Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych has sparked a nationwide row over LGBTQ+ rights after saying queer people “are deviant”.
KyivPride tweeted a recording in which Arestovychis is heard saying that “LGBT people are people with disabilities”, and that he “doesn’t believe in propaganda”, dated 19 June, 2022.
The LGBTQ+ non-profit called on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to remove Arestovych from his position, saying that “such rhetoric from authorities is unacceptable” in light of Ukraine’s bid to join the EU.
EU leaders are set to grant Ukraine candidate status on Friday (23 June), the first step towards membership of the bloc.
Arestovych responded to KyivPride on his Facebook page with a picture of him in drag during his career as an actor, saying: “The LGBT community is outraged and talking about my resignation. But look at this photo and you’ll understand who should be truly outraged.”
“I think I’m being persecuted, no? I demand tolerance,” he continued.
Arestovych is a military adviser to Zelenskyy. Like the president, he moved from acting to politics, and is something of a national treasure.
In an interview with The Economist, he was described as a “sex symbol” and a “national antidepressant”.
His words have seemed to hit a sore spot for Ukraine, which has long grappled with anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and violence.
Zelenskyy was elected after a campaign based on liberal values, but was later criticised for failing to advance LGBTQ+ rights quickly enough.
Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman inUkraine’s constitution, and a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that just 24 per cent of Ukrainians support same-sex marriage.
The Istanbul Convention bill – which aims to combat violence against women – passed by parliament on June 20 has sparked mass debate among Ukrainians on social media, with some suggesting it acts as a “back door” for same-sex marriage.
According to The Spectator, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has said that pro-LGBTQ+ individuals are “acting under the guise of combating domestic violence to introduce into Ukrainian legislation the ideological and medical concepts of ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as legal terms.”
Zelensky’s signing of the Istanbul Convention bill came with several restrictions to minimise conservative opposition, including an amendment that “Ukraine does not consider any of the provisions of the Convention to oblige it to amend the Constitution of Ukraine and the Family Code of Ukraine,” which states the definition of marriage as “union of a woman and a man.”
Same-sex couples cannot inherit property through their partner or even visit each other in medical institutions. They also cannot share parental rights or adopt. Trans people can gain legal gender recognition, but the process is heavily gate-kept.