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US Supports LGBTQ Groups in Ukraine and Neighboring Countries

The United States’ special envoy for promoting LGBTQ rights abroad said Friday that she and her office continue to provide support to advocacy groups in Ukraine and countries that border it.

Jessica Stern told The Washington Blade in a phone interview that she held “several roundtables” with Ukrainian activists and organizations “to make sure my office and I both have relationships and then get some information directly from the people on the front line”. Stern also noted that she has also spoken with LGBTQ rights organizations in Poland, Hungary and other countries that are “reportedly welcoming LGBTQI refugees from Ukraine” and regional and international groups “who are watching closely. and support LGBTQI Ukrainians at this incredibly difficult time.”

“The first and most important thing the United States did was reach out to people who advocate for and serve LGBTQI Ukrainians, and then in any case try to find ways to support them” , Stern said. “One of the things that has been really important has been identifying the kind of patterns of human rights abuses, violations and vulnerabilities that they follow and that we need to be aware of.”

Stern said the State Department has “activated” its grant mechanisms to provide financial support to LGBTQ organizations in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

“One of the things we have been focusing on has been ensuring that Ukrainian LGBTQI organizations and LGBTQI organizations in surrounding countries have the financial resources to provide emergency support to this population that is facing double and triple discrimination,” she said.

Stern told the Blade that a “top priority” was to ensure that humanitarian aid to Ukraine “is distributed without discrimination.”

“One of the messages that my office has conveyed and that I have worked with others at the State Department to convey is that LGBTQI Ukrainian refugees are at heightened risk and should be supported and that anyone providing humanitarian aid must in fact be on the lookout for cases of discrimination or violence of which they might be victims”.

Stern said his office hasn’t received “too many stories of incidents (of discrimination), but we need to be able to sound the alarm.”

“The institutions and partners we work with have taken this seriously,” she said.

Russian airstrike kills Kharkiv activist

Stern spoke to the Blade less than a month after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

A Russian airstrike in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the country’s east, on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law student who was volunteering for Kharkiv Pride and Pride of kyiv. On the same day, a group of “bandits” broke into the kyiv offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ rights group, and attacked four activists who were inside.

“Nash Mir’s case was truly horrific and truly demonstrated the type of opportunistic violence that LGBTQI people, human rights defenders and organizations can be subjected to at this time by state and non-state actors,” said said Stern.

Stern told the Blade that activists have also said many transgender and gender-nonconforming Ukrainians have decided to stay in the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription.

“What I have been told is that many trans and gender non-conforming Ukrainians are sheltering in place, and even in some cases staying in places where they are at risk of being attacked by missiles and guns. bombs and certainly in danger just because they ‘fear they have no way to be exempted from military conscription,’ she said.

Stern cited the case of a trans man who tried to leave Ukraine and “in an effort to prove who he was who he claimed to be, he was actually forced to take off his shirt and show his chest” at the border.

“Unfortunately, this is not the only humiliating and potentially violent incident that I hear about,” she said.

Stern expressed concern about the safety of homosexuals enlisted in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Stern also noted that “all women are at risk in times of war and conflict”.

“There is absolutely concern for the safety and well-being of lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex women,” she said.

The challenges for LGBTQ Ukrainians ‘will be enormous’

Stern told the Blade that the State Department “is working to provide as much support as possible to all Ukrainians who wish to leave the country.”

She noted that many LGBTQ activists in Ukraine she spoke to immediately after the invasion began said they did not want to leave. Stern acknowledged that some of them have now fled the country.

“The invasion just got so violent that even the most committed militants we both know had to change their strategy,” Stern said. “So whenever I hear of an individual or group who is at risk and wants to leave, we do everything we can to help get them the support they need.”

“Most people don’t become refugees,” she added. “You know, most people can’t leave…the global community should do everything in its power to uphold human rights and provide support for Ukrainian refugees.”

Shortly after taking office, President Biden released a memorandum committing the United States to promote LGBTQ rights around the world.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised last November that his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after meeting Biden at the White House.

Letters that the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucuses and Ukraine sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the eve of the invasion noted that Ukraine in recent years “has made great strides in ensuring the equality for LGBTQ people within its borders and is a regional leader for LGBTQ rights”. These advances include a ban on discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity and efforts to protect pride parades.

Stern reiterated that the challenges for LGBTQ people in Ukraine “will be enormous” as the conflict drags on.

“In all wars and conflicts, anyone who was vulnerable and vulnerable before the conflict remains at increased risk and becomes even more at risk,” she said. “Where people have access to guns and where LGBTQI people are not safe. In a context where the rule of law is weak, LGBTQI people are in danger, as the Nash Mir case immediately showed us.

“I am very concerned that discrimination and violence is increasing for LGBTQI people in Ukraine,” Stern added. “I am extremely concerned that the Russian government’s record on these issues is a harbinger of danger for LGBTQI Ukrainians in Russian-occupied parts of the country.”