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Eurovision: It's Not 'Gay Christmas' For LGBT+ Ukrainians

12/05/2017 16:27
arinahabich via Getty Images

Three years ago, just as Conchita Wurst was about to claim the Eurovision Song Contest crown in Vienna, The Guardian nicknamed it 'gay Christmas'. An internet search finds thousands of results that tell you about the 'high camp', 'fabulous festivities', and the huge worldwide LGBT+ audience.

And the vast majority of the coverage of this year's Contest is no different. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was taking place in Gran Canaria, Sitges, Mykonos or even the magical land of Oz, rather than in the Ukraine, a country with a deeply rooted phobia of LGBT+ people.

Two summers ago, one of the lead organiser of Kiev Pride Zoryan Kis was attacked with pepper spray as he sat on a bench in the capital with his partner. Earlier this month, a lesbian couple were attacked and one was beaten to the ground by a group of men. The painting of a solidarity rainbow onto a 35-metre arch - specially constructed for Eurovision - has been halted by the city authorities when a right wing ultranationalist group demonstrated against it. A senior figure in the Orthodox Church told AFP news agency that the arch would 'spread sin everywhere'.

Despite this, the organisers of Kiev Pride have been upbeat in recent weeks and are welcoming LGBT+ people to their city. Last night they quoted a tweet that insisted Kiev is 'still a safe, fun destination'. They clearly want to show authorities that LGBT+ visitors - like all visitors - bring spending power and are valuable to an economy that's trying to increase tourism and visitor numbers.

And they are keen to use Eurovision and the arrival of thousands of LGBT+ people in their city as an opportunity to raise awareness and fundraise for their annual event which takes place next month. They're crowdfunding to try and raise $10,000 toward the costs of Kiev Pride, but in eight days have reached only 16% of their target. Imagine - just imagine - how much they'd raise if every LGBT+ person in Kiev this weekend donated the price of one drink.

And it's fair to say that things are improving for LGBT+ people in the country - albeit slowly and often thought to be part of Ukraine's desire to join the European Union, which has a number of key LGBT+ equality measures as conditions of membership.

Eighteen months ago, the government made it illegal to fire someone for their sexuality. Police protected last year's Kiev Pride from violent protestors. Civil partnerships for same sex couples are included in a national human rights strategy, though there is no mention of marriage. Lesbian couples have some opportunities to become parents, though adoption is only available to married couples. And a year ago the government announced that men who have sex with men would be allowed to give blood, a move ahead of our own governments in the UK.

But there remains a huge distance to travel for LGBT+ equality in the Ukraine. As Zoryan Kis told Euractiv, whilst most Ukrainians would react 'normally' to LGBT+ couples showing affection in Kiev this weekend, "there is always a risk that you will come across a far-right teenager". Even in diplomatic circles, things can get complicated: the UK's brilliant Ambassador to Ukraine, Judith Gough, is in a same-sex relationship and told Buzzfeed last year that introducing her prtner often leads to 'double takes'.

Kis' advice on public displays of affection is unsurprising given issues in the wider region. As Ukrainians know only too well, the Russian border is long and dangerous and Chechnya, where gay men are being imprisoned and tortured right now, is not far away. People in other neighbouring countries - including Belarus and Moldova - face similar challenges to those in Ukraine.

We'll see a sanitised Kiev on our screens this weekend, with Eurovision taking place in a huge arena with a massive security operation that will show you nothing of the reality of the situation outside. There will certainly be 'high camp', and it might well be 'gay Christmas', but only inside the arena.

If you're having a Eurovision party at home this weekend, or if your local pub's having a Brotherhood of Man or Bucks Fizz revival, please rattle a bucket for Kiev Pride. Because when the attention has moved elsewhere next week, they still need help to make their event happen - and keep pushing for progress for LGBT+ people in the Ukraine.

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