It wasn't all that long ago, 51 years to be exact, that marriages such as my own were illegal in many states of the country that I grew up in and call home. It was the landmark Loving vs. Virginia case that finally required all states to recognize interracial marriage. I can't even fathom how many relationships like mine were torn apart, how many lynchings took place, or how many children had to grow up without knowing one of their parents due to such unnecessary bigotry. What I do know is that people half a century ago went to bat for people like me. People gave up their lives so that I could live my life today with the partner of my choice.
To be completely honest, I didn't even know this dark history of interracial marriage or had never thought much about it until June of 2017 when so many articles came out commemorating the 50 year anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia decision. It absolutely floors me to think that within my parents' lifetime, my marriage was illegal.
It was also around this time that the sign ups were going around for the 2017 Kyiv Pride March for Equality. Yes, I did say "sign ups." LGBT+ rights were mixed under Soviet rule, but the general consensus was that being different was bad. And homosexuality was definitely not considered the norm. In some places being gay was criminalized (and in some former Soviet countries it still is). Needless to say, Ukraine still has a lot of issues around the concept of allowing all people to choose who they love and how they live. With the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014 behind them, a group of civil rights activists in Ukraine decided to hold a Kyiv Pride march in 2015. The Euromaidan revolution was hugely focused on the rights of free speech and peaceful protest, and marchers felt they had earned the right to peacefully march in Ukraine carrying a rainbow flag. Unfortunately, many far right activists disagreed and the mere 250 marchers had to take serious precautions to ensure a safe march. This included a sign-up system, riot police at twice the number as marchers, and no knowledge of where the march would be held until the morning of. Still, the protesters came with weapons and some police were seriously injured defending the marchers. For more on the story, you can read this article.
Needless to say, in 2017 we were a bit nervous about participating in the Kyiv Pride march. It's definitely not the Pride "parade" in Kyiv like it is in other regions of the world and is more of an activist event. During sign-ups online, the organizers suggested trying to "blend in as much as possible" when participating in the march. This included wearing "drab colored clothing" and wearing good running shoes in case you need to make a break for it. If anybody stands out in this sea of white it's Rex, so I was extra nervous about him coming along. Fortunately, we had also been assured that the city was doing everything it could to protect the marchers and that several thousand people were expected to come out on that day to participate.
We walked with the expats, of which there were many diplomats and embassy groups marching for equality in Ukraine. The thing that surprised me most was how the city prepared for the event. Likely due to the issues in 2015, a section of the city center was fenced off the night before the march, blocking all cars and people from entering or exiting. Bomb detection devices and bomb squad dogs had then gone around looking for traces of explosives. To enter the march, we had to walk through metal detectors and submit to bag searches. Riot police, estimated to be twice the number of marchers, formed a "human shield" as we made our way along the 1km course that had been prepared for us. Most surprisingly, at the very end of the march we were herded into the metro station which had been closed the previous night and the morning of. This was the city's planned get-away route for the marchers. We stood on the platform and watched several trains zoom past our station before a completely empty train pulled up and stopped, allowing the marchers to pile inside. There was no choice in where to get off. Instead, the train drove to the very end of the line before allowing us to disembark, along with a number of riot police. Luckily there were no protesters this far out and we all just hopped right back on the train going back into the city, this time blending in with all other passengers in our "drab" clothing.
The 2017 Kyiv Pride march went off pretty much without a hitch, to our relief. Only about 3000 were in attendance, but in 2018 we watched that number to grow to an estimated 3500! This is quite a win considering that first march in 2015 with only 250 people.
For the 2018 march we had actually planned to not attend, due to an appointment with the vet to get our cat's teeth cleaned. We just hadn't put 2 and 2 together with the dates. On that morning, though, we awoke to find the barricades set up in front of our building and our entire street and the street leading up to ours closed off. As early as 7:30am, there were also protesters from the far right who showed up to try and overtake the course and block the march from taking place. Below is a video I recorded from our apartment as the protesters attempted to storm the course. Apparently dozens were arrested at this time, but again, thanks to the city for being prepared to allow for the safety of the Kyiv Pride March for Equality.
We ended up canceling the vet appointment, as it just seemed too chaotic to try and get a taxi to our place, and instead joined our friends who gathered on the steps of the Opera House below.
As we marched again this year, with much less anxiety, I couldn't help but feel emotional for all the students at my school who came out to support the movement for equality. They came wearing their country's flag, rainbow paint on their faces, and carrying signs that read things like "Love is a terrible thing to hate" and "Human" in different colored letters. They held their heads and signs high and stood tall as the fearless next generation for change. As always, the young people give me hope for the future. A future of tolerance, of peace, and where people coexist in harmony regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other human conceived means of categorizing and dividing. I am proud to be a part of Pride worldwide 🌈 It sounds like Beirut Pride might needs some support as well. Next up!