It has never been easy being gay, a lesbian, transsexual or bisexual in Belarus. Despite recognising same-sex relationships homosexuality is rarely accepted by society as a whole. As such homosexuals, transgender people, and bisexuals are often encouraged not to speak up about their sexuality. Instead the community is forced to live under constant scrutiny and without any legal protection against homophobic behaviour.
In October 2017 two nightclubs popular within the LGBT community were raided by Belarusian police. During the raids several of the clubs customers were detained and the police recorded personal information on several other club goers. This is it not the first, nor will it be the last example of discrimination and violence against the community. No later than April 2018 the government chose to cancel a planned LGBT festival due to an alleged issue with the owner of the place for the event. The LGBT community in Belarus continues to face these challenges and people are seldom jealous of your boogie.
President Alexander Lukashenko infamously said in 2013 that “it is better to be a dictator than gay”. This quote signifies the socially conservative ideas that define the Belarusian society. Coloured by the country’s Soviet history and the power of religious organisations and media, President Lukashenko’s quote reflects a general trend in the country. Gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals are positioned in national discourse as the deviant other. The anomaly that the community presents and those who promotes their rights challenges the values and corrupts the morality of society. Or that is at least the imagery presented by the persistent governmental rhetoric. In addition, the idea of LGBT rights is still today promoted by Russia as western values that constitutes as a threat to national security.
Belarus’ close ties with Russia mean that the Russia crackdown on lesbian, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex activist have spilled over into Belarusian rhetoric. Traditional values, such as focus on family and Christian morality, have become a way for the government to establish a specific Belarusian identity and subsequently position the community as outsiders. Within this rhetoric the LGBT community has become a propaganda machine for spreading homosexuality and an amoral lifestyle.
In present day in Belarus those who are’ openly homosexual are not allowed to serve in the military and homosexuality is considered to be a ground of refusal for adoption. What is more is that the community is not protected against discrimination in the workplace and there is no legislation that equalizes same-sex couples and families. It is also stated in article 32 in the constitution that marriage is to be between man and wife. This constant crackdown on the LGBT community consequently means a lot of young people from the community choose to hide their sexuality from family, friends and their community in fear of being alienated. The forced silence however only reinforces stigmatisation and puts additional strain on the community and the people, who are confronted with hate speech and violence in their every day lives.
But for some Belarus is a sanctuary, a place where they can be who they are and love who they want. Young people from Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan choose to study and live in Belarus because of its comparative liberal laws. Back in 2014 MP’s from the ruling coalition in Kyrgyzstan adopted a series of “anti-gay propaganda” which makes it illegal to advocate LGBT rights. These laws are putting pressure on the community as well as civil society, as it makes it increasingly hard to provide help for victims of discrimination and promote LGBT rights. Today the LGBT community in both Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan have experienced a surge in anti-gay propaganda and homophobic violence. These conditions have forced people from the region to look to Belarus for a safe space.
Despite positioning itself a comparative safe space for the LGBT community in Eurasia it is not pushing to defend the rights of the community. No later than in 2016 Belarus led a group of 17 countries that blocked a plan to include the rights of LGBT communities in an urban strategy drawn up by the UN. The main argument – a wish to reaffirm that the family is the natural and fundamental group of unit in society.
The Belarusian reaffirmation of family values, both nationally and internationally, and the constant crackdown on the community means that the community continues to be suppressed. This means that young people will continue to be in conflict with the person they are and the person they are supposed to be. It means that same sex couples have no legal rights, and that they will never be able to establish a family. It means that they have no legal protection against discrimination in the work place or in public. More importantly, it means that Belarus continues to violate fundamental human rights.