Acceptance of gay people is increasing in Ukraine
Greater visibility of gay and lesbian military personnel appears to be a catalyst for changing societal attitudes, according to public opinion surveys.
This is reported by the NBC.
In a controversial Instagram profile featuring pole dancing, cross-dressing, and bold makeup, a photo of Ivan Honzyk in high heels and stockings alongside an image of him in military uniform received the most likes.
The posts by the junior sergeant make a bold statement in socially conservative Ukraine, where gay parades have often been attacked prior to the war, and a large part of the country is occupied by Russia and pro-Russian forces, making it one of the most visibly homophobic countries in the world.
However, as more members of the LGBTQ+ community serve on the frontlines, the increased visibility of gay and lesbian military personnel appears to be a catalyst for changing societal attitudes, as public opinion surveys indicate.
As Ukrainian LGBTQ+ soldiers fight on the frontlines, their acceptance is growing in the conservative country.
The 27-year-old Honzyk stated that his uncompromising self-expression, combined with his work in places like Bakhmut — a city in eastern Ukraine that experienced some of the bloodiest battles of the war but also stands as a powerful symbol of the country's resilience — helps advance the cause of LGBTQ+ rights in the country faster than any pride march.
"My fellow soldiers are genuinely impressed by what I have done in Bakhmut, the huge scale of work I performed there, and after that, they simply don't care who I sleep with," said Honzyk, whose medical unit evacuates wounded soldiers and provides emergency medical assistance, during his leave from the frontlines in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, at a trendy café.
Many other gay and lesbian soldiers have also shared their photos and videos online, some with unicorn symbols on their uniforms as an ironic response to the notion that there are no LGBTQ+ individuals in the army.
In the United States, it was only at the end of 2011 that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals were allowed to serve openly in the military. There were no specific rules in the Ukrainian armed forces that prohibited LGBTQ+ individuals from serving, but homophobia was prevalent within the ranks, reflecting a broader societal attitude.
Honzyk stated that gay and lesbian soldiers help change homophobic attitudes in the socially conservative country.
Recognizing their contributions, Ukrainian lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would recognize same-sex relationships and address the issue of the lack of inheritance, medical, and other rights for partners of deceased or injured LGBTQ+ soldiers who fought against pro-Moscow forces.
"Parades and prides were not enough," said Honzyk, who served for four years. "The best way to change attitudes is what we are doing now. We joined the army and show that we are worthy. We are not hiding somewhere in the back. We carry out real missions, dangerous missions."
On the other side of the border, President of Russia Vladimir Putin claimed to have initiated the invasion in February 2022 to protect the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, attempting to portray what he calls a "special military operation" as a defense of morality against foreign liberals and values promoted by the West.
Putin often advocates for "traditional values" in his speeches and deems gender transition operations and same-sex parenting morally degenerate Western imports. In December, he signed a law expanding Russian restrictions on the promotion of what it deems "gay propaganda," effectively banning any public expression of LGBTQ+ behavior in Russia.
Any actions deemed an attempt to promote homosexuality in public places, online, or in films, books, or advertising may result in significant fines.
Activists like 37-year-old Edward Reese, a non-binary communications adviser to KyivPride, argue that Russia's invasion has exacerbated a sense of national identity in Ukraine and prompted the Ukrainian society to distance itself from Russian values.
"The conflict has made Ukraine realize that homophobia, transphobia, and all forms of discrimination are part of Russian values, and we don't want to support them," said Riz.
In the last few years, Ukrainian society has seen a surge in civic activism and mobilization, and the war has played a crucial role in reshaping the country.
"People are waking up," said 25-year-old Yulia Dobro. "Ukrainian society has matured and realized that if we want to join the European Union and NATO, we need to change, and that includes attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights."
As reported by The Gaze, LGBT activists in Moldova held a pride march that, for the first time, did not require a dense police cordon for protection against protesters, mainly associated with the Orthodox Church.