June is recognized worldwide as LGBT Pride Month, and therefore is the time of year filled with gay pride parades around the world. Since the first gay pride parade in New York City on June 28, 1970, it has become common practice for streets and public spaces to be flooded by these celebrations of LGBT identity, growing into a global phenomenon. While these events may seem routine to Western liberal sensibilities, these marches take on a more serious role in countries hostile towards gay rights, exemplified this past weekend by the outcomes of Pride marches in Ukraine and Georgia.
Ukraine has historically been a country divided on the topic LGBT rights. A December survey of 1,998 Ukrainians conducted by Democratic Initiatives found 47% of respondents in favor of limiting the rights of sexual minorities, while 37.5% were against such restrictions. This division has culminated in violence in the past, as a 18 November 2018 transgender rights march in Kiev was interrupted by far-right protestors who “lit smoke bombs and threw them into the crowd,” and attacked marchers with pepper spray. In light of the fraught national history surrounding LGBT marches, it is somewhat miraculous that this past Sunday [23rd June] marked the country’s largest and most peaceful gay pride parade ever, with over 8,000 people marching in Kiev. Alongside the Pride march were a few hundred protestors, but the heavy police presence at the event ensured the safety of all parties and a parade free of violence.
The success of Ukraine was not the case in every corner of the globe, however, as is made clear by the postponement of Georgia’s first ever pride parade. From its inception, the plan to march through the streets of Tbilisi was met with massive backlash, as the far-right political parties such as the Georgian March promised to disrupt any gay pride demonstrations, and influential Georgian businessman Levan Vasadze called the parade “a clear and present danger.” Ultimately, co-founder Giorgi Tabagari announced on Twitter that the parade was postponed amidst the instability stemming from protests against Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov, who spoke at the Georgian Parliament last Thursday. Tabagari states Tbilisi Pride “will march once [the] situation calms down,” but it is unclear if the parade will ever be able to mobilize in the face of sociopolitical pressures.
The key factor in the varying degrees of success between the two Pride marches appears to the level of governmental support each was offered. In Kiev, Ukrainian politicians and foreign diplomats were seen side-by-side LGBT marchers, and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appears supportive of the furthering of gay rights. On the morning of the parade, Zelenskiy’s office posted to a Facebook a message reading “Ukraine’s Constitution states that citizens have equal constitutional rights and freedoms.” This level of political support is glaringly absent in Georgia, where the highly influential Georgian Orthodox Church remains strongly opposed to gay rights. This opposition was notoriously made visible in 2013, when “ultraconservatives armed with clubs and other weapons” gathered in the streets to attack demonstrators at an anti-homophobia rally. Little progress has been made in Georgia since the 2013 incident, and Georgian government’s inaction with regards to gay rights is only more glaring when juxtaposed with the attitude of the Ukrainian government.
Both Ukraine and Georgia are ex-Soviet countries who border noted opponent of LGBT rights in Russia, and the effects of this stance are reflected in the political opinions of the large nation’s neighbors. As Pride season draws to a close—Pride in London’s parade is scheduled for 6 July—it is prudent to consider the diversity of these parades in areas of different attitudes toward LGBT rights. In some countries, Pride marches are met with such opposition that they find it impossible to convene, such as Georgia; in others,such as Ukraine, they are small victories by LGBT supporters who still perceive much work to be done.