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20th Nov 2019

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Ukraine gives equal rights to gay workers, to please Brussels

  • 'It’s better to have a gay parade on [Kiev's main street] Khreshchatyk than Russian tanks in the centre of the Ukrainian capital,' said one MP (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Members of the Ukrainian parliament granted equal rights to gay workers on Thursday (12 November), but several did it more out of necessity than of conviction. The adopted legislation was a requirement from Brussels if Ukraine wants visa-free travel.

As a result of the vote, Ukraine's labour code will be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds on which discrimination in the workplace is prohibited.

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But the preceding debate showed that, for many members of parliament, the issue was seen as a trade-off.

The European Union had set the inclusion of anti-discriminatory provision for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGTBI) people as a prerequisite for visa-free travel by Ukrainians to those European countries which are part of the Schengen area.

It was also framed in Kiev as a measure required to move closer to the EU out fear of Russia.

“It’s better to have a gay parade on [Kiev's main street] Khreshchatyk than Russian tanks in the centre of the Ukrainian capital,” said MP Yuri Lutsenko, who is a member of president Petro Poroshenko's party.

“I believe if we go to Europe, we must recognise the rules adopted in the EU,” Lutsenko added.

For his part, the Ukrainian president had promised ahead of a previous attempt that if MPs voted yes, “Ukrainian citizens [can] visit EU countries without visas as early as next year.”

Thursday's passing of the vote, with 234 members of the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada voting Yes, was the third attempt this month to pass the bill.

A week earlier, on Thursday (5 November), 117 MPs had voted Yes. At Wednesday's attempt, 207 MPs were in favour.

Those opposed had argued the bill was an attack on Ukraine's Christian Orthodox values.

MP Pavlo Unguryan, of prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s pro-EU party, said last week “a special status for sexual minorities is simply unacceptable”.

Gay activist Maxim Eristavi told Gay Star News Wednesday that homophobia is still very much ingrained in Ukrainian society and politics.

“There is a rising culture of absence of prosecution for those initiating violence against minorities, including but not limited to LGBTI people,” said Eristavi.

A small gay pride in Kiev this summer was disrupted by an attack by right-wing protesters.

The country's pro-Western, English-language newspaper Kyiv Post, wrote in an editorial Thursday after the vote, Ukrainian “lawmakers pass[ed] a bill that would have been passed without hesitation in most Western countries.”

“With its reluctance to pass this crucial legislation, Ukraine showed that it is still plagued by the same Soviet bigotry as its backward and belligerent neighbour,” the paper said.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the LGBTI lobby group Ilga Europe called the adoption of the bill an “important milestone.”

“Today, we have witnessed great change in Ukraine. This result is a victory for the LGBTI community and Ilga-Europe send our congratulations to those parliamentarians who voted in favour of human rights and fundamental freedoms today,” Ilga-Europe said in a statement.

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