It took only 100 people, but history was made in Ukraine on Saturday. Gay rights activists held the country’s first gay pride rally on Saturday, marching in the capital city of Kiev.
Although the march was small in number compared to the ones in America or several countries in Western Europe, it was an important symbol. Ukraine has little public acceptance of homosexuality, with political and public leaders often being very vocal in anti-gay rhetoric and actions, so Saturday’s rally was an important step in fighting for public acceptance in the country.
The march required police protection in order to guard it from counter-protesters who were mainly comprised of Orthodox Christian church activists. They attempted to break through the police cordon protecting the marchers, with one person succeeding in breaking through the line and slapping down banners that called for an end to discrimination against gays.
"Ukraine is not America. Kiev is not Sodom!" was shouted over a loudspeaker at the marchers during the march.
Kiev authorities tried to stop the march earlier in the week. City officials raised security concerns about potential violence despite earlier police promises of their ability to provide protection for the march. A city court banned the planned march through the city center but organizers quickly organized a march in a different area.
They marched for about 40 minutes, holding banners and signs that were against discrimination and derogatory stereotypes of gays. After the march ended, the marchers climbed into buses that drove them away, due to fears about confrontation when the march dispersed.
A rally had been planned for last year but organizers cancelled it after receiving numerous threats of violence. One organizer was attacked and beaten by a gang of men.
The Soviet Union actually repealed the old Tsarist laws against homosexuality under Vladimir Lenin but they were reinstated under the Stalinist regime. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was one of the first countries to decriminalize homosexuality in 1991 but the public acceptance has been slow in the religiously conservative country.
There have been attempts in the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to discriminate against gay people with two bills being introduced recently. One would make it a crime to give out material that has positive information about homosexuality, including rallies, parades, discussions, and demonstrations. The second would make it a crime to publish and distribute written or recorded products that present homosexuality in a positive light. Neither has been passed as a law.
Although short, Saturday’s march was an important step in the slow struggle for the acceptance of homosexuality and gay rights in Ukraine. Hopefully the gay rights community will be successful in fighting the homophobic attitude that pervades the country’s mindset and gain further support.