As immigration lawyers, we know that global conflict affects immigration law and policy. I wanted to take a closer look at what is going on in and around Ukraine as it affects LGBT individuals since persecution and fear may drive people out of that region and toward asylum in the U.S.

Amidst the turmoil in Ukraine, the general view has arisen that it is a clash between social and political ideals: that of Russian or the European Union (EU).  However, even though the current government in Kiev is moving towards a westernized system, it is important to note that the majority of Ukrainian society holds far less welcoming views than Western Europe on LGBT issues.  A poll in 2013 showed that 80% of Ukrainians held negative attitudes towards homosexuality.  Recently, according to Ukraine’s Justice Minister, in negotiations between the EU and Ukraine, the EU dropped a demand requiring the inclusion of sexual orientation in an anti-discrimination bill in order for Ukraine to receive a visa liberalization package, which would strengthen ties between Ukraine and the EU.

In the human rights country report on Ukraine for 2013, the U.S. Department of State reported that there were complaints of widespread societal intolerance for LGBT persons.  The report also noted many incidents of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity – including a high number involving violence or the threat of violence.  It also included a number of reports of harassment carried out by law enforcement officials as well as instances of failure to investigate or take action in hate crimes.

In a recent article – “The Closeted Revolution: Kiev’s Gays Keep Quiet to Deny Putin a Propaganda Win” – the author discusses the effect of the recent events in Ukraine on LGBT activists.  He writes that LGBT activists have toned down their activities recently in order to avoid giving Putin propaganda material to use in swaying Ukrainian support away from the EU and towards Russia.  This fear exists because of the still very real homophobic views that many Ukrainians hold.  While these LGBT activists are very much in favor of getting closer to the EU because of the possible benefits, they realize that to say so openly would likely sway favor towards joining Putin’s increasingly homophobic Russia.

While they may have quieted to hopefully influence a pro-EU result in this conflict, the rest of the world should not forget that there is still much work to be done in Ukrainian society in raising awareness of LGBT rights and issues.  Much of Ukraine is still homophobic and closer relations to the EU will not change that overnight.  Given the great amount of turmoil in the country, it is hard to predict what may happen in Ukraine in the future.  However, even if a more liberal government remains in control and moves Ukraine closer in relations to the EU, it will likely be years before significant change occurs in regards to LGBT rights and attitudes.  Thus the plight of LGBT asylum seekers from Ukraine continues!

Written by Ally Bolour, Member, AILA Media-Advocacy Committee