EURO 2012 in Poland and Ukraine brought up the rarely raised issue of homophobia to public notice. A Pride march in Kiev in May 2012 had to be abandoned because of physical attacks on members of the LGBT community and works of art were destroyed following a raid on an LGBT photo exhibition at the Ukrainian capital’s Visual Culture Research Center. Both of these incidents, which LGBT campaigners believe are only the tip of the iceberg, illustrate the problems faced by gays and lesbians in Ukraine.
FARE spoke to Alla Oliynik, of the NRG Women's Sports Club, a Ukrainian all-female amateur set-up.
Growing demand for LGBT sport
Alla Oliynik is a lesbian living in Ukraine and is co-founder of the club which was set up in Kiev in December 2005. NRG began with just one football team but has since developed into a multi-sports club in response to a growing demand in the LGBT community for other sports, such as volleyball, basketball, badminton and table tennis.
Founding a LGBT group in Ukraine is a bold step in a country that has been threatening to pass a ‘Homosexual propaganda’ law that will forbid publishing or spreading information about LGBT issues, with a possible punishment of up to five years imprisonment.
In a country with few opportunities for LGBT people to openly meet, NRG functions both as a retreat and a meeting hub, as Alla explains, “The club seeks to unite and develop the LGBT community in Ukraine by means of sport; to fight against all kinds of discrimination, to promote healthy lifestyles and to give women an opportunity to express themselves in sport, irrespective of sexual orientation, skin color, religion or physical abilities.”
The club also has to protect the identities of those members who are not openly out to the rest of society, and takes care not to post pictures of those players on their website or on Facebook.
High levels of homophobia in Ukrainian society does not allow NRG to act as an openly lesbian club, therefore the group has to refrain from using explicit references to any LGBT affiliation in the Russian/Ukrainian versions of the web-site and publications.
Alla adds “Even though we are not allowed in Ukraine to openly say that we are running a lesbian club and organising a lesbian football tournament, people and participating teams are very much aware of what kind of club we are. Ukrainian society is afraid of LGBT people because they know very little about us and so we try to offer them some sort of education through football, by showing that we are just like them.”
Due to tough regulations and the lack of acknowledgement from the authorities, NRG is forced to act as an informal group on a voluntary basis. Alla and her fellow members believe that their application for registration of the club was rejected due to their mission statement ’to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, promote tolerance towards gay people and to fight against homophobia in society’. Not being a registered club can create various problems with organising training sessions, renting training facilities and holding sport events.
EURO 2012 helped highlight homophobia
Asked what impact EURO 2012 had on LGBT rights in her country, Alla, acknowledges “It was a significant event for Ukraine. It raised a lot of discussions on human rights in the country with some attention given towards the rights of gay and lesbian people. Still there are no immediate positive outcomes for NRG but at least it helped us by means of the media to make people in the EU aware of the homophobic attitudes in Ukraine and to work with organisations such as FARE to fight homophobia together.”
Although the club was founded by lesbians, all women are welcome to become members as the team is made up of lesbians, bisexual and straight women all playing together. Alla stresses that whilst fighting for LGBT rights, it is important not to deliberately separate oneself from mainstream society and to widen the divide between heterosexual society and the LGBT community.
NRG Women’s Futsal Tournament in Kiev
NRG hosts the 6th Women’s Futsal Tournament “NRG gathers friends – 2012” in Kiev on 21 -23 September. The friendly competition will see twelve teams compete from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Russia, Belorussia and Czech Republic. To Alla it is important to see “straight girls play shoulder to shoulder with lesbians in our teams. This is the reason we do not limit NRG’s football tournament to lesbian teams only. Everyone is invited to join in!”
For more information about the tournament or ways to support the club, visit their website. Find the club on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/NRG/162951383760646