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Coined in the United States during the 1970s, the term “homophobia” signifies the adverse emotions and actions targeted at individuals with a homosexual orientation. Distinct from other phobias, it pertains to societal and value-based fears rather than biological ones. This category of phobia encompasses prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). We present to you an analysis of homophobia within the Ukrainian segment of social media, manifesting as a form of disinformation directed at LGBTQIA+ individuals, namely lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer, intersexual, and asexual people.
Over recent decades, Ukrainian society’s stance on LGBTQIA+ individuals has demonstrated considerable variation. However, the last few years have witnessed a declining trend in societal homophobia. According to the latest statistics from the LGBT human rights center Nash Svit, the age group of 18-29 is markedly more tolerant towards LGBTQIA+ individuals. This trend is uniformly observed across various regions of Ukraine. When considering different professions, university and school students, followed by military and police personnel, exhibit the highest levels of tolerance towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Conversely, the elderly exhibit the least tolerance.
As reported by Time, Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ activist Olena Shevchenko, the founder of the Women’s March and leader of the Insight NGO, has been recognized as one of the 12 global leaders actively championing human rights. This acknowledgment further corroborates Ukraine’s solidarity with the global community in this endeavor. The discourse surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights has intensified in Ukraine, especially in light of the full-scale invasion, fueling a spike in discussions about civil partnerships in the past eighteen months. Initially, this surge can be attributed to a burgeoning aspiration to align more with European values than with Russian ones. Secondly, the practical implications of discrimination have become glaringly apparent in scenarios such as the registration of a partner’s inheritance, availing state benefits in cases of illness or death of a partner, and access to intensive care during hospitalizations, among others. Thirdly, the proponents of the bill concerning civil partnerships, particularly for same-sex couples, cited the urgency for acknowledgment amidst the ongoing war. As emphasized in a petition to the President last June, “In these times, any day could potentially be the last. Allow same-sex couples the opportunity to establish a family, and have an official document to confirm this.”
Until relatively recent times, a “strategy of compromise” or “strategy of invisibility” predominated in Ukrainian society, with the presumption that downplaying LGBTQIA+ inequality would render them less significant. Concurrently, the rise of homophobic organizations, especially those rooted in religious and family-conservative ideologies, became apparent. In 2007, during Yushchenko’s presidency, Ukrainian churches issued a declaration condemning homosexuality and opposing the legalization of so-called same-sex unions. This negative sentiment escalated during Yanukovych’s presidency, characterized by a surge in homophobic legislative initiatives. Although the inaugural KyivPride planned for 2012 was abandoned due to extremist threats, it eventually materialized in 2013 in Kyiv, graced by international attendees, evolving into an annual event.
In the past, several politicians unabashedly expressed homophobic views: Hennadiy Moskal derided pride marches, while Oleksandr Vilkul advocated for penalizing individuals promoting same-sex marriage, and Ihor Mosiychuk pledged to shield children from “gay influences”. Vadym Rabinovych mocked pride events as markers of European integration, sarcastically labeling them the pinnacle of the Revolution of Dignity, whereas Oleksandr Turchynov expressed deep apprehensions regarding the gender self-determination of Ukrainian youth, afraid of hearing “I am not your son, I am a polymorphic gender fluid”. Today, such inflammatory rhetoric is seldom voiced by high-ranking officials, confined more to lower-tier public figures.
Furthermore, we are witnessing favorable shifts both in discourse and in concrete actions. In June 2022, Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention, a development not directly linked to LGBTQIA+ rights but nonetheless agitating the conservative factions due to its inclusion of the terms “gender identity” and “sexual orientation”. Additionally, the Verkhovna Rada has introduced the aforementioned draft bill No. 9103 concerning registered civil partnerships. Although the bill doesn’t address several vital matters, its potential passage signifies substantial advancement toward equal rights. The ongoing public debate, coupled with endorsements from the nation’s top officials, signifies a promising initial step forward.
While the incidence of SOGI-related assaults has diminished during the full-scale invasion (with 105 instances recorded in 2022 as compared to 141 in 2021), human rights organizations continue to document homophobic attacks, including physical assaults on LGBTQIA+ activists and attacks on the offices of Nash Svit LGBT Center and the Insight NGO. The full-scale war has heightened the visibility of the LGBTQIA+ community, partly due to an increasing number of openly LGBTQIA+ individuals serving in the military. As per LGBT Military’s calculations, between 2% and 7% of the Ukrainian Defense Forces’ personnel are from the LGBTQIA+ community. Despite this, around 25% of Ukrainians maintain a negative perspective towards them.
Certain ultra-right organizations, which perceive themselves as protectors against the “degeneration” of the Ukrainian nation, dismiss the push for equal rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals as a fight for “genderfluid Mexican jerboas”. There are also groups that denounce the presence of LGBTQIA members in the Armed Forces as “the most depraved of all possible influences, instigated by Marxist villains”. Counteracting these statements, Ukrainian LGBTQIA+ military networks assert that such narratives align with Russian propaganda and bear significant resemblance to it.
Apart from far-right radicals, another discernible group spreading disinformation against LGBTQIA+ people in Ukraine consists of religiously conservative factions. These groups oppose the assimilation of “alien values”, asserting that the acceptance of homonormativity will provoke divine abandonment of Ukraine, akin to the biblical fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Essentially, both conservative and right-wing factions in Ukraine criticize the outright leaning towards “Western” ideologies concerning “sexual policies” or draw upon the perspectives of Western conservatives and homophobes. Furthermore, a pro-Russian faction propagates disinformation against the LGBTQIA community, leveraging manipulative narratives suggesting that Ukraine is embracing alien values and that Ukrainian soldiers are not actually fighting for independence but are sacrificing themselves for the “gay rights” championed by Western nations. Homophobia emerges as a central theme in Russian propaganda, utilized to a large extent to justify the aggression against Ukraine.
For instance, Putin characterized the full-scale invasion as a protective measure safeguarding traditional norms from Western influences that “contradict human nature”. Given that propagandists label homosexuality as immoral and objectionable, they employ various derogatory terms equating their enemies, including the Ukrainian Defense Forces, Ukraine’s allies, and the general Ukrainian populace, with homosexual individuals, in an attempt to demean them. This type of Russian propaganda scarcely employs logical arguments, primarily aiming to evoke revulsion. It posits homosexuality as a deviation, something to be vehemently avoided by the mainstream populace. This type of propaganda operates on the recipient’s predisposition to accept these suggestions passively. The explicit derogatory language, which harbors discriminatory undertones, finds resonance with Ukrainian profanities, with social media users frequently employing offensive terms when referring to the LGBTQIA+ community. Notably, pro-Russian users, besides using theme-based expletives, frequently invoke the term “sodomites”, drawing upon biblical narratives and Christian morals, implying a need to “desatanize” Ukrainians.
While utilizing offensive terminology to denote sexual minorities, users from the Ukrainian segment of social networks often claim their usage is “not meant to be derogatory”, a justification that holds no water, especially when employing terms like “f****t UAV” to indicate “hostile”. This concerted effort of disinformation from both Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups amplifies the existing homophobic environment, a stigma that progressive communities have largely outgrown.
In November 2022, Detector Media examined how Russian propaganda exploits issues concerning the LGBTQIA+ community and the ways it escalates homophobia in society. At that time, the propaganda was spreading messages that depicted LGBTQIA+ individuals as abnormal, framed Europe as diseased, and asserted that Russia was battling against NATO and the alleged homo-dictatorship in Ukraine, among other narratives. Since that period, numerous significant developments have occurred, substantially impacting the disinformation surrounding the topic of our study: the dialogue about equality and the pressing needs of the LGBTQIA+ community have garnered heightened relevance, and the introduction of bill No. 9103 “On the Institute of Registered Partnerships” has taken place. Furthermore, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed a petition advocating for “registered civil partnerships for same-sex and different-sex couples”, and both Ukrainian brands and governmental bodies participated in awareness-raising events demonstrating solidarity during Pride Month, among other activities. The influence of these occurrences on the informational discourse is elucidated in our latest research on this subject.
The research group at the Detector Media Research Center scrutinized approximately 33,200 posts from Facebook, YouTube, Telegram, and X (previously known as Twitter) from March 23, 2023, to July 23, 2023. This extensive analysis aimed to discern predominant trends in homophobic commentary on social media, delineate its principal propagators and gauge its systematic nature. Further details on the methodology for data gathering and analysis can be found here.
The Ukrainian segment refers to posts by profiles, pages, groups and channels that are based in Ukraine, or have indicated their location as Ukraine, or that have been identified by data providers as Ukrainian. Pro-Russian social media users are defined as those accounts or communities that regularly spread Russian propaganda or disseminate an agenda favorable to Russia in a disguised manner.
To prevent the further spread of propaganda, we strictly limit quoting and mentioning primary sources, doing so only when absolutely imperative. All Russian publications have been translated into Ukrainian.
On Facebook, the dominant biases leaned towards family-conservative beliefs. Some posts in this network argued against Ukraine blindly adopting all reform directives imposed by the European Union, particularly concerning values, identity, and morality, fearing it might dismantle traditional social roles. We observed numerous instances where draft law No. 9103 concerning registered (civil) partnerships faced criticism. While we did encounter a proportion of right-wing conservative comments, a majority of such messages predominantly emanated from Telegram. The disinformation circulated via Telegram often undermined the role of the LGBTQIA+ community in national defense, diminished the community’s voice in the civil society realm, and equated the perceived “threats” from homosexual individuals to the ongoing Russian aggression, among other narratives.
A significant concentration of pro-Russian users was identified within Telegram channels, propounding narratives around the reign of a “homo-dictatorship,” the clash between hetero- and homo-civilizations, and the alleged “incongruence” between the values of Eastern European communities (like Ukrainians and Poles) and the “liberalism” witnessed in Western Europe. They also likened the battle for Ukraine to a fight for “gay rights” in Western nations. On X (previously known as Twitter), a substantial number of posts highlighted the backing of Pride Month by entrepreneurs and various Ukrainian enterprises. Interestingly, in this segment, researchers noted a minimum incidence of posts exhibiting xenophobia towards LGBTQIA+ individuals, a phenomenon attributed to the inherent characteristics of the network.
“The Decaying West”
In Russian propaganda, the discourse surrounding LGBTQIA+ individuals occupies, somewhat surprisingly, a central position. Within the diverse amalgamation of ideas that constitutes the ideology of Putin’s Russia, the battle against “Western indoctrinated homo- and trans-values” is a recurrent theme. The perceived peril of the “gay civilization” undermining “traditional values” is frequently cited in the narratives propagated by spokespersons, including Putin himself, as a primary justification for fighting the West. Undoubtedly, since the onset of the full-scale invasion, Ukraine has morphed into a ground zero for Russian propaganda, which not only opposes the “collective West” but also vehemently attacks the “satanic destructive LGBT ideology.” This purported ideology has reportedly permeated the United States, Europe, and Ukraine and is allegedly extending its influence to Russia through its “Soros agents”. For further insight into how propagandists vilify George Soros and who they label as “Sorosites”, please follow this link. To summarize succinctly, the narrative spun by Russian propaganda regarding LGBTQIA+ individuals posits that “the West is fostering an LGBT agenda, seeks to remove children from their familial homes to alter their gender and entrust them to pedophiles, is dismantling the traditional foundations of family and society, and in the wake of this ensuing chaos and Satanism proliferating globally, the apocalypse is imminent.”
Russia as the Protector of “Traditional Values”
Examining this narrative more closely, it is apparent that Russia endeavors to establish itself as a stronghold of “traditional values”, a conservative nucleus rallying against the perceived onslaught from the “globalists”. This portrayal is not merely directed at its internal audience but is also disseminated internationally, with the intention to garner backing from conservative factions and assorted right-wing groups amidst the “LGBT-focused” West. For instance, in a widely circulated propaganda video from 2022, which encouraged foreigners to relocate to Russia, the allure of “traditional values” was prominently featured, alongside other purported attractions such as cheap gas, vodka, and attractive women.
However, a pertinent question arises — are familial values genuinely upheld in Russia? The outcome of the “prolonged crusade for family, motherhood, and children”, coupled with the respective “governmental support”, is reflected in the existing statistics. When evaluating metrics such as the number of divorces per 1,000 inhabitants annually, Russia holds a leading position globally, surpassing the United States, EU nations, and Ukraine. Additionally, in terms of the number of abortions (per 1,000 births annually), it ranks third in Europe, trailing only behind Georgia and Bulgaria. In 2019, per official statistics, the number of abortions per 1000 births stood at 351 in Russia, compared to 195 in the United States during the same period. While it is feasible to attribute this to abortion “propaganda” and attempt to prohibit it (similar to the “LGBT propaganda”), the effectiveness of such measures in enhancing the actual circumstances of Russian families remains up for debate. The growth in Russia’s population until 2020 was predominantly driven by migration, experiencing a significant decline post-2020 owing to COVID-induced fatalities and the beginning of the full-scale invasion. Yet, ostensibly, the “deleterious ideological impact on the Russian populace, notably the promotion of non-traditional relationships,” bears the brunt of the responsibility. This phenomenon purportedly “threatens demographics,” as delineated in Putin’s edict titled “On Approval Of The Fundamentals Of Public Policy To Preserve And Strengthen Traditional Russian Spiritual And Moral Values,” dated November 9, 2022.
“The West is Legalizing Pedophilia, and European Trans Individuals are Abducting Ukrainian Children”
Much like other instances, propagandists seldom show concern for the actual circumstances, continually harping on the “atrocities of a homo-dictatorship” prevalent in the West while consistently asserting that, fortunately, such situations are non-existent and will never materialize in Russia. To evoke the maximum emotional reaction from the audience, the propaganda focuses immensely on the perceived threat to children. For instance, they insist that Western countries have initiated the process of legalizing pedophilia, stating, “A couple of years ago, when individuals asserted that nations would commence the legalization of pedophiles following the recognition of trans individuals, they were branded as insane and conspiracy theorists. Now observe. During Pride month, there is a proposition to honor the MAP community, an acronym for Minor Attracted Persons, synonymous with pedophiles. They even have their flag — you can look it up.” The propaganda fails to clarify who proposes this celebration or how the existence of a flag correlates with legalization, yet somehow establishes a connection between Ukraine and pedophilia, alleging that since many Pride attendees are Ukraine supporters, a clear link is discernible, “A significant segment of the global populace can clearly see who backs Ukraine at present.”
The propaganda further asserts that Ukrainian children are presently at risk as European juvenile services are purportedly separating them from their refugee families, alleging, “Europeans will shortly lose the ability to procreate owing to the advent of novel genders and orientations. Now they aim to confiscate children from others.” The propaganda conveniently omits details regarding the number of children affected and the underlying reasons, if any, behind such actions. It is crucial to note that one of the primary responsibilities of these services is to shield children from potential harm, including domestic violence. The propagandists contend that the “European authorities… frequently disrupt families for reasons such as school non-attendance or reluctance to expose children to ‘sexual education’ (LGBT values).” Subsequently, in the propagandists’ narrative, Ukrainian refugee children are handed over to “same-sex couples and pedophiles.” In contrast, the reality is that in Russia, families are being torn apart by institutionalizing children for expressing anti-war sentiments, as witnessed in the case of 13-year-old Masha Moskaleva. Moreover, in the occupied territories, children are forcibly taken to indoctrination centers for “re-education.”
Nevertheless, the Kremlin and its adherents decidedly overlook this issue. Their primary concern revolves around the operations of Western educational foundations, including entities associated with Soros, which were functional in Sevastopol prior to Russia’s illegal occupation. One of the pro-Russian activists in Crimea remarked, “Sex education was being imparted, instructing children on condom usage and familiarizing them with the LGBT community.” This alleged “Western horror” coexisted with other seemingly “dreadful” developments, such as the “promotion of ideas of Ukrainianism” and lax physical education standards for children. The activist asserts that these Western foundations were fostering “a nation of degenerates.”
“The West is Tired of ‘Tolerance’”
According to the agitprop, Russia stands to gain from the West’s fervent endorsement of equality and tolerance principles. This is because, in the viewpoint of propagandists, the “LGBT ideology” is undermining Western societies, diminishing the intellectual and professional caliber of the elites, and rendering developed democracies fragile. Vladimir Kornilov, one of the propagandists, critiques the purported incompetence of British politicians, remarking that “Merely possessing a specific sexual orientation and vilifying Russia... qualifies one to assume a ministerial role in contemporary Britain.” Conversely, other commentators, when discussing the protests in France concerning pension reforms, attribute the demographic crisis in Europe to “the increase in LGBT individuals and escalating drug addiction” and associate the economic downturn with assistance provided to Ukraine. Notably, the narratives fail to elucidate the connection between these aspects and Russia’s own demographic and economic challenges.
Discussion in Western countries surrounding gender and LGBTQIA+ matters, encompassing public speeches, demonstrations, and sporadic confrontations between advocates of varying viewpoints (essentially a normal phenomenon for democratic nations), are perceived in Russia as “indicative of societal fragmentation, chaos, and a harbinger of impending civil conflict.” Such perceptions are hardly unexpected in a nation where any public expression not sanctioned by the regime is viewed as a threat to the authorities, often incurring punitive repercussions (as exemplified by the arrest of war criminal Igor Girkin in Moscow). In this context, Russian propagandists, with a degree of hypocrisy, avidly scrutinize and amplify any instances of “curtailed freedom of speech” in the West, particularly focusing on the apprehension of anti-LGBTQIA+ activists amidst confrontations at protests and counter-protests. The prevailing “cancel culture” evidently raises alarms for the populace of a country where individuals are subjected to extensive prison terms for merely referencing incidents like the Bucha massacre.
“LGBTQIA+ Opposition as a Substitute for Ideology”
As per the narratives of Kremlin officials and propagandists, a concerning element is that the West is not solely attempting to establish “LGBT values” within its borders but is also fervently striving to propagate them in Russia. As previously mentioned, this purportedly represents a “threat” not just to one continent but globally. “The Western world, in its desperate bid to dismantle Russia and assimilate us into the LGBT project, has put almost everything on the line... If the descent into Satanism is unavoidable, it is preferable to embrace martyrdom and ascend to paradise rather than allow these Satanists and fascists to seize Russia and plunge the entire globe into a vortex of cruelty and Satanism,” proclaimed Apti Alaudinov, the leader of the Akhmat special forces and a confidant of Ramzan Kadyrov. One Russian propagandist painted the current global scenario as a clash between two civilizations, asserting, “Our traditional values are under threat. The West seeks to reshape the entire world, molding it in its image... We must resist the gay civilization founded by the West. Failure to do so will result in our complete subjugation.” In defense of the legislation outlawing transgender individuals, Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Russian parliament, remarked, “Adopting laws akin to those in European nations would only leave nothing but Sodom.”
In light of this, some propose leveraging the “battle against LGBT obscurantism” as a viable replacement for ideology and even considering its exportation, “In Russia, one can find refuge from the encroaching darkness of LGBT propaganda and religious persecution... This could present a novel ideological alternative, essentially clinging to traditional norms.” Numerous Russian propagandists contend that this form of “conservatism with Russian characteristics” might garner the backing of politicians and Western individuals disillusioned with the “dominance of LGBT people.” For those in the United States and Europe particularly weary of the “homotrans dictatorship,” the Ark project concept has been floated, wherein individuals would be relocated from their native countries to Russia, termed as the “oasis of common sense.”
Indeed, certain Western politicians resonate with the Kremlin’s ideas, and their statements find favorable coverage in Russian media outlets. For instance, Thierry Baudet, a Dutch right-wing anti-globalist and conspiracy theorist, expressed opposition to, among other issues, “the totalitarian attack on free speech and fundamental human interactions” during one of his addresses. In the same speech, he denounced the Ukrainian conflict, attributing the blame to NATO. In a subsequent discussion, Baudet unequivocally declared himself a “fan of Putin,” lauding Putin’s supposed resistance against the global elite’s schemes and triumphing in the Ukrainian war. Moreover, he referred to it as a “special military operation” (using this exact phrase), which is progressing successfully. Previously, allegations surfaced linking the politician to Russia, specifically with ties to the aforementioned propagandist Vladimir Kornilov, and suspicions of receiving financial assistance from the Kremlin.
Thierry Baudet stands as a manifestation of a Kremlin-linked far-right extremist who aligns with the narratives propounded by Russian propaganda concerning both LGBTQIA+ matters and the situation in Ukraine. Regrettably, he is not a lone figure in this regard. The Russian propagandists have successfully found common ground with the American journalist Tucker Carlson, a known conservative and Donald Trump advocate. In January 2023, Carlson, while on Fox News, hailed the Russian hockey player Ivan Prokhorov as a “hero” for rejecting the donning of a rainbow-hued sweater in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. It would be challenging to pinpoint a single Russian media entity that didn’t broadcast a segment on Carlson’s commentary. This synergy extends to instances when Carlson recurrently voices criticism against the US’s backing of Ukraine, serving as a resource for the Kremlin’s propagandists.
The potency of Russian propaganda should not be underestimated, despite the glaring absurdity inherent in many of its claims. The campaign against “LGBT ideology” has acquired a pivotal role in the Kremlin’s narratives, not merely due to modern Russia’s inability to present a more ideologically contemporary and balanced viewpoint to the global audience or its populace, transcending “conservative primitivism”. In Western countries, an ongoing debate is witnessed between the liberals and conservatives, prominently featuring discussion of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, immigration issues, and climate change as central subjects. Russia is endeavoring to capitalize on these discussions to bolster its image, aiming to persuade Western conservatives to withdraw their support for Ukraine, presenting it as a package deal. Certain individuals, propelled by their domestic political aspirations, might be inclined to entertain such proposals, as evidenced in the cases of Bode and Carlson.
Viewing the Military Through the Lens of Homophobia
The high level of trust in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, coupled with the pronounced sensitivity towards military matters amid an ongoing full-scale war, have intensified debates on social platforms pertaining to LGBTQIA+ issues. The presence of LGBTQIA+ people in the army is being used both in attempts to discredit the army and as a compelling argument to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights. A prominent demarcation is evident between the pro-Russian segment of social media, which is dominated by homophobic rhetoric, and the pro-Ukrainian segment, where there exists a marked clash of viewpoints.
Pro-Russian Social Media Segment
The communication strategy of the Russian agitprop primarily appeals to a homophobic audience spanning both its sympathizers and those siding with Ukraine. This propaganda machine associates the Ukrainian military with “LGBT values,” a tactic designed to galvanize its followers and discourage opponents from believing in their own army.
“Ukrainian Tarases are Fighting for the Gays”
A prevalent method to instill such disillusionment has been to undermine Ukraine’s stated rationale behind its resistance. For instance, it is often claimed, somewhat derisively, that the Ukrainian soldiers are not voluntarily engaged in this war but are being manipulated by their Western backers. This narrative is intertwined with the broader assertion that Ukraine is under Western domination, with statements like, “The West proclaims that the Armed Forces are championing the LGBT revolution. The survivors will have the liberty to enter into same-sex relationships and witness Ukrainian offspring being guided by ‘non-binary individuals’ to navigate a multi-gender society.”
Within these communications, Ukrainian soldiers are typically designated as “Taras,” [a common Ukrainian name] analogous to how pro-Ukrainian users label Russian soldiers as “Ivans.” “A fresh clip applauding the LGBT members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces... Taras is sacrificing himself for this cause,” remarks one of the anonymous outlets. This rhetoric sketches an undesirable future, seen through a homophobic lens, for the Ukrainian military personnel should Ukraine triumph, with predictions like, “The valiant Cossack Taras will eventually witness his son opting for gender transition.”
Occasionally, fakes are propagated to bolster these narratives. For instance, the misinformation that Kyiv has sanctioned same-sex marriages circulates widely, with comments such as, “Ukraine is now mandated to legitimize same-sex unions; congratulations, Ukrainians, you have won, here is your first reward from the West.” This kind of misleading gloating is also employed to counterbalance the adverse media portrayal of Russia. For instance, responding to the unexpected comeback of Mariupol’s defenders from Turkey, the Russian propaganda machine stated, “The leader of the anti-fascist Azov regiment, Denys Prokopenko, affirmed during a meeting with the k*ke Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv, that the returning anti-fascists would continue to fight for LGBT parades.” The audience’s negative attitude towards the LGBTQIA+ groups has been leveraged to criticize Ukraine’s course towards EU and NATO, “Ukrainians are unlikely to become part of NATO or the European Union, but gaining entry into the LGBT dumpster seems feasible without any wait. This further raises the question of why Ukrainians give their lives on the frontline for such lofty ideals.”
“Denazification Means De-LGBTization”
For its supporters, Russian propaganda amplifies the rationale behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, asserting the necessity to counteract the perceived LGBT offensive, “The matter of the gay population could be partially addressed through military actions as long as the war in Ukraine persists. Otherwise, the entire Eastern European Slavic population will slowly morph into LGBT orcs.” Similarly, Putin’s expressed objectives for the so-called special military operation are made clearer, “In the realm of Ukro-Nazism, gender identities are so blurred that denazification means de-LGBTization as well.” Concurrently, Russian propaganda proudly claims the purported partial achievement of its objectives, “Russian missiles, akin to divine fire raining from the sky, have expelled the most proactive and cowardly f*****s from Kyiv, which has morphed into a modern Sodom.”
This narrative fosters a dichotomy between Moscow’s purportedly virtuous intentions in the war and Kyiv’s disgraceful objectives, “Truthfully, Russia is battling for freedom, while Ukrainians are fighting for the right to be gay.”
“Elite Gay Battalion”
A cruder strategy to disparage the Ukrainian Armed Forces within the pro-Russian segment of social media involves blatantly accusing the army of harboring a significant gay presence, a claim that offends a homophobic audience. The narrative of defending the “Russian world” from the antagonistic Western “gay world” stands as a central theme in contemporary Russian propaganda. Hence, highlighting the alleged significant presence of the LGBTQIA+ community within the enemy ranks is essential for Russian agitprop. These kinds of exaggerations occur constantly across various contexts. For instance, the Ukrainian army has been accused of recruiting soldiers from gay clubs. There have also been numerous claims about the establishment of LGBTQIA+ units termed “elite” and purportedly deployed at critical sectors of the frontline, “The Ukrainian Armed Forces have stationed an elite LGBT battalion at the frontline in the Svatove-Kreminna sector. They can be identified by their unique unicorn patches.” Concurrently, alongside reports of separate LGBTQIA+ military units, fabricated stories circulate about widespread “gay education” in the Armed Forces, facilitated by special instructors. It is occasionally implied that these instructors were foisted upon Ukraine by NATO, replacing chaplains within the army, “The chaplaincy topic in Ukraine swiftly shifted to tolerance trainers earning 200 thousand hryvnias, mandated to be in every unit, instructing soldiers on the correct way to engage in anal sex.”
A distinguishing feature of the pro-Ukrainian social media segment is the offline debate among diverse user groups regarding the relevance of defending LGBTQIA+ community rights amidst the war. A segment of users concur with their pro-Russian opponents, believing that upholding LGBTQIA+ rights is inherently disgraceful and is further exacerbated during the conflict. Conversely, another faction argues that the ongoing war serves as an added incentive for the expedited adoption of European legislation concerning sexual minorities’ human rights. Each faction in the conversation invokes the moral authority gained by the Armed Forces during the war. Consequently, the discourse has evolved into a contention over the values that the Armed Forces are defending at the frontline.
A primary strategy for devaluing the opponent in this conversation is assigning them traits akin to the foe, Russia. “Certain individuals aspire to dismantle the Ukrainian nation from the outside, while others endeavor to do so internally with similar deviant laws. To those unaware, our battle is for an independent, united Ukrainian nation grounded in Christian traditional familial values!” one user declared, monopolizing the narrative regarding the motive behind the struggle.
The Ukrainian government is criticized for mirroring Russia, particularly with regard to the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and proposing legislation on civil partnerships, “These creatures, exhibiting bestial Ukrainophobia and inhumanity, are no different from the Moscow invaders. Allow me to remind you that Zelenskyy, under Yermak’s guidance, was the president to commence the ratification of questionable international treaties such as the Istanbul Convention. This mandates the Ukrainian governmental bodies to impose LGBT equality as a compulsory doctrine upon the Ukrainian populace.”
At times, communism plays the role of the enemy to which LGBTQIA+ groups are likened, “While we are fighting against post-communism from Moscow, neo-Marxism from the West is invading our society...” A portion of pro-Ukrainian users advocate for equating the protection of sexual minorities’ rights with the propaganda of totalitarian ideologies in the relevant Ukrainian legislation, “We necessitate structured efforts against the LGBT lobby. For instance, aligning the ideology of equality with Marxism (as it inherently is) and subjecting it to the already established law in Ukraine that prohibits communist propaganda. Otherwise, we might witness an upsurge in LGBT individuals, akin to the situation in America.”
Contrarily, pro-Ukrainian users with divergent viewpoints frequently trace Ukrainian homophobia back to Russian roots, “Ukraine’s entire homophobic legacy is deeply ingrained with Russian influences. Following Ukraine’s proclamation of independence, initiatives to enact homophobic laws predominantly drew inspiration from analogous regulations in Russia. Currently, we are progressively severing ties with this centuries-old Russian homophobic influence.” Some human rights activists also note that Ukraine managed to shake off its homophobic image in the West during the active confrontation with Russia, “We shattered Russia’s portrayal of Ukraine as an ultra-conservative, primitive nation — a narrative Russia cultivated globally to deter developed countries from aiding us.” In a manner akin to their conservative counterparts, liberal users mold the narrative of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ frontline efforts to suit their stance, “Presently, the LGBTQ+ community is under escalated assault. As if the fight is not for their sake, nor for this, etc. Dear friends, by the way, we are fighting for a different world. We are fighting on good’s side against evil, for a European future versus the Russian “[spiritual] bonds”. If a specific segment of society wants it to be like Russia, but here in Ukraine, you can’t be a little bit pregnant. We either strive to integrate with the civilized world, endorsing the rights of all, or we allow the so-called ‘right-wing’ to drag us into an Orthodox ‘bandustan’.”
The West is Also Homophobic
A significant point raised in these discussions is the reference to the experiences of Western allies, where LGBTQIA+ groups have managed to secure more substantial advancements in terms of rights recognition compared to their Ukrainian counterparts.
“How would our homophobic Nazis respond if they witnessed the personnel from Lockheed Martin, who manufacture the Javelin ATGMs, HIMARS MLRS, and F-16 fighters, participating in a gay pride parade?” one user queried, highlighting the involvement of primary Western weaponry providers to the Armed Forces in supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. Conversely, critics of this progressive stance also invoke the West, only pointing out instances of homophobia within those nations, albeit often grossly exaggerating the reality, “While we see individuals like Tkachenko and Holos showcasing six-color [LGBT] flags on their profile pictures, the United States is witnessing a resurgence of healthy forces and ideas at the state legislative levels. Various legislatures and assemblies nationwide are deliberating and enacting laws that stringently limit or even outright prohibit LGBT savagery.”
How Many Gays Are in the Army
The information published by The Telegraph, estimating that roughly 2% to 7% of the Ukrainian army might comprise sexual minorities, spurred a fervent discussion on social media. This data was promptly converted to equate to “as many as 50 thousand gays in the Armed Forces” based on the entire Ukrainian military personnel count. This calculation provoked significant anger amongst the conservative sector of the Ukrainian online community, “Undoubtedly, there are degenerates in the forces, but surely not to that extent ;-). If even one percent of the figure purported by the left-liberal advocates were accurate, Ukraine would cease to exist :-(. Instead, it would morph into a ‘little ruZZZian world’, or a ‘homosexual Sodom’, or perhaps a fusion of a ‘little ruZZZian Sodom world’. Certainly not a Ukrainian Ukraine...” Some even orchestrated mock assessments within military units to ascertain the presence of gay individuals, “Roll call, roll call now underway! Absolutely no f****ts in the Armed Forces, nor will there ever be! The following clean units have already reported in...”. In response, liberal users noted that due to the rampant homophobia pervading Ukrainian society, the LGBTQIA+ representation within the military remains substantially underreported, “It is appalling that there are individuals who staunchly affirm the absence or negligible presence of gays at the frontline, insisting they refrain from engaging in combat. Admittedly, a bit over a hundred military personnel openly identify as LGBT, which elucidates the limited disclosure. This is largely due to the hostile and noxious environment fostered by bigots, compelling many to conceal their true selves, remain silent about their relationships, and leave their unions unprotected. Moreover, these conditions hinder the rightful access to severely wounded individuals in intensive care units, not to mention the basic human dignity of being accepted for granted in society, in the military community, and not being forced to keep silent about yourself and not telling the truth.”
In essence, this ongoing argument within the pro-Ukrainian social media space is being exploited by Russian propaganda to sow discord amongst Ukrainians. This was reflected in the response from a Crimean pro-Russian Telegram channel, “In the conflict between Nazis and ‘sodomites’, the latter seems to have the upper hand at the moment.”
Bill on Civil Partnerships as A Tool of Russian Propaganda and a Debated Topic in Ukrainian Society
In 2022, there was a significant shift in the Ukrainian public’s view of several facets of queer life compared to 2016, with the positive outlook increasing between 2 to 5 times depending on the specific questions posed to the respondents. This has been substantiated by the recent survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute early in 2023. The data reveals that a range of 54 to 58% of Ukrainians either fully or partly concur that the LGBTQIA+ community ought to enjoy equal rights as the rest of the Ukrainian populace, encompassing the entitlement to civil partnerships and expressing their identity through demonstrations. Notably, there is a rising acceptance of marriage rights (with a 44% approval rate) and child adoption rights (garnering 30% support).
In this context, a petition advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriages was submitted on the Ukrainian President’s official website in March 2023. By the subsequent month, it had amassed the requisite 25,000 signatures, necessitating a review by the president. Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the petition’s fundamental merits and directed the administration to develop mechanisms to protect the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, until the end of the ongoing war, the formalization of these unions can solely be recognized as civil partnerships due to the existing constitutional clause, which delineates marriage as a bond between a man and a woman, a provision unalterable amidst the martial law imposition.
Bill No. 9103, titled “On the Institute of Registered Partnerships,” was registered in the Verkhovna Rada on March 13, 2023. Collaboratively penned by 11 members of the Sluha Narodu (Servant of the People) fraction and seven from the Holos (Voice) fraction, with MP Inna Sovsun spearheading the initiative. The proposed legislation portrays civil partnerships as a consensual familial alliance between two mature individuals of identical or distinct genders, necessitating official documentation to be deemed valid. Such a setup not only facilitates heterosexual couples unwilling to wed to form such unions but also grants the partners the status of immediate family members. This designation would entitle them to communal ownership of assets acquired during the partnership and inheritance rights following a partner’s passing, along with state-supported social benefits in cases of grave illness or death. Moreover, the bill allows the formulation of supplementary civil contracts between partners, offering a framework for the independent stipulation of mutual rights and responsibilities, potentially with notarization.
However, civil partnerships do not provide for the possibility of child adoptions or surname alterations upon their formalization. Furthermore, it leaves several matters, such as testimony against one another in criminal cases, prison visits, and specific gift and inheritance tax issues, unsettled, necessitating further revisions in various legal statutes. This legislative proposal holds particular significance for LGBTQIA+ military personnel, who are laying their lives on the line daily for Ukraine. It’s pertinent to note that Ukraine was mandated to recognize same-sex relationships by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on June 1, 2023. Having garnered favorable reviews from four committees of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Bill No. 9103 has been incorporated into the parliamentary agenda for 2023, fostering optimism for its adoption before the year concludes.
“Gang of Drug Abusers and Nazis Poised to Transform Post-Ukrainian Space into a Modern-Day Sodom and Gomorrah”
The proposed legislation concerning civil registered partnerships has scarcely caught the attention of pro-Russian social media users. Only a smattering of messages directly addressing this matter were identified. These propagandists launch vehement critiques against the document, alleging it to be a dictate enforced upon Ukraine by the United States, “This project is orchestrated by the US government along with its European allies. They’ve established a façade of ‘autonomous activists’, inclusive of a ‘Ukrainian civil group’ of the so-called ‘LGBT military’, which insists on the Verkhovna Rada sanctioning Bill 9103, facilitating the governmental acknowledgment of ‘homosexual partnerships’, scarcely distinguishable from ‘homosexual marriages’. The perverted defenders of Ukraine’, financed by US funds, seek to evoke sympathy from the general populace by asserting the presence of thousands of homosexuals within the Armed Forces who are purportedly suffering greatly due to the lack of legal avenues to formalize their unions.” The propaganda machine further ties the initiation of this bill to purported attempts to undermine the UOC-MP church and the Orthodox faith in Ukraine, stating, “Thus, it appears that these f****ts, who harbor animosity towards the Church, impose various mandates upon it and seek a dominant role in religious affairs, are advancing legislation that even offends the Uniates [Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church], yet they demand to be those who ‘oversee the transitional processes from the UOC to the OCU’.”
Aside from expressing disdain towards the legislation, pro-Russian social media commentators have also targeted the bill’s proponent, Inna Sovsun, for supporting the LGBTQIA+ community, “Western outlets herald a ‘triumph’ over homophobia in the post-Soviet space. They reference specific fan groups on Telegram that follow gay members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Inna Sovsun, a representative of the Holos fraction, emerged as the primary advocate for this ‘triumph’, proclaiming, ‘If Putin doesn’t love gays, then we love them.” The propagandists haven’t spared the ECHR’s directive concerning the legalization of homosexual partnerships in Ukraine to uphold fundamental human rights and liberties, “A gang of drug abusers and Nazis is poised to transform the post-Ukrainian space into Sodom and Gomorrah. The former Deputy Minister of Education, Inna Sovsun, shared the ‘encouraging news’ that the European Court of Human Rights mandated Ukraine to acknowledge homosexual couples legally. A message from the Sorosite disclosed that, notably on Children’s Day, the ECHR delivered a verdict on a case filed by a homosexual couple, Andriy Maimulakhin and Andriy Markiv.”
“What Difference Does it Make Whether Our Nation is Destroyed by Missiles or Laws?”
We have documented negative responses to the bill from pro-Ukrainian individuals harboring homophobic sentiments. Predominantly, these conservative commentators justify their opposition to the bill based on religious convictions and the stance of churches that have opposed the document, notably highlighting the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). These individuals underscore the urgency to uphold what they term as “traditional values” (an essential aspect of the Russian World ideology) and express concerns regarding the demographic outlook in Ukraine and the continued existence of the Ukrainian nation in the years to come “As we aspire to join the European Union, it is imperative that we retain our national culture and customs, instead of conforming blindly to European models. Despite Europe boasting commendable aspects like economic development and technological advancements, it also has not-so-good or less-good things. It seems to me that all these things are connected with gender policy or with the propaganda of, for example, same-sex marriage. This is a very bad thing because if Ukraine is a Christian country, it should adhere to Christian values.”
Conversely, a faction comprising radical and aggressive right-wing nationalists posits that advocates for LGBTQIA+ rights are purportedly undermining the Ukrainian state internally, paralleling Russia’s external efforts in the same vein. They categorize this document as promoting “Russian world” propaganda and perceive it as a representation of the deceitful leftist ideologies they vehemently denounce, including socialism, communism, neo-Marxism, etc., “‘LGBT in the Armed Forces’ is the most immoral of all possible fakes, produced by Marxist scum. Taking advantage of the fact that patriotic and hooligan environments are going to the frontline, scum like Sovsun are promoting lies about the Armed Forces at all levels of government. Few people in the offices of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada are able to resist this *****, given that a large number of sane figures are still fighting at the frontline. In turn, out of the entire cohort of homosexuals, a f****t was chosen to be the face of the “pride campaign.” Now, we will be staring at the face of a guy who publicly f**s with his buddies in the woods. Not a bad legacy for future generations, right?” It is pertinent to note that religious conservatism and political nationalism often merge with anti-communist sentiments within a single individual or group, forming intertwined ideological narratives.
The discussion surrounding draft law No. 9301 has ignited fervent opposition from representatives of nationalist political parties, notably including Svoboda and the Right Sector.
Mykhailo Holovko, a Svoboda member and head of the Ternopil Regional Council, spearheaded a “For Christian Values” forum at the regional council, where he vociferously criticized the bill, “Taking advantage of the situation of martial law and, accordingly, the ban on holding rallies, representatives of certain parties are quietly introducing into our society a poisonous cause that displaces us as the titular nation. This is not what Ukrainians are fighting for, not what our boys and girls are dying for. As traditionalists, nationalists, and Christians, we categorically condemn the actions of these initiators. Globalists, Marxists, and new socialists are pushing sexual and psychological problems into the law, publicizing them, and imposing them on our children. This is the end of the family, the end of the state. This is unacceptable!”
Echoing Holovko, fellow Svoboda member and Kamianets-Podilskyi mayor Mykhailo Positko participated in a march promoting the so-called “traditional values.” Another prominent figure in the party, Yuriy Syrotiuk, currently serving in the military, also denounced the bill, “Currently, some MPs, like Inna Sovsun, are pushing bills (No. 9103) such as ‘in defense of the so-called LGBT military’. But in fact, it is not about their rights and protection but about goals identical to those pursued by Putin — to destroy the Ukrainian identity. I have not yet seen a single LGBT representative at the frontline. The key problem that awaits Ukrainians after the war is a demographic one. There will not be enough people, children, and thus no future development of the country. Therefore, since this problem exists, it is necessary to appeal to family, traditional values, and state support for families. If we do not do this, the LGBT group will continue to impose the opposite ideology aggressively.”
The Right Sector party mirrored this sentiment, expressing their rejection of the bill through a statement on their official Telegram channel, “ In the shadow of war, the neo-Marxists in power have decided to destroy the cultural norms that are natural for Ukraine. Of course, without any public discussion. Under the guise of martial law, they are imposing a change from traditional Ukrainian marriage to same-sex marriage. ‘Registered partnerships’ are being prepared as a transitional stage. Once upon a time, Marxists were the first to declare a struggle against the traditional values of peoples. Today’s neo-Marxists from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education are continuing the work of their predecessors at a rapid pace. On the one hand, they speak out against the communist past, and on the other hand, they implement cultural Marxism.”
Critics and proponents of the proposed bill both turn to the opinion of the soldiers defending Ukraine. Within the military community, several firmly reject the passage of the bill, “On the 9th of June, Sviatoslav Kondrat visited us during the Summit “Ukraine — Life. Dignity. Victory”. Straight from the front lines, he stepped onto the stage and proclaimed before a vast international assembly at the InterContinental Hotel that Ukrainian soldiers defend families and deeply despise LGBT ideology. He left the stage and went back to the frontline. To the Zaporizhzhia sector. To the counteroffensive. Because he is an assault trooper. The commander of the assault unit of the Carpathian Sich special unit. Today, he died. Liberating the Ukrainian land, defending the Ukrainian tradition and family. It hurts.....” Iryna Drahushchak, a soldier from the 67th Brigade and a Right Sector member, also advocated for the so-called traditional values, “As we fight post-communism from Moscow, neo-Marxism from the West invades our society. We cannot permit the feats of our kin and friends, and the efforts of countless generations who sacrificed their lives to protect the development of our nation on its God-given land, to be defiled by letting perverts parasitizing here, imposing new societal standards on Ukrainians according to their ideology.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has refrained from officially endorsing the bill, arguing that the alleged thousands of LGBTQIA+ individuals in the military don’t exist and asserting that civil unions are tantamount to marriages, hence contradicting the Constitution. A faction of pro-Ukrainian netizens echoed the ministry’s stance, “Veteran of the Russian-Ukrainian war Oleksiy ‘Stalker’ Svynarenko supports the position of the Minister of Defense of Ukraine on same-sex partnerships. Oleksiy says he has not met any LGBT people in the war. Moreover, none of the soldiers on the frontline fight and die for LGBT propaganda, but rather for traditional family values.” Another commenter similarly disputed the presence of purported LGBTQIA+ members in the military, “For some, this might be shocking, but the Ministry of Defense doesn’t possess concrete statistics regarding the ‘thousands of LGBT military personnel’ in Ukraine, can you imagine? That is, despite the rampant discussions surrounding homosexuality at the frontline, nobody has personally witnessed or heard them.”
Nationalistically inclined pro-Ukrainian users have repeatedly complained that the presidential petition portal in Ukraine seemingly obstructs the submission of petitions opposing the sanctioning of same-sex unions, “Around the end of March and beginning of April, the site’s administration repeatedly thwarted the attempts of lawyer Denys Hrytsenko, who formulated a petition highlighting the legal and societal risks emerging from the potential approval of such unions. The administrators repeatedly dismissed the petition registration, citing seemingly illogical grounds. Despite numerous amendments to the content, rejection ensued, at one point demanding the removal of references to scholarly articles. Another denial reason was the alleged irrelevance of the discussion topic to the president’s jurisdiction, whereas the petition advocating for these ‘partnerships’ faced no registration issues.” The conservatives and nationalists view the approval of the Istanbul Convention as the fundamental issue that “paved the way” for the emergence of draft law No. 9103 on the agenda because it brought the term “gender” into the legal sphere, a concept they and the Russian administration and propaganda vehemently deny, “In Ukraine, the obsessive promotion of gender ideology seeks to weaken the Ukrainian population’s resolve internally. Homolobbyists, having implemented the ‘gender’ concept through the Istanbul Convention’s ratification, are now advancing the unconstitutional draft bill No. 9103 in the Verkhovna Rada, seeking to formally legalize same-sex marriage, against the will of the Ukrainian society.”
“He Is Gay. But It Doesn’t Matter. He Fought for Ukraine. He Is a Hero.”
We have observed a significant number of posts advocating for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in general, and specifically the LGBTQIA military personnel. While these posts are less prevalent compared to homophobic remarks, they exhibit a notably superior depth of reasoning in articulating their views and stances. For instance, one user counters the bill detractors by presenting nuanced arguments substantiated by the actual contents of the document, “Swarms of uninformed individuals, incapable of accessing and scrutinizing the details of the bill, have initiated yet another campaign against ‘same-sex marriage’. Though Article 2 of the proposal explicitly declares in Ukrainian that: ‘A registered partnership does not equate to marriage.’ Their comprehension fails to progress to article 3, which delineates that ‘Registered partners are recognized as close relatives to one another.’ And ‘close relatives,’ as per Ukrainian law, are defined as parents, spouses, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren.” When one man refers to another as ‘brother,’ it doesn’t imply that they are doing the thing. However, within the moralist circles, the dynamics might vary. I am unsure of the cognitive processes of these ‘morality crusaders,’ but a consultation with an ophthalmologist or a relevant expert seems warranted.” The draft law proponents also highlight the endorsement of the document by the newly appointed head of the Ministry of Social Policy, Oksana Zholnovych. The Ministry has exclusively offered constructive feedback for refining the draft law, “Under the former minister, the Ministry of Social Policy was at the forefront of opposition against the LGBT community. The government replaced the homophobic leader, and things have improved.”
Other pro-Ukrainian social media users underscore the significant contributions of LGBTQIA+ military members in thwarting Russian aggression, asserting that they are entitled to equal rights and privileges from the government, “LGBT soldiers warrant the same respect accorded to individuals adhering to traditional family values. They encounter the same hazards, pay their dues through taxes similarly, and hence, should enjoy equivalent protections concerning shared assets, inheritance, hospital visitation rights for relatives, among other life scenarios.” Regrettably, individuals from the LGBTQIA+ group are indeed laying down their lives in defense of Ukraine. Another user accentuates this point, urging the Verkhovna Rada representatives to endorse the bill, “The enemy has published footage of a deceased Ukrainian Armed Forces soldier. He sported an LGBT military insignia. It is painful to watch. Yet, these are the realities of war. The enemy decided to humiliate him by showing a note the soldier had with him from his lover. He is gay. But it doesn’t matter. He fought for Ukraine. He is a hero. It is imperative that the Ukrainian MPs endorse the partnership draft law and the Ukrainian President ratifies it. Averting societal divisions is crucial. This is what all Ukrainian soldiers who wear the unicorn patch demand today.”
Consequently, the stance of pro-Ukrainian online users towards bill No. 9103 is starkly divided. A majority of the scrutinized posts condemned the bill. Despite survey data indicating a progressive shift in attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ community, homophobic voices overwhelmingly prevail amongst active social media contributors. The objections stem from conservative, nationalistic viewpoints, invoking religious moral doctrines and the Ukrainian churches’ resistance against the initiative. There is also noticeable disapproval of leftist ideologies (such as socialism, communism, neo-Marxism, etc.), anxiety over Ukraine’s demographic trajectory, and endorsement of so-called “traditional values.” Remarkably, these sentiments mirror those of pro-Russian online communities, who criticize the draft law and the broader LGBTQIA+ community, drawing from the Russian World ideological framework.
Nevertheless, a significant segment of pro-Ukrainian online users are supportive of the initiative, voicing their opinions predominantly from a liberal vantage point, advocating for universal human rights, European integration, and Ukraine’s overall modernization. Each faction is fervently seeking the endorsement of the military, arguably the highest moral authority for the majority of Ukrainians. Both nationalist-conservative and liberal circles receive this endorsement. Each faction attempts to link their adversaries to Russia and the “Russian world,” perceived as the arch-nemesis of all informed Ukrainians. Therefore, Ukraine still has a long way to go to reach social understanding and consensus on the issue of ensuring the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQIA+ community.
In times of war, societies tend to cultivate traditional masculine values and behavioral patterns. Such tendencies are based on the fact that historically, men and women have been assigned predefined gender roles and expectations. Many cultures still associate such “warrior” traits as courage, strength, and the ability to perform feats with men (or, more precisely, with cis men) rather than with other genders. In wartime, societal expectations can put pressure on men to conform to “conventional norms” and prove their courage and loyalty to family, nation, and homeland on the battlefield. In times of crisis, such traditional perceptions are only reinforced. Unfortunately, under these conditions, there may be a backslide to less progressive social practices, such as homophobia.
Contrarily, in Ukraine, there is an unfolding trend that defies the anticipated rise in conventional masculine values, even in the face of Russia’s endeavors to instill “traditional values”. Despite witnessing a surge in pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian homophobic propaganda on social platforms, the perception of the LGBTQIA+ community appears to be evolving positively.
Since becoming the first post-Soviet nation to decriminalize homosexuality in 1991, Ukraine has not formulated a governmental policy to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ people for over three decades. The demand for official recognition of same-sex partnerships has amplified, especially in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion. In December 2022, Ukraine enacted a law banning media hate speech targeted at sexual minorities. In March 2023, civil partnerships became one step closer to becoming a reality. The LGBTQIA+ community continues to advocate for their rights and increased visibility.
Nevertheless, homophobia remains a component of the patriarchal, conservative narrative employed by some political and societal entities. Our analysis identifies two prominent types of homophobic discourse in the media sphere: one non-violent and the other a radical one. The former refers to varying levels of rejection of equality between homosexual and heterosexual couples, messages that homosexuality is something immoral that should not be publicly discussed; that homosexuality can be left unhidden but not too overtly; that LGBTQIA+ people should be tolerated but not allowed to enter into legal partnerships; or that partnerships and succession should be allowed, but adoption of children should be prohibited; the “untimeliness” arguments and “layers of homophobia” are many. The second type of discourse concerns radical rejection of the LGBTQIA+ community, calls for public harassment and persecution by civilians and the military, infringement on basic rights, and physical violence.
According to the most recent KIIS data, 67% of Ukrainians surveyed agree that LGBTQIA+ people should have equal rights with other citizens, which indicates that non-violent homophobic discourse is losing its popularity. Therefore, one of the current goals of Ukrainian civil society is to counteract homophobia, which undermines social unity. The goal of pro-Russian anti-LGBTQIA+ propaganda is to weaken Ukrainian society and make Ukrainians seek enemies within their own ranks rather than unite to fight against an external enemy. In addition, the enemy propaganda tries to artificially increase the polarization of the discussion and shift the focus from real issues of finding understanding on LGBTQIA+ issues to completely contrived ones. Instead of society discussing the church’s compromises on LGBTQIA+-related issues, discussions are focused on propaganda about sodomites who allegedly repress the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and monks from the Lavra for their anti-LGBTQIA+ stance. Ukrainian homophobic discourse often plays into Russian propaganda and also slows down European integration, a priority for our country.