Equal rights are not just about gays

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July 21, 2012, 9:01 p.m. | Op-ed — by Bishop Paul Peter Jesep

An activist (R) of the Ukrainian sexual minorities movement faces a nationalist trying to block a protest on July 6, 2012 in Kiev against a proposed bill to be debated in parliament to ban the advocating and promotion of homosexuality. The bill would amend existing laws on "the protection of morals", media and publishing, as well as the criminal code, effectively banning virtually all information on gay and bisexual issues and criminalizing gay militant human rights work in Ukraine. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY

Violence against Ukraine’s gay community should be part of a much larger concern. Independent of the recent un-Christian acts of violence shown to God’s children made different, but equally loved by the same God of those pursuing violence, is the issue of liberty, free expression, and democratic principles. Attacks against anyone for opinions that are different reflect a Eurasian, not European mindset. It threatens everyone in Ukrainian society. It reflects an uneducated backwardness that will limit the country’s European integration.

 The Communist Party and Svoboda, a Ukrainian nationalist party, are among the groups that expressed strong opposition to a parade or any other public expression for gay rights.  It is an understatement to note that Communists and Svoboda members have a very low regard for one another.  Hence, when the persecutors dispense with gay and lesbian Ukrainians then they’ll turn on one another.  The loser will become the new persecuted.

It’s worth pointing out the obvious.  “Svoboda” means freedom.  But freedom for whom?  Once freedom becomes selective or withheld then it no longer exists.  Only those who have power will decide who has freedom.  Social and political freedom in the purest sense means no one needs to worry about who is in power.
If the rights of one group are not protected then no one’s rights are safe.  Although it is factually and medically incorrect to state that homosexuality is a mental illness as numerous medical societies throughout the world have pointed out, there is a failure to understand that a democratic government must ensure the rights of all its citizens.  Otherwise its democratic values are weak.  
Great nations prosper because of diversity.  The United States, for example, has the benefit of every race, religion, ethnic group, and political perspective within its borders.  New York City is the crossroads of the world that draws its strength, vitality, and resilience from its many races, faiths, and cultures.  It has a thriving gay and lesbian community that is considered a natural part of the social fabric in one of the world’s great cities.
In New York, people of very different backgrounds live together in relative harmony.  It is a place where respect, though not necessarily agreement, is a foundation to the city’s greatness.  Those who are quick to pass judgment on Ukraine’s gay and lesbian citizens, who incidentally also pay taxes, should remember that someone may persecute them next.

Think about Ukraine’s current political situation in the parliament.  Political power at some point will shift.  Power is built on sand.  It may take time, but it will shift.  Those in power today should remember that tomorrow they may not be in charge.  Hence, showing respect to the political party not in power today will hopefully be returned when the government changes hands.  And it will change hands at some point.  

Similarly, those who persecute a group should be mindful that the day may come that they will become the persecuted.  At what point will Svoboda and the Communists turn on one another with the crass, brutal, uncivilized behavior shown to Ukraine’s gay and lesbian community?  Where does it end?     

The French philosopher Voltaire said that “I don’t agree with anything you said, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Respecting someone else’s rights doesn’t mean you agree with their views.  It means you understand civility is a necessary part of any healthy democracy.  It means that everyone has right to have their voice heard.
Paul Peter Jesep is a New York attorney.  He is also a bishop in the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox   Church.  Metropolitan Myfodii appointed him spokesperson and government liaison in the United States.  The views expressed here are personal and in no way reflect those of his Church.  

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