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Ukraine's Homophobia is a Problem On and Off the Football Pitch

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There's been much talk of racism on the Euro 2012 terraces. Homophobic chants and attacks have marred the tournament. But as most of Europe has its eyes on the field, the gay population of Ukraine have their eyes on parliament. There, two proposed bills threaten to change the game for gay rights activists in a decisive way.

In 1991 Ukraine became the first post-Soviet nation to make same homosexuality legal, with an equal age of consent for all. (In this respect it was ahead of Britain, where the age of consent was not equalised until 2001.) But this is where equality for gay people in Ukraine ends. There are no laws there to protect gay people from discrimination, and legal recognition of same sex partnerships is non-existent. In 2012, the organisers of gay pride in Ukraine were forced to cancel the event to avoid attacks from violent anti-gay groups. Three of the gay pride organisers were attacked and hospitalised.

This violence, and Ukraine's apparent lack of commitment to human rights for its gay population, has attracted EU attention. On 24 May the EU called on the Ukraine to enforce rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression without discrimination. Ongoing EU-Ukraine dialogue represents the early steps of Ukraine's journey towards EU membership, the number one priority of Ukraine's President Victor Yanukovych.

Given Yanukovych's personal and political commitment to EU candidacy, it would be reasonable to expect a robust response from his authorities. It might even be reasonable to expect him to be focused on protecting sexual minorities in law. Instead two bills are currently before the parliament which threaten to push Ukraine's gay population back into an iron closet - and President Yanukovych has not spoken up in opposition.

The first bill, proposed by six MPs (including some from the president's own party) would make it illegal to produce or publish any material promoting homosexuality. The second bill provides a list of outlawed activities include parades, meetings and school lessons which offer a positive view on homosexuality. According to the explanatory note the law is designed to protect public order and morality. It claims homosexuality is a threat to national security because "it leads to epidemic levels of AIDS/HIV, destroys the institution of the family and can cause a demographic crisis."

If the bills become law, negative voices about same sex relationships will be the only ones heard in public. Homophobic football chants will become one of the few ways in which children learn about gay people.

Hopefully our government can share some history lessons with Ukrainian politicians as a part of the EU's human rights dialogue. In Britain a similar law to that proposed in Ukraine, Section 28, left a generation growing up in a vacuum of information about sexual orientation. Until it was repealed in 2003, Section 28 curbed discussion about sexual orientation, leaving schools unable to protect children from homophobic bullying in the playground. And at a time when HIV and Aids cut thousands of young men down in their prime, Section 28 made it harder for those most at risk to receive information to help them make informed choices.

The proposed Ukrainian laws go much further than the malicious Section 28. If they are passed, many more negative outcomes will need to be added to the above list - not least a politically and economically difficult between Ukraine and the EU. This is a relationship the people of Ukraine can ill afford. It's fitting that Stonewall, which was set up to fight Section 28 in Britain, today stands with Ukraine's fledgling gay equality campaigners to support their fight against discrimination.

Nobody knows who will win Euro 2012. Nobody knows if Ukraine's legislature will pass the bills into law. But history does tell us that nobody will really win if they do.

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