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Aleksandr Zinchenkov

Alexander Zinchenkov (2015)
HD video, sound, color, 16:9
12:56 minutes

My name is Aleksandr Zinchenkov. I work as a coordinator at the LGBT human rights organization Our World, which has been active since 1998. We conduct monitoring and provide legal assistance to LGBT communities in Ukraine. For some time we have also been involved in distributing information amongst LGBT communities about the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

All steps towards the protection of human rights at the official level depend in a way on the victims’ openness. Most people don’t want to be open because after having lived unpleasant situations, they don’t want to live them again. They are afraid to talk to the police and to the media because they fear these institutions would disclose their sexual orientation to their families. That is why our main problem is motivating people to protect their rights.

It is particularly difficult for us to receive information about the violation of human rights. Many LGBT people, especially in the provinces, small cities, and rural areas remain uncommunicative. Sometimes even their friends prefer not to inform public organizations about such human rights violations. We generally learn about these forms of abuse through friends and try to find out more information. It is very meticulous and hard work.

Ukraine was the first former USSR country to decriminalize homosexuality after it gained independence in 1991. At the same time the World Health Organization omitted homosexuality from the list of mental disorders and it appeared that these two occurrences initiated the development of the LGBT community in Ukraine, but unfortunately the situation hasn’t been as good as it promised to be.  

Ukrainians were given independence from above after the break-up of a big state; they didn’t build it up from scratch. Consequently, LGBT people didn’t know what to do with that freedom and they continued living as before: They met someone dated them, but they never discussed it in public. The first LGBT organizations were founded only in the mid-90s. They started with essential things such as organizing community meetings and a bit later they took on the fight against HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, the idea of gay rights-as-human rights was embraced by public organizations only at the beginning of this century and it emerged as some kind of trend only in 2005.   

By the mid-2000s many homophobic organizations also appeared. It is hard to say where they came from and what motivated them. Perhaps due to the frequent elections in Ukraine and to the constant political fighting the LGBT issue came to occupy a certain niche at the political level. Almost all political forces used it as a threat in their hunt for votes. Consequently, homophobic powers took shape in the form of public organizations and ultra-radical semi-legal nationalistic movements.

Not only politicians used anti LGBT rhetoric as an opportunity to increase their popularity. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Communist Party lost its leading role, the Church took its place. In order to increase its popularity amongst congregations they too have used homophobic rhetoric underpinned by dogmas from the Bible. This has heavily impacted society.

Everything would have been under control if the state had not refused to address these problems. Since 1991 politicians haven’t made any efforts to protect LGBT people. This has negatively influenced the image of the LGBT community: they have been turned into monsters in the eyes of Ukrainian society. In fact, there is no other unprotected group that faces such negative attitudes as the LGBT community.

Euromaidan and the subsequent post-revolutionary events of our recent history unfolded against that background. The LGBT people who participated in Euromaidan did it without displaying any LGBT insignia in order not to compromise the primary political aim of the revolution in front of the conservative forces. We also tried to resist the provocations of the pro-Russian side: for example, in January 2014, at the very height of the revolutionary events, certain political powers decided to play the LGBT card again. They organized a “gay pride” event in the center of Kiev where they hired people to pretend to represent the LGBT community and they tried to provoke conflicts. Fortunately, they didn’t succeed at this and during our press conference we informed people who had done that and why. That specific provocation failed but the right-wing radical powers continue to claim that LGBT people didn’t participate in the events at Maidan and didn’t take part in the anti-terrorist operation to protect Ukraine.

I would also like to add that the current events in the east of Ukraine have boosted violence and extremism. Cases of physical violence towards LGBT people are more frequent we have once again become a scapegoat used by our society to vent its anger. We saw this clearly at the end of last year when a cinema was set on fire during the premiere of an LGBT-themed movie or during the attack on the Equality March. It can be seen in what is constantly happening to gay people who continue to be killed and maimed throughout Ukraine because they are gay.

It is important to start working with society as a whole to organize informational and educational campaigns and to build up tolerance and patience. In addition, it is important for gays and lesbians to become more open about themselves in their daily lives and with their friends and relatives. Their social milieu should see that they are ordinary people, that they are not monsters, as the media suggests it. One of the most difficult tasks is convincing gays and lesbians to be more open. It is a “logical” fear because there are cases when young people are kicked out of their homes because their parents discover they are gay. Gay people can be fired from their jobs, find no employment, or sometimes their colleagues create such a negative atmosphere that they are forced to quit. In my opinion, such cases are less frequent than situations when people find out that a person is a gay and then accept him or her.

I think that the attitude of the younger generation attitude towards these issues is much lighter. They don’t deal with so many oppressing stereotypes. They were raised in a free society with fairly free views and media. I’m confident that this background will help them make the world into what they want it to be. And of course this would mean progress.