An international lesbian conference in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev April 12-14 was met with a barrage of religious and far-right protestors who held up homophobic signs, tried blocking the venue’s entrance, and even launched tear gas canisters.
The event, however, went on as planned.
The European Lesbian Conference (ELC) draws hundreds of women from around the world to focus on global issues facing lesbians and the broader LGBTQ community. The first such conference took place in 2017 in Vienna.
The anti-LGBTQ protestors were most disruptive on the ELC’s first day. As they unsuccessfully tried to block the event from taking place, some waved signs saying, “Homosexuality is a disease” and “Go back to Hell, sodomites.”
Oksana Pokalchuk, who serves as the director of Amnesty Ukraine, tweeted a video she recorded of dozens of protestors outside of the venue. One small sign seen in the video was a crossed-out Rainbow Flag.
During the ELC’s second and third days, the protestors settled down with most of them peacefully assembled outside of the conference. The protesters’ anger could not compete with the upbeat mood inside the venue, where posts on the ELC’s Twitter page reflected a successful — and historic — gathering of LGBTQ folks in a region better known for its intolerance than acceptance, even with slightly more progressive attitudes in major cities like Kiev.
Pokalchuk tweeted, “Together we stood up to hate and made history. No words can describe how much important this event was for #Ukraine and the community.”
Evgenia Giakoumopoulou, a human trafficking attorney and an ELC board member, said protestors were “afraid of those big bad dykes and they were right to be because lesbians are here to smash patriarchy.”
Olena Shevchenko, who is the leader of a Ukrainian LGBTQ group known as Insight, told Reuters that police blocked protestors from breaking into the event, an improvement over official indifference and even hostility at similar gatherings in Kiev in recent months.
A transgender rights demonstration in that city in November, which was legally authorized, was similarly interrupted by far-right and religious groups, forcing the activists to take their rally elsewhere. Those activists blasted police for shoving them, yelling slurs, and swearing at them, according to RadioFreeEurope.