A photo exhibition titled "LGBTIQ+ Defending Ukraine" took place in Poltava

A photo exhibition titled "LGBTIQ+ Defending Ukraine" took place in Poltava
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A photo exhibition titled "LGBTIQ+ Defending Ukraine" took place in Poltava Ukrainians for the world 06 Jul 2023 at 20:00

"On February 24th, I found myself in the border city of Chop. I was at the border when I saw that the war had started and that I needed to return to Kyiv because all my family and friends were there. Of course, I could still have left the country at that time. But I don't want to run away. Besides, you can't run away from yourself. I realized that it was time to defend Ukraine..."

This is one of the stories of Ukrainian LGBT soldiers presented recently at the photo exhibition "LGBTIQ+ Defending Ukraine" in Poltava. The initiative for organizing the exhibition belongs to the Ukrainian LGBT community in America. Poltava is the third city, after Washington and Kyiv, where these photos were shown. The exhibition will continue in Odesa, Berlin, and New York.

Regarding the security of the event

The photo exhibition featuring LGBT military personnel and their stories can be seen at the lobby of Diia.Business in Poltava, located at 45a Sobornosti Street. The choice of venue is not random, as it is situated near the regional representative of the ombudsman in the Poltava region. The issue of event security cannot be overlooked, as there have been cases of attacks on LGBT events in Poltava in previous years.

"We considered holding the exhibition in a private basement or gallery, but then we decided that Diia.Business would be the most convenient option. It provides ample space, is easily accessible, and it is where the office of the ombudsman's representative is located. Officials will see the exhibition every day and understand what they need to work on. I'm glad that when I approached the regional authorities and said we needed to hold an exhibition about LGBT military personnel, they didn't ask the sacramental question 'why?' Oleksandr Bilenkyi, the head of the regional council, simply suggested writing an official letter, and that was it. This is already a sign that our society is maturing when the authorities think not only about their ratings but also about how to help different segments of the population," says Vitalii Ulybin, the chief editor of the "Poltavska Hvylya" website and one of the event's co-organizers.

What to see at the exhibition

In the lobby of Diia.Business, there are 19 photos of military personnel created by Ukrainian photographer Alim Yakubov. Each photo is accompanied by a personal story of Ukrainian heroes recorded by Dafna Rachok. Each narrative begins with memories of February 24th, which was a turning point for all Ukrainians, both heterosexual and LGBT communities, when they embarked on a new life as soldiers or volunteers. The purpose of the event is to show that LGBT Ukrainians have always been part of Ukraine's progress, and their struggle for the nation's survival is no different.

"Why now?"

“While organizing the exhibition, there were questions raised on social media: why now, is it relevant for Poltava? What rights are lacking for the LGBT community, especially for LGBT military personnel?” Vitaliy Ulybin explains, "It is easy for heterosexual individuals to talk about rights that are given to them by birth. But let's remember that just 3-4 generations ago, our country had serfdom.

Not long ago, women were forbidden from wearing pants, obtaining higher education, or working where they desired. Today, these rights are considered fundamental and self-evident, rights that we fought for at a high price. Because rights should be equal for everyone: the right to create a family, manage a household together, accumulate shared property, and then have the right to divide or inherit it.

The right to visit a wounded partner in the hospital or have the right to make decisions regarding the deceased partner's body. Few people realize that these basic rights are absent for the LGBT community. The exhibition provides an opportunity to give these individuals, who voluntarily went to defend our country and fulfill their constitutional duty that everyone talks about, the right to speak up, highlighting that they lack a range of constitutional rights."

"In the United States and other countries, the LGBT community already has rights, and they don't need to fight for them. We are showcasing these photographs to Ukrainians to dispel the myths that LGBT military personnel do not exist, that they are not fighting, that they are not in the trenches but somewhere in Kyiv. Almost all the heroes presented here are currently in the combat zone, except for those in rehabilitation. We traveled to meet them in Kostiantynivka, Mykolaiv region. These heroes are actively fighting; they are not just images for LGBT propaganda, as some might think," says photographer Alim Yakubov.

"We had very little time because our heroes are in service, and they are rarely released from their units (we did not shoot directly in military units; we were assigned meeting places outside their premises). We needed to quickly get acquainted, communicate, record interviews, and take photos. And we did just that."

One of the LGBT military personnel, Dmytro, who is currently demobilized and undergoing rehabilitation after a severe injury, attended the exhibition.

He shares, "We do exist. LGBT individuals fight alongside everyone else. There is no difference in the trenches between LGBT or heterosexual men and women. We perform the same tasks and follow the same orders, working together as equals. There's no such thing as 'I am LGBT, so I'll just sit in the shadows while you work.' We work for the same cause. So then the question arises: why don't we deserve equal rights? Why can't I simply walk through the park holding hands with my loved one? I felt this particularly hard when I was injured and lying in the hospital. At such a difficult moment, they don't even allow your loved one to come and support you. It's emotionally challenging. But now we have taken a big step, and I see tremendous support."

The event was attended by Olena Globa, the head of the Association of Parents and Friends of Gays, Lesbians, and Transgender People in Ukraine.

She says, "In reality, what is happening here is a conversation between the LGBT community and society. It is a plea: help us convince our government to vote for civil partnership. Our goal is to ensure that LGBT people in our society are not only taxpayers or soldiers risking their lives in war but also simply happy citizens."

We couldn't help but ask if there were any stories of bullying against LGBT military personnel by their fellow soldiers.

The response was, "We actually expected stories about pressure being exerted on LGBT military personnel, but there was none. In the trenches, there is simply no time for that. Everyone is focused on fulfilling their tasks, and there is never any scrutiny about who is straight and who is gay. According to the military personnel we interviewed, the majority of their comrades are aware of their sexual orientation, but the tasks are the same for everyone, with equal conditions and no discrimination," says Alim Yakubov.


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