Gender Z

This time we’ve spoken to Kostiantyn Andrieiev — a Community Centre Coordinator of a Zaporizhzhia-based NGO Gender Z. The organisation works with topics of sexual orientation and gender identity, overcoming stigma in relation to the LGBT people, gender equality, women’s rights and overcoming gender stereotypes.

Which projects or campaigns that Gender Z has showed the most efficient and why? 

I think the most important campaign for us is the ‘Rainbow Flashmob’. It is held in Zaporizhzhia every year on May 17th, dedicated to the Day Against Homo-, Bi- and Transphobia. At first, we had to make such events private: activists gathered in a pre-agreed place and released multi-colored balloons in the sky. Later they had to dissolve in the crowd, so they would not get attacked by the homophobic aggressors. In the mid-2010s, these events became more public. Say, in 2017, we gathered in the square in front of the regional council, holding the letters forming the “Respect Diversity” slogan. A year later, we went out with the posters “We Are One” next to the city hall. And in 2019, our event was called “100 Meters of Pride”, because  for the first time LGBT people managed to walk together a symbolic distance which was a huge step forward for us. Now we are preparing for the first pride in Zaporizhzhia. It was supposed to take place in May, but unfortunately the pandemic changed our plans. Now we hope to hold the pride in autumn and make it significant and colorful. We re-worked one of the symbols of the LGBT movement — the rainbow — and developed a unique visual identity for the event. We hope to see many guests at Ukranian prides in autumn: in addition to Zaporizhzhia, there will be prides in Kyiv and Kharkiv.

Photo: Gender Z archive

What LGBT initiatives or campaigns from the past couple of years are the most memorable for you?

I was deeply inspired by the initiative involving 15 Ukrainian celebrities expressing their support for equal rights for LGBT people. When I was a teenager I could only dream that famous people would openly support gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people. Fortunately, the times are changing and now we hear the voices of the supporters. Ukrainian musicians (Luna, Dmitry Shurov, Zlata Ognevich, TAYANNA, KADNAY), TV hosts (Yanina Sokolova, Michael Schur, Anatoly Anatolich), politicians and diplomats openly said they are against discrimination. And this year, a new generation of great Ukrainian artists — Sergey Babkin, Alina Pash, Constantine, Yuko, Latexfauna, Gruppa [O] and Krut recorded the manifesto of tolerance “Different.Equal”. In the track they sing: “We are different and equal, so we have eight billion reasons to be free”. I really like this song, it motivates and helps to move towards a brighter future.

Have you tried using art to make the message of Gender Z more visible? How does this work?

We live in a multimedia era and it is becoming more and more difficult to draw people’s attention. Creative approaches are helpful for this. For example, after you listen to the track I mentioned (“Different.Equal”), you can go to a special website and raise your hand up. This will create a ray of light shining from a city you are in which will also appear on the multimedia map of Ukraine. So you can see how many tolerant people live in Ukraine. On that same website you can find stories of mothers who accepted their LGBT children. The videos feature the stories of these mothers, their confusion and attempts to “change” their children. People wrote me and said they could not stop crying while watching. They lived through these stories, it was very touching.

How would you describe the public perception of LGBT people in Ukraine?

One American center — the Pew Research — recently conducted a global study and found out the level of acceptance of LGBT people in different countries. Sadly in Ukraine it’s quite low: only 14% of the population is ready to accept homosexuality. Other studies show similar results. The Baltic countries are slightly higher, followed by the countries of Central Europe. In Spain, France, and the UK more than 80% of people accept homosexuality. However, we see progress every year. For a long time, Ukraine has been part of the totalitarian Soviet Union where homosexual relationships were banned and persecuted by law. Fortunately, these stereotypes are slowly disappearing with each next generation.

Photo: Gender Z archive

Have you ever felt like your motivation to fight for human rights becomes weaker? What helps you to restore inspiration?

When I have a hard day, I usually watch shows about the importance of diversity. They help not only to relax but also to remind yourself that in the Western world the struggle for rights has also not been so simple. For example, a few days ago Netflix released a new season of the ‘Queer Eye’: a show where five gays “transform” the lives of the characters. At first, it may seem another “soapy” reality but in fact the show conveys a very important message: you need to love yourself and only then you can shape your life. In one of the episodes presenters come to Illinois to change the life of a music teacher who loves her job so much that she is almost never at home. And later we learn that one of the presenters, Jonathan, also studied at this school. And he was in this school orchestra, dancing in a team of cheerleaders, having to defend himself from the school bullies. And after that I saw this show from a different angle.

Have you encountered difficulties expanding your audience? In your opinion, what is the most effective way to attract people from outside of the human rights defender and activist communities?

One of the common arguments voiced by people is that the problems of LGBT people are not so important right now. Like, look, there are so many other topics: the war in Ukraine or the coronavirus pandemic. But when it comes to human rights, there are no “more important” or “less important” topics. On the contrary, such events directly affect the situation with LGBT rights. Therefore, they need to be solved simultaneously. Other organisations from Zaporizhzhia understand this, so we help each other, as together we are stronger. We see that every year more and more people come to the Equality March in Kyiv; in 2019 it was eight thousand people. Three thousand people came to the first Kharkiv Pride last autumn. I think this is an incredible success! Now Zaporizhzhia needs to pass this tolerance test and I hope we get an excellent mark.