At­tacks mark set­back in LGBT right to march

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY AR­TUR KORNI­IENKO KORNI­[email protected]

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.

March dis­rupted

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.

Hate ten­den­cies

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)

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