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Post-Soviet States Confab in Kiev


Gays and lesbians in the former Eastern Bloc countries, encouraged by increasing tolerance, are planning their next moves for political change and social services.

"Human Rights Concerning Gay Men and Lesbians: The Experience of Work and Establishing of Cooperation Among Lesbian & Gay Organizations in the Post-Soviet States" is the ambitious title of an international conference that began October 19 in Kiev, Ukraine and will run through October 21. The Russian-language conference was organized by the Ukrainian Section of the International Society for Human Rights and the Nash Mir (Our World) gay and lesbian center in Lugansk, Ukraine, which began to organize in 1996 and held its first formal meeting in late 1998.

Although the non-profit Nash Mir is taxed as if it were a for-profit corporation, and despite members' continuing complaints of police harassment, its spokesperson Andrey Kravchuk says public attitudes towards gays and lesbians in the Ukraine have noticeably improved since the days of USSR rule when homosexual acts were criminal. It's precisely because of what he's called "the growth of tolerance, openness, diversity of society and striving for the respect of various minorities" that gays and lesbians have been able to begin to organize and to advance towards equal treatment in the nations of the former Eastern Bloc: Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Rumania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

It's hoped that the conference will allow activists from these nations to share and learn from each other's experiences, as well as those of Western groups (Nash Mir has translated into Russian some key materials from the International Lesbian and Gay Association's European branch). Nash Mir believes that networking among gay and lesbian groups, non-governmental organizations (the Ukraine Section of Amnesty International is one that's participating) and state agencies can help to resolve problems. As a group, conferees will assess the current status of gays and lesbians in the former Eastern Bloc and make plans for the future. Areas for specific discussion include legislation against discrimination and for recognition of gay and lesbian couples; work with political and social leaders; psychological support and legal assistance for individual gays and lesbians; human rights monitoring; cooperation with AIDS programs and with foreign organizations; and media, including gay and lesbian media, the Internet, public education, and mass media. Nash Mir hopes that the conference itself will attract widespread media attention and thereby further public education goals, as did the recent International Lesbian and Gay Association meeting in Romania.

In 1991 the Ukraine became the first of the former Soviet republics to decriminalize consensual acts between adult males, but it largely retains the custom of gay and lesbian invisibility, so that as Kravchuk writes, among officials "All gay problems are regarded as insignificant and untimely." He quotes a former President of the Ukraine estimating it would be five hundred years before the state would have the luxury of discussing issues of sexual minorities, given the weight of more pressing problems. Kravchuk also noted that Nash Mir's first candidate survey before the parliamentary elections of 1997 received no responses; one presidential candidate responded in 1999.

There are no protections from discrimination in the Ukraine, and both the Ministry of Education and the military specifically prohibit employment of known gays and lesbians. Police assisting harassed gays and lesbians is almost unheard of, while illegal detentions and interrogations are commonly reported to Nash Mir, usually involving intimidation rather than outright violence. While public attitudes vary widely, most people prefer that gays and lesbians remain invisible, and mainstream media generally notice them only in the context of scandals. Even the East-Ukrainian University in Lugansk has refused Nash Mir's speakers and workshops, although the group regularly provides information bulletins to major libraries.

PlanetOut News Staff
19 October 2000

  SEE ALSO

'Our World: Equality and Cooperation' gay and lesbian human rights conference released the adopted documents:

  • Press Statement by Our World (Nash Mir) Gay and Lesbian Center;
  • Declaration of the Conference;
  • Appeal to Gay and Lesbian Community of Eastern Europe;
  • Appeal to Presidents, Governments and Parliaments of Eastern Europe.

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