union of a woman and a man…" But the president proposed an alternative and called for developing a draft law on civil partnerships in Ukraine

ЛГБТ, пара, кохання

Source: zmina.info 

Civil partnership is a legal agreement similar to marriage aimed at legally recognizing the rights of two partners in society.

It can be a same-sex couple and people not connected by romantic relationships who want to establish themselves before the law as each other's confidants. By registering a civil partnership, partners can access each other in the event of hospitalization and manage property or things. In many countries, civil partnerships are considered the first step toward legalizing same-sex marriage. 

How does it work?

Activities of public organizations

Employees of the KyivPride public organization have raised awareness in Ukrainian society about the equality and right of LGBT people since 2016.

In addition, the team annually organizes cultural and educational events to talk about the life and problems of Ukrainians from the LGBT community to discuss their rights and needs at discussions, training, and conferences. Organizing the Equality March—human rights march of LGBT people and allies—is an integral part of the activity.


KyivPride at the Equality March in 2021. Source: KyivPride on Facebook

"KyivPride is trying to draw society's attention to the problems of LGBT people. We promote the introduction of community issues into Ukrainian social norms, conduct events to disseminate information, and represent Ukraine at the international level as a country that fights homophobia and transphobia and improves in this matter. That is, it impacts society in Ukraine and beyond," says the project assistant organization Edward Reese. 

In Ukraine, some organizations separately deal with the issue of protecting the rights of LGBT military personnel. In particular, the public organization Ukrainian LGBT+ Soldiers For equal rights. It was founded in 2018 by Viktor Pylypenko, a Ukrainian military man, anti-terrorist operation participant, and paramedic, who was the first in the country to come out to society. 

шеврон, ЛГБТ

Chevron from the NGO Ukrainian LGBT+ Soldiers For Equal Rights. Source: public organization's archive

"At that time, people liked to say that 'gays avoid the army, they are not ready to defend the Motherland, what is the use of them.' Therefore, Viktor decided to refute it and show that gays and lesbians actually protect Ukraine. They are there; they serve. Later, a separate organization was founded," says Iryna Nirsha, coordinator of the organization.

Now Viktor continues to defend the land from the enemy, and other representatives of the public organization continue his work. Its activities help draw attention to the position of soldiers in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, defend their rights, and fight discrimination. 

"Our community has about 200 people who openly wear LGBT military chevrons. This is our signature unicorn patch. It is worn by defenders who openly talk about their sexual orientation," says Iryna. 

In addition, the organization assists those who have not come out but need the attention of others to solve their problems. Ukrainian LGBT+ Soldiers For Equal Rights is not a military formation but a public community that provides comprehensive assistance to all LGBT people and their partners.

Such types of assistance include legal, psychological, and material aid. The organization's primary goal is to raise the visibility of LGBT military personnel in Ukraine, help solve their problems, and support their rights. 

Does it work?

Supporting LGBT military personnel rights and drawing attention to their issues

In 2018, the LGBT military association marched for the first time in a separate column during the Equality March in Kyiv. Viktor Pylypenko and volunteer Anastasia Konfederat led the convoy. About 30 LGBT military personnel participated in the march, which speaks of the unity of people on this issue and the beginning of raising the topic in Ukrainian society.

In 2021, it became known that representatives of the Ukrainian LGBT community were forming their platoon in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It includes both LGBT+ people and Ukrainians who are just friendly to them and willing to serve and sign a contract with one of the motorized infantry units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The main goal is to create comfortable conditions for LGBT military personnel who continue to perform military duty. Currently, the military formation continues to serve and protect the country.

військові, рівність

Source: @gender_stream  

Speaking of the results of the publicity, we can mention the 2016 survey we talked about earlier. If, at that time, 60% of respondents had a negative attitude towards LGBT people, and 3% were positive, then in 2022, 38% were negative, and almost 13% were positive.

When asked about equal rights for LGBT Ukrainians, 63% chose the answer "Yes, everyone should have the same rights," while in 2016, 33% voted for this option.

"Over the last year, there has been a big change and a big shift in the attitude towards LGBT people in Ukraine, and I am very afraid that after the war, everything may go back to how it was before the full-scale invasion. But now, society is beginning to understand that Ukraine is protected not only by heteros. We are also here, we are working, and we will not go anywhere," says military serviceman Pavlo Lahoida. 

Raising the topic and explaining why it is essential is an important guarantee for the development of Ukrainian society in general, especially on the way to European integration. It is necessary to understand that the initiative on civil partnerships will be adopted shortly. Draft law No. 5488 will be next, and the legalization of same-sex marriages will come in the future.

Such a decision is more necessary and relevant than ever because it guarantees the opportunity for all Ukrainians to feel dignified and comfortable in our society. It is about respect for everyone, including our defenders. And this is one of those features that distinguish us from russians. 


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