Nina Verbitska

Nina Verbytskaya (2015)
HD video, sound, color, 16:9
10:23 minutes

My name is Nina Verbitska. I am an independent consultant who works with several organizations. The ongoing project that currently occupies most of my time is lecturing at the police academy on the topics of LGBT rights, tolerance and non-discrimination.

I am very surprised by the interest the new police force has towards the discussion of LGBT issues. Every topic intersects with an LGBT issue. We talk about gender equality in the police academy. We talk about hate crimes and watch videos from the Equality March. I am impressed by how eagerly people ask questions if they don’t understand something. There is even a question in the final exam regarding how they would behave if they had to guard the Equality March. I am surprised by how well they understand that their job has to do with their own personal attitude. That it is impossible to do their job disregarding their beliefs. They understand that their way of thinking should be changed, that they should read, study and understand every topic concerning discrimination in general, not only LGBT issues. We also talk about ethnic profiling, the discrimination of women and other issues.

The police force is completely new. They have never worked in this system. There is a limited age for admission between 21-35, so they are young and they have different views. This training was specifically created for them based on the model of the Georgian police. Eka Zguladze and her team came to us to create new subjects together with Ukrainian experts. Some subjects are simply aimed at informing students while others require exams. The specialists have created the program and teachers lecture according to it while also proposing changes in case they consider something is not working. Some things are clear, while others have to be either simplified or made more complicated. This is the result of collective work of reformers, teachers and the new administrative police.

The first topic for tolerance and non-discrimination is “The Principles of Non-Discrimination in the Work of Patrols.” This is a training form of education. We don’t work with ready-made materials. We organize discussions. We work with interactive technologies, watch videos, and collect and analyze information of real events. The materials are specifically combined with different target groups in mind. When I ask what discrimination is. We first try to define the term “discrimination.” Then I ask them: In your opinion, what groups face discrimination in Ukraine? And of course LGBT is named among those groups. This is when the most interesting part begins. Many myths and stereotypes surface concerning the attitudes of the State and Church towards LGBT people, as well as what discrimination involves. I answer absolutely all questions, give them examples, and then we can discuss calmly.

The second topic deals with gender issues. I ask the new police officers how they would behave if they met a masculine-looking man with a female identity passport and what that would mean. The majority of police officers say that the passport must have been stolen. I say this is incorrect. I teach them about transgender people and that a person can be in a state of transition from one gender to another. That it is not necessary to drive the person to the police station to figure out if the passport belongs to them. That it would be enough to ask if the person is transgender. I tell students what it all means and I refer them to Act #60 of the Ministry of Health. They often hear about this Act on the methods of gender change in Ukraine for the first time in our class. If they are interested in learning more we also talk after class, during the break more informally. We also discuss how they should behave: Whether or not they should address the person according to the information in their passports or by their chosen name? Whether or not it is necessary to conduct a body search and who should do it? I ask them to consider what one should take as a basis: sex or gender? This is how they begin to understand tolerance, not only as something theoretical but also as a something practical. Little by little the current reform of the new police patrol will inevitably involve their families and their friends because the officers will bring the information home.

We also need reforms in medicine, in health care and in education. And a social reform is needed as well. Many social aid centers for families, children and young people in Ukraine have never faced with these questions before. From another perspective, if anti-discrimination legislation and the Constitution were changed in order to implement LGBT rights, it would perfectly show that nothing would be drastically transformed in society. Nothing would change in the private lives of the majority of people. If they don’t want to enter same-sex partnerships, they don’t need those changes. And those who didn't have these rights before would not actually receive any advantages, only the rights that heterosexual people already had. Many people understand this incorrectly, thinking that when LGBT people get equal rights in Ukraine, something will be stolen from one part of our society and given to another. We have to explain to people that nothing will change for them personally. That the general perception of tolerance and acceptance will change, not only for LGBT people but also for all minorities.

Words make a difference when people hear them from someone they know. It is hard to understand what it feels like to be an LGBT person in Ukraine. If one has never faced discrimination and intolerance before, it is hard to explain. The fact that my partner works in a big company and has the medical insurance that her heterosexual colleagues can use with their spouses really bothers me. We don’t have this right. According to the law I am nobody to her. When we sign the rent agreement, only one of us signs. 

My parents, for instance, think that I live with a friend. My parents don’t want to face the fact that we are a family. It is very important to me that my parents accept me. My mother once said she would never tell anyone that I am a lesbian. That it would be our secret. I smiled and said: “Mom, I’m out, I’m on TV, I’m in the front line at the Equality March and I’m not ashamed of it. But if you want this to be a secret, let it be so.”

Every year I take part in trainings for parents. This is an incredible process, which, unfortunately, I don’t get to experience with my own parents. I work with the parents of other people instead. The fact that they visibly change after every meeting is a great pleasure. I have had something to do with their transformed attitudes towards their children. I am always embarrassed when I receive letters in which children thank me for how their relations with parents have improved.