US representatives urge Joe Biden to protect ‘vulnerable’ LGBT+ Ukrainians

President Joe Biden with Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Members of the US House of Representatives have urged Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to protects LGBT+ Ukrainians from Russian persecution.

A group of 70 House Democrats sent a letter to Biden and Blinken on Thursday (17 March), and said that as the US “takes action to aid Ukraine in its defence”, it must “dedicate sufficient resources and attention to Ukrainian members of groups that have historically faced violence and persecution under Russian rule and occupation”.

The letter’s signatories included Mondaire Jones, the first out LGBT+ Black member of congress, Ritchie Torres, the first Afro-Latinx member, and other queer representatives like Mark Pocan, Chris Pappas, Angie Craig, Mark Takano, Sharice Davids, David Cicilline and Sean Patrick Maloney.

They said: “Among the most vulnerable are historically persecuted religious minorities and LGBTQI+ people… We have received reports that highlight the extreme risks LGBTQI+ Ukrainians face at the hands of Russian forces.

“As you know, LGBTQI+ people widely face discrimination and persecution in Russia. In Chechnya, reports have documented what has been described as a large-scale ‘anti-gay purge’ by Russian security forces.

“When the killings of gay men began in Chechnya in 2017, the Trump Administration was slow to respond and failed to work with organisations that resettle LGBTQI+ people who faced danger. We cannot repeat the previous administration’s mistakes.

“Russia’s military presence in Ukraine endangers the lives of LGBTQI+ Ukrainians and reverses the progress that country has made toward equality.”

The House Democrats added that Ukrainian Jews were also at extreme risk, and set out recommendations for Biden and Blinken to protect them and LGBT+ people in Ukraine.

These included to have ongoing dialogue with “organizations that serve Ukrainian members of marginalised groups, including religious minorities and LGBTQI+ people”, to support shelters that cater specifically to these groups, to equip US embassies in Eastern Europe with the tools to help those fleeing the war, and to assist transgender Ukrainians whose “visible gender does not match their documents” in crossing borders.

LGBT+ people in Ukraine have been living in fear of what life would become under Putin, who in Russia has launched attack after attack on the queer community.

Many LGBT+ activists have stayed behind to protect their community, and to join the fight for their country.

But many trans Ukrainians have no opportunity to flee, unable to leave the country or pass internal checkpoints because of documents that do not match their gender expression.

The war in Ukraine has continued to escalate since Russia launched its invasion in February. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), there have been 1,761 civilian casualties since war broke out, with 636 killed and 1,125 injured, however figures could be much higher.