By Michael K. Lavers, Washing Blade
A Biden administration official on Friday said the U.S. has “engaged directly” with LGBTQ Ukrainians and other groups that Russia may target if it gains control of their country.
“We have engaged directly with these populations to direct them to programs that offer emergency assistance to address relocation, medical expenses or other unexpected costs,” the official told the Washington Blade. “And we have engaged with allies and partners to try to ensure that those who must flee Ukraine have somewhere to go.”
The official noted that “based on Russia’s past behavior, it is reasonable to expect that Russia’s authorities would target those who oppose or are perceived to oppose the Russian government’s actions or policies, and/or belong to groups of persons targeted for repression inside Russia. The aforementioned would include leading Ukrainian officials, Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, independent journalists, anti-corruption activists, vulnerable populations such as members of some religious and ethnic groups, and LGBTQI+ persons.”
“We are also concerned about the safety of persons with disabilities in any conflict situation,” said the official.
“We have warned and will continue to warn groups in the categories we think could be targeted based on our understanding of Russia’s past behavior and our knowledge of Russia’s plans in order to enable them to protect themselves or move to places where they might be safer,” added the official. “We’ve been warning the Ukrainian government of all that may be coming, as well.”
The official spoke with the Blade less than two days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.
The U.S. earlier this week in a letter to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Russia plans to target LGBTQ Ukrainians and other vulnerable groups the Biden administration official noted to the Blade. A Russian government spokesperson on Tuesday described the claim to the Blade as “propaganda.”
The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality and Ukraine Caucuses in a letter they sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said they are “particularly concerned for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Ukrainians and other marginalized groups in Ukraine.”
“There is an impending humanitarian emergency in Ukraine and Ukraine’s partners — including the U.S. — must take action to protect Ukrainian lives, with a particular focus on minority communities,” reads the letter. “LGBTQ Ukrainians as well as Ukrainians with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalized groups face greater hurdles in seeking safety as a Russian incursion into Ukraine begins.”
“We must safeguard the rights of marginalized people in Ukraine and ensure they are protected as this crisis unfolds,” it adds.
The letter notes Ukraine in recent years “has made great strides towards securing equality for LGBTQ people within its borders and is a regional leader in LGBTQ rights.” These advances include a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and efforts to protect Pride parades.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last November pledged his country would continue to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination after he met with President Biden at the White House.
“LGBTQ civil society in Ukraine is robust and visible with numerous LGBTQ groups officially registered as non-governmental entities,” reads the letter to Blinken. “While there is still work to do, these advancements stand in stark contrast to Russia’s positions on LGBTQ equality. Increased Russian government influence on the lives of Ukrainians is likely to be incredibly harmful to the rights of LGBTQ people in Ukraine.”
The State Department has not responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the letter.
LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker on Thursday echoed calls for the U.S. to protect LGBTQ Ukrainian activists and other vulnerable groups.
“We call on the United States and our allies to ensure the unique vulnerabilities of Ukrainian LGBTQ leaders and civil society are part of all diplomatic talks and negotiations. Their safety must be paramount,” said Parker in a statement. “The future of Ukrainian democracy depends on it.”
The Global Equality Caucus, a group of LGBTQ elected officials from around the world that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, share Parker’s concerns.
“We are concerned that Russia’s subversion of Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty has put human rights defenders in the country at immediate risk,” said the group on Friday in a statement. “We call on governments worldwide to recognize the humanitarian impact of this invasion and to take necessary action to ensure any Ukrainian at risk of persecution can be guaranteed safety elsewhere.”
A Wider Bridge and more than a dozen other LGBTQ Jewish organizations in the U.S. and around the world on Friday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and expressed their “solidarity with the people of Ukraine.” The groups, along with the Global Equality Caucus and the Victory Institute, are also concerned for LGBTQ Ukrainians and other groups, including Jewish Ukrainians, inside Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian Jewish and LGBTQ communities face particularly acute vulnerabilities,” reads the groups’ statement. “They have historically been marginalized and continue to face ongoing discrimination. We are deeply concerned that LGBTQ people overall and LGBTQ Jews, in particular, will be subject to scapegoating in what may become a vast humanitarian crisis.”