Attacks mark setback in LGBT right to march
When Inna Iryskina and other activists were planning a transgender march in Kyiv on Nov. 18, their key demand was for Ukraine to stop classifying transgender people, like herself, as mentally disordered.
But when the 50-person demonstration was disrupted by far-right radicals, the demonstrators focused on a different demand. Now they say that Ukraine must fight hate crimes motivated by gender identity.
The disrupted demonstration highlighted intolerance towards LGBTQ people in Ukraine and erased the impression of progress left by an Equality March that took place peacefully in June under heavy security measures.
The march in Kyiv was to mark the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, observed in November every year to commemorate people who have been murdered as a result of transphobia — hate or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people.
But the march barely started before it was over.
When the trans rights demonstrators approached the designated location near the Universytet metro station, some 20 far-right protesters assaulted them, shouting obscenities, throwing smoke bombs and using pepper spray on them.
Instead of holding back the radicals, the police pushed the activists away from the scene and down into the metro, forcing them to cancel the rally.
The demonstrators didn’t feel like the police were helping them.
“With these actions, the police themselves disrupted the rally,” says
Iryskina. “They did not fulfill their duties. Instead of deterring the opponents of the rally, they forced us to stop it.”
A transgender activist Anastasia Eva Domani says there were about 20 radicals harassing the activists. She thinks the police could have easily stopped their aggression to allow the activists to have their rally.
The event wasn’t a surprise for the police: Following the legal procedures, the organizers of the march had informed the local authorities about their plans in advance and asked the police to provide security.
The rally was supposed to take place in Shevchenko Park in Kyiv, but on the day of the event, the police made the participants change it to the park near the Universytet metro station. The original location was taken up by the far-right radicals: they held a traditionalist counter protest there, holding anti-LGBT posters.
Iryskina thinks that the police always meant to isolate activists inside the metro station and didn’t intend to secure the rally and let it take place.
The Kyiv police only said that it prevented a “provocation” during the rally by separating the activists and counter-protesters.
Two participants of the rally suffered from pepper spray used by the radicals. One of the injured is Rita Bondar, a journalist for the left-wing Commons magazine, who came to cover the rally and identifies as part of the LGBTQ community.
Bondar says that there were about 10 police officers around when she was assaulted. All of them, she says, rushed to help her, but none caught the assailant. She decided against filing a police report: partly because she didn’t see the attacker, but also out of distrust for police.
A Canadian freelance journalist Michael Colbourne, who covered the rally, was also assaulted by a radical protester on the site. He filed a police report, but the police were reluctant to act before he did so, according to another journalist on the site, Christopher Miller of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“Journalist Michael Colbourne took a punch to the face, sustained cut and had glasses broken by far- right radicals while covering today’s transgender rights rally, as police not only stood by, but physically removed activists from the city-sanctioned event,” Miller wrote on Twitter.
According to Iryskina, attacks on LGBTQ rallies and events are a returning tendency, and the police don’t do enough to stop them. While the police prevented attacks from far-right activists at the Equality March in June, they don’t do nearly enough to prevent attacks at smaller rallies in Kyiv and the regions, she says.
“You see, the Equality March is a big event attended by some deputies, ambassadors, representatives of international organizations, so there’s much more pressure on the police to work properly,” Iryskina says. “But on the other hand: what are we, people of some second-rate quality?”
In 2017, Nash Svit LGBT human rights center has recorded five attacks based on transphobia in Ukraine. However, most such cases remain undisclosed, because many transgender people are afraid to go public, according to Nash Svit.
Iryskina says that transgender people also often don’t report to police because they don’t trust that the attacks against them will be properly investigated. She herself was beaten by a group of teenagers 10 years ago because of her transgender identity, but she did not address the police.
“I was afraid that if I tell the police, they would somehow laugh at me. And that I would get more problems upon myself,” Iryskina says.
Attacks on transgender people are rarely qualified as hate crimes in Ukraine. Article 161 of the Criminal Code that establishes responsibility for hate crimes does not mention gender identity as a qualifying attribute of a hate crime. Such attacks are treated as hooliganism instead, an offense that leads to a much softer punishment.
From being the last on the list, the demand to include gender identity as a qualifying attribute of a hate crime became the first for Iryskina after the attack on the rally.
“It’s a grim reality to have such a shift of focus from aspects that affect the quality of our lives to those relating directly to our survival,” Iryskina says. “But I still have hope that the situation will change. I want us to have a modern European country with a proper system of values. The EuroMaidan was about this after all.”
Activists for transgender rights shout slogans at their far-right opponents beside a police officer, who will later push them away from the scene into the metro station behind their backs on Nov. 18, 2018 in Kyiv. The poster in the activist’s hands reads “Keep quiet, and they will come for you too.” (AFP)
Inna Iryskina talks with the Kyiv Post at the Insight LGBTQ nongovernmental organization in Kyiv on Nov. 21, 2018. Iryskina is a transgender woman who coordinates Insight’s work with transgender people. (Volodymyr Petrov)