Protesters attack Ukraine LGBT festival attacked

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday March 23, 2016
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The March 19 Lviv Equality Festival in Ukraine was canceled after four hours because the hotel where it was taking place was surrounded by 200 armed neo-Nazi demonstrators.

The 55 attendees �" out of 200 registered participants �" who were able to get into the hotel before it was surrounded by the anti-gay protesters were able to screen a coming out video and participate in a discussion before the festival was canceled, wrote Olena Shevchenko, a 33-year-old lesbian who organized the festival and is executive director of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBT rights organization, in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

The festival was the first of three regional events that were offshoots of a festival originally held in Kiev last December.

By late afternoon the demonstrators knew where the activists were holding their event and surrounded the hotel wearing masks. They were armed with smoke bombs, firecrackers, stones, and green paint, and shouted, "Kill, kill, kill," and Nazi youth slogans while raising their right arms into the air.

Attendees were guarded by five private security guards they brought with them from Kiev, Shevchenko wrote. But after an anonymous hoax bomb threat was reported, for the safety of the participants, Shevchenko canceled the rest of the event at 4:30 p.m.

The guards protected the participants and ensured that none of the protesters were able to make it into the venue, wrote Shevchenko.

Shevchenko reported the events live from the hotel on Facebook.

"We are blocked at the hotel," Shevchenko wrote on Facebook from the hotel. "Police don't want to react. They are saying all those people in masks just meet their friends here.

"Everybody was scared, but ready to continue and to fight for their rights," wrote Shevchenko, who remained calm and gave instructions to the attendees. She called the attendees "very brave."

Only two police officers responded to the activists' call for protection one hour later. More enforcement didn't arrive until Shevchenko contacted the head of the national police in Kiev, she wrote. Reinforcements arrived at the hotel three hours later.

The special police forces escorted the activists out of the hotel into waiting vans. No one was hurt in the process, Shevchenko wrote.

Police chased the right-wing demonstrators into a nearby park.

No one was arrested. Authorities plan on hosting "informative discussions," reported the Russian news channel RT.

Various radical groups have been on the rise in Ukraine and have gone unchecked within the last two years as authorities look the other way when crimes are committed by members of these groups, reported RT.


Not wanted here

The event was fraught with challenges from the beginning, as city officials didn't support it.

"We didn't receive any reactions or support, instead we received a number of hate speeches and statements [from the] city administration about their negative attitude to our festival," wrote Shevchenko. "They said, 'There is no place for such events in Lviv.'"

Without Lviv Mayor Andrij Sadovyj's support venues canceled on event organizers, telling them that they couldn't guarantee their safety, according to media reports.

The original festival host hotel, the Lviv Hotel, kicked the activists out "in a very brutal way," wrote Shevchenko.

"They told us we are perverts and they have a boiler room free for us," she wrote.

Hotel employees Googled the organization after city authorities informed the hotel's management and staff that the festival's organizer and participants were "perverts," reported the Guardian .

Shevchenko found another hotel, but then came the 4 a.m. city hearings where she was surrounded by 40 neo-Nazi demonstrators for six hours until officials declared all public events were banned for the weekend March 19, she wrote.

However, the festival was a private event held inside a hotel, so she went forward with it.

Leading up to the event, Human Rights First urged U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt to raise concerns about the harassment and potential cancellation of the LGBT festival with his Ukrainian counterparts, according to a March 16 news release from the human rights organization.

"It is alarming that an event designed to promote inclusion can be threatened with violence while political leaders choose to remain silent," said Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel at Human Rights First and its head of its initiative to combat violence against LGBTI people. "The U.S. Embassy should urge Ukrainian officials to take steps to ensure that the event takes places and that its participants are safe."

Sadovy blasted both groups on Facebook the next day.

"Yesterday's events in Lviv are a result of a carefully planned provocation. Participants from both sides were conscious or unconscious parts of the whole picture," he wrote.

The incident has garnered the criticism of diplomats and elected officials.

Jan Tombinski, the head of the European Union delegation to Ukraine, condemned the attack, stating that similar acts discredit Ukraine and harm its prospects of its "European future," reported RT.

Mustafa Nayyem, a member of parliament in Ukraine, wrote on his Facebook page about his disappointment with authorities' lack of response to the situation.

"The authorities should always react when people's rights are infringed upon. It doesn't matter whose rights it is �" LGBT people, the opposition, patriots, migrants, women, the elderly or children. The silence of the Lviv authorities and response to these events differs little to the indifference of the authorities under Yanukovych," he wrote, referring to former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Shevchenko isn't giving up producing the festival in Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa by the end of June and hopefully in other cities, she wrote to the B.A.R.

On her Facebook page, she boldly wrote that the LGBT community will continue to fight for the "freedom and equality of all people."

"Because today they hunt us, and tomorrow they will hunt others. There are no guarantees you won't fall into the next group of 'abnormals' or 'unnaturals,'" she continued. "It is necessary to stand up to this mayhem and lawlessness now."

"We want to live in a democratic society with equality and rule of law," Shevchenko wrote to the B.A.R. "Nobody will fight for our rights except us."

Ukrainian LGBT activists have the country's government on their side, something that is a recent development in the former Soviet Bloc country. Last fall the parliament approved an anti-discrimination law that included banning discrimination on sexual orientation in the workplace. The government also promised to draft a bill on registered partnerships for same-sex couples by 2017, which was a part of the approved action plan to implement the National Strategy on Human Rights.


Botswana court issues groundbreaking ruling in favor of LGBT groups

The highest court in Botswana issued a groundbreaking ruling March 16 rejecting the government's ban on LGBT organizations.

The five-judge ruling, handed down by Ian Kirby, president of the Court of Appeals, upheld a lower court's 2014 ruling and called the government's refusal to register the organization Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana "irrational," in its decision.

That court declared that the 20 activists who applied to register the organization with Home Affairs Minister Edwin Batshu and were denied were entitled to gather and associate with one another under the name LEGABIBO.

The activists filed the claim against the home affairs minister in 2014.

Batshu's argument to the court was that by registering the gay organization it might encourage members of LEGABIBO to break the law.

"That concern or reason for refusal was irrational on the evidence before us, so there can be no question of his decision being necessary in the interests of public order," said Kirby, reported Agence France-Presse.

Kirby also declared that refusing to allow LEGABIBO to register was unconstitutional.

"It is the democratic right of every citizen to express their opinion on a law," wrote the judges in the decision. "It does not follow that when an organization advocates for changes in the law on abortion, the death penalty, or same-sex sexual acts, that means the organization or its members is engaging in abortion, or murder, or same-sex sexual acts.

"There also exist other organizations and politicians in Botswana that already advocate for gay and lesbian rights and there has been no suggestion that any of those is breaking the law," the judges continued in the decision.

Homosexuality is still illegal in Botswana under the 1965 penal code, but the British colonial era law has actually been on the books since 1885. If convicted, LGBT individuals face up to seven years in prison. Botswana is also one of the few countries in the world that also legally prohibits same-sex relationships between women.

However, the law is rarely enforced. Recent polls found gay neighbors are welcome. Nearly half of Botswana's population wouldn't mind having an LGBT person as their neighbor, according to a recent poll, reported Gay Star News.

LGBT activists said that the ruling is a direct hit to Botswana President Ian Khama's anti-gay agenda that has particularly affected HIV/AIDS organizations' work in a country that is noted as having one of the highest incidents of HIV/AIDS.

Cindy Kelemi, who works for the local health advocacy group Botswana Network on Ethics Law and HIV/AIDS, or BONELA, pointed out that the government has refused to allow condom distribution in prisons, claiming it will promote homosexuality. Kelemi and other HIV/AIDS advocates strongly oppose the policy.

"There is a lot that still has to be done to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of the LGBT persons," Kelemi told the media.

However, for one day, there was a major win for LGBT rights in Botswana. Activists hugged and cheered in the courtroom when the ruling was delivered.


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].