Are you for or against homosexuality
Viktor is beaming. With his right hand he is carrying a huge banner, the other waving a flag in rainbow colors, it is a sunny Sunday in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Almost three thousand people march around him, many of whom, like Viktor, have traveled from other cities, next to him is his friend Vitali, with whom he has been together for a year and a half, all of them taking turns shouting: "All different, all the same!" and "human rights above all!" The march during Kiev Pride is the first big parade that Viktor takes part in because he's gay and doesn't want to hide it - even if the society in which he lives would prefer it.
Vitya, as he is nicknamed, is a typical eighteen year old. He studies at the Kiev Political Engineering Institute and curses the high tuition fees, smokes too much, takes a thousand selfies against the summer vacation boredom and worries that he is not muscular enough for it. Viktor describes himself as an activist, a fighter for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people in Ukraine. He has experienced for himself how these people are doing in his country.
"I always felt like I was different"
"I always felt like I was different," remembers Viktor. "Be a man, it was always said. But I couldn't". In Ukrainian society, gender roles are clearly distributed. Men are strong and combative, women are beautiful and family-oriented - that was already the case in the times of the Kievan Rus, the great Slavic empire in the Middle Ages, and the formal professional equality of women in the Soviet Union has not changed that either. Even today there are clear expectations that allow few deviations: "When something hurt me, I cried and then they said I shouldn't cry because it was unmanly," says Viktor. Gender stereotypes are also anchored in his mind: "I noticed that I don't like anything that men like: I don't like cars, I don't like girls."
When he was eleven, his family got internet access - and Viktor learned what and whom he liked. In a feature film, he sees a love scene between two men for the first time and feels: It's beautiful, that's erotic - and it's forbidden. "I thought, oh god, that's wrong! The people, my parents, the newspapers had taught me that gays are wild creatures, that they come from another planet. And I knew, oh man, I'm one of them. "
Viktor moves in with his first friend - and comes out
Viktor now knows he's gay - and tries to hide it all through his teenage years. He lets his hair grow long in order to hide his face behind it, skips school so as not to be bullied, and is still beaten and insulted: "Fagot, pederast", the others shout, "You freak", "Why are you running around like a fag? " At some point a teacher out him in front of the whole class and from then on shows at every opportunity how much she despises him.
After graduating from school, he finds his first friend Vitali via a dating app, with whom he is still together. The two spend a Summer of Love, then Vitali moves away from her hometown Odessa for a job offer. Three hundred kilometers between him and the person who loves and understands him - Viktor cannot stand that. He tells his parents that he wants to move to the capital, Kiev, to work. They are enthusiastic about their hardworking, independent son and give him a credit card. Viktor accepts it and instead drives to the provincial town of Zhytomyr, to see Vitali. After the first purchase, a call comes in: His mother has received a notification stating when and where the card has been used.
Viktor admits who he is with, and his mother is upset. "Vitya, are you ... one of them?" The word gay or homosexual does not come out of her lips. Viktor replies: "Yes, mom. I'm 'one of those'. Take me for who I am."
Viktor's mother is eager: "We're on our way to this guy. We'll take him to the police! Do you understand?" She pleads: "Vitya, please, don't hurt us. You are our only child in the family! I will pray for you, I will do everything possible ..." She threatens: "You are no longer our son!"
Viktor tries to explain. That he's still the son she loves. That she just knows a side of him now that she didn't know about before. That she has to understand who he is - and that she has to respect it.
There is radio silence for a week. Then the phone rings, it's his mother's turn. She tells her son that she loves him and wants him to continue to be part of the family - because that is the center of life in Ukraine. Even today Viktor pauses when he recounts this moment from memory and curses afterwards: "Fuck, I haven't talked to anyone about it so openly!"
The churches propagate a traditional image of the family
Many Ukrainians find it difficult to talk about "people of non-traditional sexual orientation", as they are shyly called - but terms such as "sodomites" or "parasites" are more common. The conviction that they live and love differently than the ideal of the Cossack family with father, mother and two children is a violation of traditional values.
Many also refer to the Christian religion, which has a great influence on the way people think and act: Protestant, Russian Orthodox and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches may rival in Ukraine, but they unanimously rate homosexuality and transidentity as a "sin" and "perversion". Ultimately, the goal of life is marriage between man and woman, which ensures the continued existence of the people.
Viktor's parents still pretend that their son will one day marry a woman and have children with her. That annoys him: "I want you to be free to say that your son is gay and that this is nothing to be ashamed of! I was born this way, many people were born this way!"
Ten injured after the Kiev Pride - like every year
Most Ukrainians, however, consider homosexuality to be a kind of modern fashion: "In the Soviet Union there was no sex, including gays and lesbians" - what is actually a joke is often used as a reason for the negative influence of the West on today Ukraine attached. Ironically, the Maidan revolution four years ago, after which most turned their backs on Russia and the socialist past, made life even more difficult for sexual minorities: nationalist movements such as the Right Sector and the Svoboda party have been deliberately creating an aggressive mood ever since.
"My parents sometimes whine: You're an activist, they'll kill you! We don't want a dead son!" Says Viktor. Their fear is no coincidence: right-wing extremists often announce that they will raid events such as the Kiev Pride and smash them into "bloody gruel". Two years ago they put this threat into practice more violently than ever before: hooded thugs attacked the march with pyrotechnics and homemade nail bombs and afterwards rushed people through the city they had identified as participants. Gay men and trans women, whose appearance tells their story, are particularly at risk on such "safaris".
That is why not only 2,500 activists, but also 5,000 police security guards take part in Kiev Pride. But they can only offer protection until the end of the march, after which the violence breaks out: ten people are beaten up this year as well.
Microaggressions can be felt everywhere in Kiev
Rejection and hatred were already noticeable a week before the march everywhere in Kiev: In the metro there are posters with demands for imagination, which want to copy the typeface of the Kiev Pride and thus defame the event. The organizers of the march believe that right-wing extremists paid for the fake campaign. Orthodox Christians have posted posters in front of the "Pride House", an old opera theater whose hall on the first floor was rented by the activists. The police officers who are supposed to protect the venue give each other long looks when a young woman with an undercut walks past them - another one, you might think.
The activists call these everyday forms of rejection microaggressions, and they are the constant drop that at some point caves the stone in many: some who fought for the rights of gays, lesbians, trans people and intersex people in Ukraine before Viktor meanwhile burned out. It seems as if the work never stops: the struggle with the authorities to change the law and approve events, educate parents and young people on health and legal issues, protect themselves against hate mail and threatening messages.
Although the cooperation with the police to prosecute homophobic and transphobic crimes is getting better and better, although more and more new organizations are showing solidarity with the movement, although there is more international exchange than five years ago, many simply have no more strength. You have withdrawn or emigrated to the west, to Europe or Canada, where it is easier to live.
"It is up to me to change something"
Viktor also has romantic ideas if you ask him about Germany: "Germany is a very liberal country that largely supports gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans and intersex people," he believes. "They're even legally protected there, with anti-discrimination laws and that sort of thing." But he still wants to stay in Ukraine and has just moved back to his hometown of Odessa because he believes that as an activist he can achieve more in the province.
Viktor understood who he is and for the time being has found his way to deal with it: proud and aggressive. When he sings "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga in the hotel room before the march, the walls shake, he proudly waves a giant rainbow flag through the air on his Facebook profile picture, his relationship status "in a civil partnership with" is public. His enthusiasm is still unbroken: "I'm still a bit of a freak, what the heck?" He laughs. "But you know what? I am human. I have rights. It is up to me to change something."
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