Wed, Jan 03, 2018 - Page 13 News List

A rainbow safe house

Shunned and homeless LGBT Ukrainians find shelter in Kiev as homophobic attitudes remain widespread

By Umberto Bacchi  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, Kiev

She had started undergoing hormone treatment two years earlier after another weapon — a hunting rifle she held against her head — misfired in a failed suicide attempt. Until then she had kept her sexuality quiet, fearing the wrath of her family.

“I was born with all the right organs, two legs, two feet but ... not in the right body,” she said. “To live life as some else is very difficult.”

Oksana, who preferred not to use her full name, spent just over a month at the Insight shelter in Kiev, long enough to find work at a law firm, and has since founded an advocacy group for transgender rights called T-ema.

GAY PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

But life in Kiev can also be difficult.

Kalashnyk said he sometimes suffers verbal abuse and always carries pepper spray to fight off potential assailants.

In 2015 several dozen protesters attacked a gay pride march, throwing flares and clashing with police.

In June of last year, the same event went ahead largely without incident under heavy security following threats from ultra-nationalist groups supporting what they say are traditional Ukrainian values.

Pavel, who works in the pharmaceutical sector, decided against attending the rally in case colleagues recognized him.

“It could have been the end of my career,” he said.

Some supporters of LGBT rights see progress in Ukraine as symptomatic of the country’s closer integration with the European Union and rejecting its ties with neighboring Russia.

But change is happening too slowly for Kalashnyk.

“I don’t see how I can realize myself here. I don’t see my future in Ukraine,” he said.

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