Supporting freedom

On Sunday 6th of March 2022, I hosted a Quilted Bananas* radio program on Wellington Community Radio 101.1 FM. I dedicated the show to the rainbow communities of Ukraine to recognize and highlight the adverse outcomes they would face if Russia were successful in its invasion. At that time the world was watching Ukraine begin its spirited defense of its sovereignty and freedom.  

*Quilted Bananas is a Radio Programme for queer women & non-binary folk. The acronym stands for: Queer, Intersectional, Intersex, Lesbian, Takataapui, Trans, Enby, Diverse … Bisexual, Asexual, and Nanas (because a lot of us also identify as nanas).

I noted that as we were sipping our morning coffees the Ukrainian people were fighting for their lives.  The following is a slightly amended transcript from the show. 

In 1991, Ukraine gained its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, the country’s key religion, the eastern orthodox church, was very influential in Ukrainian society. In much the same way that Kathy was influential in countries such as Italy and Ireland until quite recently. 

At the time of its independence, there were few rights and protections for members of rainbow communities in Ukraine. 

In 2020 a European survey found that 28% of Ukrainians believed LGBTQI+ people should have equal rights. In 2017 that figure had grown to 56%. Part of that change was supported by legal reforms that were slowly being implemented. For example, in 2015 anti-discrimination laws were improved and in 2016 changes were made to improve processes for transgender people updating their identity information. 

The opportunity to join the EU would have been another catalyst for accelerating the rate of change. Just like New Zealand, Ukrainian society is on a change journey- incrementally making sustained changes that improved the lives and opportunities for all members of rainbow communities. 

The Russian invasion poses a real and significant threat to this progress and to the rainbow communities in Ukraine. Russian law does not provide protections for same sex couples, there are no anti-discrimination protections- so whilst there are processes for transgender people to update their identity information after surgery, they can still be discriminated against with impunity. There are no hate crime laws in Russia. In 2017 there was a wave of torture and killings of gay men in Chechnya. Propaganda laws limit free speech and public discourse about the experiences and issues faced by gay people in Russia. Putin has poisoned opposition leaders who have spoken out against him and his regime. And during the early stages of the war against Ukraine, Putin outlawed accurate reporting of the war-for clarity, there is no Free Press in Russia. The situation for LGBT people is fraught to put it mildly. 

The gains made in Ukraine will be wiped away if Russia wins the war Putin started. 

There are many organizations mobilizing to help Ukrainians. UNICEF, doctors Without Borders, the international committee of the Red Cross, etc. They all need our support and the Ukrainian people need to know that we support them. 

There has been posts on social media calling out the as Eurocentric virtue signaling, the intense scrutiny that it has been placed on Russian aggression and its impact on Ukrainian citizens. It has been observed that there hasn’t been an outpouring of concern about China’s human rights violations, not one country refused to participate in the two recent winter Olympic Games hosted by Beijing. We are not getting updates on the situations in Syria, Yemen, or Myanmar. Possibly because the oppressed are not white Christians. 

I say that that’s a fair call. 

But it shouldn’t be an excuse to become silent about the invasion of Ukraine we should not recoil from the fight. Rather we should be concerned and actively engaged in what is happening in South America, Africa, Asia, and the USA. I’m sure we’ve all heard about voter suppression and $10,000 bounties on people accessing or providing abortion advice and services.  

Action on human rights should not depend on the color of a person skin, their faith, gender, or their sexual identity. Emma Lazarus noted “until we are all free, we are none of us free.” 

I suggest that what is happening in Ukraine should be the wakeup call we’ve needed the rise of extremists in Hungary has barely created a ripple in our consciousness. But if you follow the connections follow the money all these things are part of a growing movement towards fascism. From conservative Christians unpicking the constitutional rights of American women to calls for the assassination of the Prime Minister of New Zealand. These are part of a bigger trend- and none of it bodes well for rainbow communities. 

Freedom can only thrive where there is eternal vigilance. We need to look up from our own piece of the world to engage with the issues impacting humanity- we live in a terrarium what happens in one area will impact us all, eventually. We need to stand together and ensure that we use our privilege and freedom to give voice to the suffering of others and support their calls for justice. 

New Zealand must actively engage on the world stage, now’s not the time to be insular. We can spread our sphere of influence by letting the government know that we support the people of Ukraine. That what happens to members of the rainbow communities in Ukraine matters. We need to demand that New Zealand places meaningful sanctions on Russia as a matter of urgency. (Update: New Zealand has imposed some sanctions on Russia). 

let the government know we support the Uighurs and the Rohingya and all the other oppressed peoples living in the 48 countries ruled by authoritarian regimes and dictators. And so to close the show, here are my final thoughts: 

italics in addition to the genocide of 6 million Jewish people, about five million others were also targeted for annihilation by the Nazis. The real Nazis not Ukrainians rejecting Russian imperialism. Those 5 million people included members of the rainbow community, Roma, people with a disability, and unionist. Since then, we’ve scratched our heads and wondered how such evil could happen, how could people have stood by and allowed it to happen. The world said “never again”. And we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security believing that such genocide and persecution could never happen again. 

However, events in places such as Rwanda, Syria and Ukraine prove that it will happen again, and again, and again. Until it stops. 

Now is the time when we should work with others to draw a line in the sand and make the slogan “never again” a lived reality. What is happening in Ukraine is a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere and it is a call to our better angels to care, to be part of the solution. 

Photo by Katie Godowski on

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