“A meeting is planned soon” between LGBT+ military members and Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, according to the LGBT+ soldiers’ NGO.
In comments provided exclusively to Kyiv Post, a spokesperson for the association ‘Ukrainian LGBT+ Military Personnel For Equal Rights’ confirmed the upcoming meeting.
“We are glad to see openness to dialogue on the part of the Ministry. This says a lot about the speed of changes for the better in the power structures of Ukraine,” Maxim Potapovych, the NGO's media manager, said.
Logo of ‘Ukrainian LGBT+ Military Personnel for Equal Rights’
In terms of what it is hoping to achieve at the meeting, the NGO has both strategic and specific aims.
In the first respect, it believes that official support for LGBT+ soldiers has strategic value for Ukraine’s defense.
“We want to convey that discrimination has no place in the Ukrainian army, which plans to become a member of NATO,” Potapovych wrote to Kyiv Post on an encrypted channel.
“Also, showing public support for LGBT+ military personnel can help to strengthen the democratic image of Ukraine, which will lead to the disappearance of doubts about whether it is necessary to give our state one or another weapon…” he said.
“Western partners will again be convinced that we firmly support the valuesof the free world.”
In terms of specific goals, the NGO will raise the matter of two seemingly-competing draft bills on the recognition of same-sex partnership rights that are currently under development – one primarily through Ukraine’s parliament and one primarily through the Ministry of Justice and the government’s executive branch, as previously reported by Kyiv Post.
Currently, if a LGBTQ person serving in Ukraine’s military were to be a casualty during its defense against Russia’s full-scale invasion, their partner has: a) no right to be consulted about their medical care or funeral arrangements; b) no enshrined inheritance rights, and; c) no right to compensation eligibility. This contrasts with heterosexual partnerships.
“We believe that the most important thing is to get the right to partner,” the association’s spokesperson said.
“[Parliamentarian] Inna Sovsun’s draft law launched a large-scale process for the realization of [LGBT+] rights... If it is Inna’s bill, we will be happy, because Inna is a powerful ally of the LGBT+ military community and a progressive member of the new generation of Ukrainian politicians. If the Ministry of Justice takes Inna's work as a basis [in] its version of the law, that is also good,” Potapovych said.
“[But] we cannot wait for the law until the end of the war. We want to get our rights right now, because the LGBT+ military is protecting Ukraine right now. They are also at risk of losing their lives and health, while not having basic protection from the state they protect,” he said.
When asked about any current discrimination of LGBT+ soldiers in the Ukrainian military, the spokesperson indicated the situation is similar to the rest of Ukrainian society. Namely, that discrimination still exists, but the situation is “changing for the better” including in the “conservative” military.
“[It’s] just like in the entire Ukrainian society. The situation is changing for the better. The level of community support in society is increasing, and homophobic or transphobic attacks are becoming more the exception than the norm,” Potapovych said.
“However, the Armed Forces are a fairly conservative structure for obvious reasons, so the level of pressure on LGBT+ military personnel is high.
“Many military personnel are afraid to come out to their brothers and sisters for fear of being judged, experiencing bullying, losing their career or the opportunity to fully fulfill their professional duties. Despite this, more and more LGBT+ soldiers dare to come out, because they understand the importance of this and want to live a free life despite any prejudices in society,” he said.
The association ‘Ukrainian LGBT+ Military Personnel for Equal Rights’ was created in 2018 after Anton Shebetko’s exhibition ‘We were there’ about LGBT+ military personnel defending Ukraine since 2014. During the exhibition, one of the featured soldiers, and the head of the association, Viktor Pylypenko, made his first full coming out as a combat veteran.
Currently, the association has “hundreds of open and closed LGBT+ soldiers” and engages in both advocacy and self-help activities.
“We are currently bringing gay and bisexual military members together… in a closed chat community of about 250 people. In this chat, you can get mutual help, psychological support, help with equipment, and just feel free in a space without judgment,” the spokesman said.
A former advisor to President Zelensky, Iuliia Mendel recently and exclusively wrote on the topic of LGBT+ rights and changing Ukrainian attitudes for Kyiv Post.
“The war may not be over, but it has already changed Ukrainian society profoundly. I hate the war and would much prefer that it had never happened,” Mendel said.
“But there’s no denying that it’s had some positive side effects. One of them is a shift in attitudes toward the LGBT community,” she added.
Speaking on behalf of Minister Reznikov, a spokesman had previously not confirmed the meeting to Kyiv Post, but pointed to the development of the legislation, practical steps to operationalize same-sex relationship registration in the military, and the Ministry’s overall commitment to LGBT+ rights.
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