Not like everyone else: your safety should not depend on your orientation, skin color or religion

Bohdan BerdnikLife
Not like everyone else: your safety should not depend on your orientation, skin color or religion

Just imagine your family and friends being hit in the street simply because they look a little different or because someone might not like their behavior. In front of your eyes, someone can be hostile to your friend because of their sexual orientation, or treat your child negatively at school because of their gender identity, disrespect your coworker because of their skin color, or insult you because of the language you use.

Unfortunately, each of these scenarios is possible. It even has a name: intolerance. And this is a separate kind of danger today. The kind of danger that makes you afraid to even report it to the police. This is the danger that makes everyone afraid to be themselves.

The issue of security will continue to be relevant for Ukraine in 2022. And it is not only about protection from an external enemy but also about security within the country.

Through news reports and hysterical Facebook posts, we feel the tension that is a constant reminder that our country is not safe when another country's military groups are near its borders.

There is another aspect of security that does not require any frontline reports.

You just need to walk the streets of your city to feel it. Do you feel safe when you walk alone in the evening, not only on the main streets, or when you return home with your loved one?

In 2020, there were 177 cases of hate crimes. And these are only the ones registered by human rights organizations. The largest number of recorded crimes were motivated by homophobia and transphobia, although there were also many crimes committed because of skin color, nationality, and religious beliefs.

The most common manifestations of hatred include insults, threats, humiliation, and, unfortunately, physical violence of varying degrees of severity.

What distinguishes these crimes from any other? One important thing is the lack of punishment in practice.

In Ukraine, it is still extremely difficult to imagine an LGBTQ+ event without threats and attacks from radicals. Last year, even Olympic champion and MP Zhan Beleniuk was attacked on the grounds of intolerance. Because of the color of his skin. In the very center of Kyiv, he was approached by a group of young men who began to speak disrespectfully to Zhan, provoke a conflict and focus on his skin color. At that time, Beleniuk's main defense was publicity, but not every Ukrainian has access to such protection.

Zhan Beleniuk's story is another example of one of thousands of similar incidents that have resulted in nothing for their perpetrators.

Currently, the only article that can punish homophobes, racists and anti-Semites is Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Theoretically, under this article, a criminal can be sentenced to up to 8 years in prison, but in practice, courts impose suspended sentences or several thousand dollars in fines. According to the statistics of the Prosecutor General's Office, 67 criminal cases under this article were opened in just 8 months of 2021. We can only hope that they will lead to a logical conclusion.

A law on the punishment of intolerance and discrimination could change the course of events, and such a law has already been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal. This is draft law No. 5488. It proposes to establish criminal liability for intentional actions aimed at inciting hatred and hostility on the grounds of intolerance, and the motives of intolerance will be added to the aggravating circumstances of administrative offenses. It will include penalties for all forms of intolerance, including homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, interphobia, and discrimination based on gender identity.

The draft law, which has been in the Verkhovna Rada for six months, has not yet been considered, and therefore every threat or attack against LGBTQ+ people or national minorities continues to be qualified as ordinary hooliganism. And those for whom discrimination and intolerance are commonplace continue to live without punishment.

Our society has long known how to build the world's largest airplane. It knows who to buy the fastest train from. It knows how to unlock an iPhone and watch a Ukrainian satellite fly into space live. But we haven't yet figured out how to start accepting people for who they are.

Your safety should not depend on your orientation, skin color, or religion. There should be no reason to be afraid to be yourself.

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