President Volodymyr Zelensky might be at a rave on July 30.
Not that he’s known to be a fan of electronic music, but he won’t have much choice. A team of activists will set up a stage, bring DJs and blast music right in front of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
The location choice is no accident and it won’t be just any party, but Rave Pride: A protest for LGBTQ rights.
Rave Pride is being organized by the newly-established nonprofit UkrainePride that was founded after some of its members split from Kyiv Pride, the nonprofit that has been holding the annual Equality March since 2013.
In Ukraine, raves are popular gatherings among the LGBTQ community. Underground, they provide safe and tolerant spaces where people feel free from judgment.
UkrainePride believes that queer people in Ukraine today would be better represented through demonstrations as dynamic and loud as raves than classic rallies.
“Rave Pride is the real face of the queer community and the youth of Ukraine today,” Sofiia Lapina, co-founder of UkrainePride, told the Kyiv Post.
The protest will demand the adoption of anti-discriminatory legislation towards LGBTQ people and proper investigations of past crimes against the community.
It will start at 4 p. m. and run for six hours featuring star Ukrainian DJ Nastia among others.
Ukraine’s relationship with the LGBTQ community has improved drastically in the last decade, with multiple pride parades occurring throughout the country.
Previous pride parades in Ukraine have followed the Western model. In remembrance of the Stonewall riots, a series of demonstrations against police raids in 1969 New York, activists in Ukraine organized a march in June.
But as the country is still in the process of distancing itself from homophobia, Kyiv’s Equality March appears different compared to pride rallies in the West.
There are still rainbow flags, drag queens and the songs of LGBTQ icon Donna Summer, but Kyiv’s pride march is also surrounded by thousands of police officers protecting demonstrators.
Without police protection, marchers risk attacks from far-right groups that have occurred at previous marches and other events where there was little to no police presence.
UkrainePride wanted to find more effective and modern ways to advocate for queer rights.
“Advocacy is any action that shines a light on the violations of a person’s rights,” Lapina says, “and UkrainePride is looking for the most diverse and most creative ways” to do that.
That’s how the team came up with a rave protest.
“The word ‘rave’ comes from the word ‘noise,’ and I believe the protest needs to be noisy so that people pay attention,” Lapina says.
And there are many issues that need attention.
Threats and attacks
The only anti-discrimination article in Ukraine’s Criminal Code isn’t applicable to attacks on LGBTQ people because it doesn’t include any terminology referencing sexual orientation.
Having previously worked alongside KyivPride against hate crimes, Lapina has had her fair share of dead ends when it comes to finding justice for queer people in Ukraine.
If someone were to be charged with beating up a gay person, the most likely outcome is a sentence of hooliganism or civil liability and a simple fine. That results in a vicious circle of those attacking LGBTQ doing it again since there’s not much punishment.
“A person understands that this time nothing came out of it, and next time nothing will happen either, and they can continue to do this forever,” Lapina says.
The activist herself has recently been under threats from far-right groups. They hacked her social media accounts, published personal information and sent her death threats. The police told her they have little chance to prove it’s a hate crime.
“At Rave Pride, we are going to play loud music in the middle of the workday at the President’s Office so that the authorities can finally hear us,” Lapina wrote on Facebook after publicizing threats she received on July 20. “The same authorities who pretend that nothing is happening, that there are no hate crimes.”
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One of the July 30 protest’s demands is bringing legal changes that would protect LGBTQ people and properly investigate past crimes against the community. But activists don’t believe these changes are possible without reform and they plan to demand further reforms of the police, the prosecutor general’s office and the justice system.
The roots of electronic dance music, which originated in the form of the house genre in 1980s Chicago, are tightly connected to the LGBTQ community and the people of color whose clubs gave it a start.
It’s no wonder that the world’s modern electronic music industry is at the forefront of supporting LGBTQ communities, paying respect to the shared history.
Kyiv’s electronic scene has been blowing up the last few years, with international DJs performing every weekend and promoters coming to Ukraine to host their own events.
It’s here that local queer people can truly enjoy their time together, feeling protected and free from judgement. Many clubs and events have strict policies banning taking photos and often promote a “no hate, no racism, no discrimination and no homophobia” approach in event announcements.
“The information on those websites makes me happy and makes me feel more safe right away,” Yura Dvizhon, another co-founder of UkrainePride and an openly gay person, told the Kyiv Post.
People are more aware of how they act at these events, Dvizhon believes. If they express any intolerance, they risk being kicked out.
“The body guards can block them from visiting the club forever. That’s why people try to be politer,” Dvizhon says.
Above ground and heard
Rave Pride will have various DJs from Ukraine and abroad performing for free in support of the queer community.
Aside from one of Ukraine’s most popular DJs, Nastia, the lineup includes Katro Zauber, Gael Abakarova, Olha Korovina and Greek DJ Stef Mendesidis, among others.
Mendesidis’s name in the announcement caused some uproar, with claims that UkrainePride had invited a Russian DJ to a political protest.
The reason for this controversy was an old Instagram post of Mendesidis’s, a selfie of him in Moscow with the caption “I’m home.”
Some activists immediately assumed that Mendesidis was from Russia and were outraged. Although Mendesidis previously lived in Moscow, it was only one of many different cities he has called his home.
Mendesidis is originally Greek and has lived in Moscow, Berlin and several other cities while traveling around as a DJ. Most recently, Mendesidis moved from Berlin to Kyiv, with a recent Instagram post of him outside of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv writing “Dear friends and people of our scene. I have moved to this blessed land! Kyiv is my new home.”
Lapina addressed the controversy on Facebook writing that she is very happy Mendesidis relocated to Kyiv.
“He is a very successful musician and is known throughout the world,” Lapina says, “the fact that he chose to move to Kyiv is an indicator that we really have favorable conditions for developing in this area.”
In support of the electronic music scene, Rave Pride will also demand the investigation of police raids of clubs and brutality in the Podil district that occurred throughout the pandemic and escalated in May.
Lapina says that almost any sphere of culture is very much tied with the queer community and the concept of freedom, adding that Rave Pride is “not only about LGTBQ people but all open-minded youth.”
Rave Pride. July 30. 4 p. m. President’s Office, 11 Bankova St.
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