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Trans Ukrainians being forced back into closet as cruel despot Putin’s bloodthirsty war rages on

Patrick Kelleher May 6, 2022
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People hold banners and shout slogans during a demonstration in support of Mariupol defenders on May 3.

People hold banners and shout slogans during a demonstration in support of Mariupol defenders on May 3. (Alexey Furman/Getty)

Many trans people in Ukraine are stopping their hormone treatments in a desperate bid to stay safe from transphobic violence.

LGBT+ Ukrainians have been living in fear and uncertainty ever since Russia launched its full scale invasion in February. Now, some are retreating into the closet in the face of anti-LGBT+ aggression, a prominent Ukrainian LGBT+ rights activist has revealed. 

Anna Leonova is director of Gay Alliance Ukraine, an advocacy group that works to support the community. She told PinkNews via a translator that trans people’s access to medication has dried up since the war started. Advocacy groups like hers are doing everything they can to get treatment into people’s hands.

Lately, she’s come into contact with some trans people who are choosing to forgo medication entirely because they’re so afraid of facing violence for being visibly trans.

Worryingly, the aggression some are facing isn’t even coming from Russian forces – although that’s a significant concern for LGBT+ Ukrainians too. Instead, they’re facing aggression from members of Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Forces, the country’s military reserve. 

That violence is having serious negative effects on LGBT+ Ukrainians. 

“Aggression towards queer people can be based on appearances,” Anna told PinkNews. “So, for example, men who are looking or behaving in a feminine way or women behaving in a masculine way, they would experience aggression due to that.”

(Mario De Moya F via Getty Images) PinkNews is proud to launch our LGBTQ+ Refugees Welcome campaign to help those who need it most

LGBT+ people in Ukraine are living under the threat of violence

That queerphobic aggression was already a reality in Ukraine before the war, but since Russia invaded, it’s only gotten worse. Gay Alliance Ukraine recorded seven attacks from the territorial defence forces on LGBT+ Ukrainians in the first month of the war.

“We were hoping it wouldn’t become a trend. However, as the war continues and goes into its third month, there are now 20 recorded victims of the territorial defence. They have faced verbal or physical attacks, or their freedom of movement has been restricted.”

Some are now choosing to hide their identities entirely in a bid to stay safe.

“I’ve personally consulted with a number of trans women who chose to completely stop the hormonal therapy they were on, and this is due to facing violence or threats of violence by military groups in Ukraine,” Anna says. 

It’s a tragedy that we will have to deal with in the future.

“This is because they have already transitioned medically, however they haven’t changed their documents. On their documents, they are ‘male’, but they present as very feminine, they have a feminine appearance, and because of that, they are under the threat of violence constantly and had to stop hormonal therapy.” 

Relatives and friends of defenders of Mariupol attend a rally demanding Ukrainian and international leaders to call on world leaders to help organize a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol
Relatives and friends of defenders of Mariupol attend a rally demanding Ukrainian and international leaders to call on world leaders to help organize a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of soldiers and civilians from Mariupol. (Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu Agency via Getty)

The psychological impacts for trans people who choose this course of action can be severe.

“It’s a tragedy that we will have to deal with in the future because we can see how psychologically difficult it is for people to see this change reversed and to face this dilemma where, on one side of the scale, it’s personal safety, and on the other side of the scale, it’s identity.” 

On the flip side of the issue is the fact that many trans people are struggling to access the hormone treatments they so desperately need. The community has been dealing with shortages of supplies since the war began. Gay Alliance Ukraine is doing its best to get medication into people’s hands, but there’s only so much they can do. 

Access to medication isn’t the only issue facing the community – they’re also dealing with food shortages and poverty.

These issues are particularly severe for men and for trans women who have male markers on their passports, Anna says. That’s because they don’t have the option of leaving. Gay Alliance Ukraine has been working to offset those hardships by providing food and hygiene packs to those who have been impoverished by war.

“War didn’t just destroy cities, it also means that many people lost their jobs, lost their homes, lost the ability to simply exist in the way that they existed before. Gay Alliance Ukraine carried out a questionnaire through which they found out that every fourth person at the moment in Kyiv doesn’t have the means to exist, to pay for where they’re living, to pay for food, to pay for medicines. In the first month, people who did lose their jobs were able to cover their expenses maybe through savings, but many have now run out of money. 

“The problem mainly touches male people, gay men, people with a male marker in their documents, because for them moving to another region or another country is just impossible.”

War is ‘dehumanising’, but activists know they will prevail

Life has become profoundly difficult for all Ukrainian people. For Anna, she and her partner have been plunged into a state of constant uncertainty. 

“We’re still reacting to the crisis rather than realising we’re living through a crisis,” she says. “This experience generally has been dehumanising, has been very frustrating. You need to understand what is happening in Ukraine at the moment because yes, there is the feeling that we will win and we will prevail, but it is also true that there is a lot of chaos, there is a lack of understanding about how social structures are working and about what’s actually happening in the country at the moment. There are very few structures in place that are still able to provide safety for normal citizens.”

Anna is urging the International LGBT+ community to rally behind them and donate funds wherever they can so those working on the ground can continue getting food and basic necessities to queer people.

“Donations and the help of the community is crucial for us surviving,” she says. 

Ukraine’s LGBT+ community is suffering, which is one of the reasons PinkNews launched the LGBTQ Refugees Welcome fundraiser in April. The fundraiser was set up to benefit two charities – through GiveOut, we will donate funds directly to OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund, which is helping those on the ground Roget vital supplies such as food, water and medication to to queer Ukrainians.

The second beneficiary is Micro Rainbow, a UK-based charity that provides safe and secure housing to LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees. It also provides food, bedding, clothing and extra support to queer people who are seeking refuge.

The LGBTQ Refugees Welcome fundraiser has never been more important as it is right now – LGBT+ people in Ukraine, and those who have fled, are facing upheaval, fear and uncertainty in their everyday lives. They need our help.

You can donate to PinkNews’ LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign here or you can donate directly to Gay Alliance Ukraine here. 

More: Russia Ukraine war, transphobia, ukraine

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