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Pro-EU demonstrators fail to persuade lawmakers to adopt anti-discrimination legislation

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Protesters gathered in front of parliament to rally for legislative steps to be taken in favor of closer European Union integration.

A few hundred protesters braved the rain and the cold on Nov. 10 to rally for legislative steps that would ensure closer EU integration and a visa-free regime.

One of their aims — to urge lawmakers to adopt anti-discrimination legislation — failed on Nov. 10, the second time in the last week. Only 207 lawmakers supported the measures, short of the 226 majority.

The anti-discrimination legislation is a prerequisite for future visa-free travel with European Union countries.

The Nov. 10 protest was triggered by lawmakers’ rejection of the legislation on Nov. 5, when the majority of deputies voted against amendments to the Labor Code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This was a requirement of the EU for Ukraine to obtain visa-free access to EU countries.

Organizers of the protest on Nov. 10 made it clear that they were angry about the lawmakers’ decision – and that they didn’t want to see it happen again.

Organizers of the protest, called “Don’t F*ck with us,” argued that since the members of parliament are chosen by the Ukrainian people, they should not block a European future that thousands of Ukrainians fought for during the EuroMaidan Revolution.

The protest’s page on Facebook said some 2,000 people would attend, but roughly 500 ultimately showed up.

“It’s not an event targeted at the LGBT community. It’s about the future of Ukraine, and to let the MPs inside the parliament know that we want a European future for Ukraine. The future that many of us dreamt of after the Maidan revolution,” Tymur Levchuk, a 21-year-old local LGBT activist wearing a rainbow umbrella, told the Kyiv Post.

The organizers of the event asked people not to bring rainbow flags or other accessories that could lead to a confrontation with anti-gay protesters. The violence at the June 6 protest – when several gay rights activists were beaten down and chased by radicals — is still fresh in many activists’ minds.

Levchuk wore the rainbow colors, he said, to draw attention to the basic problem of inequality in Ukraine. “They want to organize an event to push MPs to vote for a European future, including legislation to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We’re all equal here, and to show my equality I’ve brought rainbow colors,” he said.

Bogdan Globa, also a LGBT activist and an aide to the Human Rights Committee in the Verkhovna Rada, said that he hopes this protest will make lawmakers reconsider their votes. “These are Ukrainian citizens that want change, and our lawmakers need to adopt those changes. They need to listen to us,” he said.

The Ukrainian parliament needed to adopt ten laws, including legislation suggested by the European Union concerning biometric passports, removal of immunity of deputies and judges, corruption, extradition of foreign detainees in line with international agreements, the jurisdiction of Ukraine’s Security Service and anti-discrimination.

In a meeting with lawmakers, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko urged members of parliament to reconsider their vote against anti-discrimination legislation concerning gays, although he maintained his view about “traditional family values.”

“As President, as an Orthodox Christian, as a man who’s been in a marriage for 31 years and loves his wife, as a father of four kids, I stand for preserving family values that are traditional for Ukrainian society. But as a protector of the Ukrainian Constitution I’m against discrimination against any Ukrainian citizen based on any ground,” he said.

Maxim Eristavi, a prominent journalist in Ukraine who is also openly gay, wrote on his Facebook page that Poroshenko’s bid to convince lawmakers to vote for the anti-discrimination legislation was another example of how conservative Ukraine misinterprets equality. “A white, privileged, homophobic oligarch thinks his love and family are better than mine.”

Despite Ukraine’s conservative family values, the crowd outside the Rada on Nov. 10 was hopeful, with both young and old, gay and straight. Anton Hropadskiy, a 65-year-old pensioner, said he had faith in a European Ukraine.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. These clowns in the Rada think they can label their citizens. Look around you, and see how many vibrant and talented people are here. They just want freedom,” he said, holding a few banners and flags with the number 10, the number of laws the Rada needs to adopt.

The Rada didn’t listen to the protesters, however, as a majority of MPs, again, voted against anti-discrimination legislation.

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