The face of anti-GLBT activism in Ukraine is not necessarily what you’d expect it to be. In my case, I expected something resembling a bearded preacher with a fiery stare and little gobs of spit forming around the mouth. Yet journalist Ruslan Kukharchuk, the founder of the organization Love Against Homosexuality, is attractive, educated and well-spoken – and quite possibly one of the biggest enemies of gay rights in Eastern Europe.
Sitting down with this fierce ideological opponent (I should get this out of the way quickly – I am diametrically opposed to Kukharchuk’s views), I was struck by what an enormous, uphill battle sexual minorities face in Ukraine today.
Natalia: So tell me about your organization – you’re the founder, right?
Ruslan: Yes. It started in 2003. It wasn’t really an organization then. I found out that a lesbian parade was going to be organized in downtown Kiev, and sprung into action. We only had 10 days to act, but we made them count. The local authorities eventually, as they put it, “discouraged” the parade from taking place. On the day of the parade, we passed out anti-gay fliers. I guess the lesbians also had some kind of tent. From then on, it became a tradition for us, protesting homosexual propaganda in the streets of Kyiv. We have what we call “Family Carnivals,” we just had one this past Saturday. In 2006, we gained legal status. In 2009, we nationalized.
Natalia: The word “God” crops up quite a bit in your promotional materials. Are you a religious organization?
Ruslan: We’re a social organization. Of course, all of the world’s religions protest homosexuality, but our arguments go further than that. We want to reach people who are not necessarily religious, and we want to reach them with this message: deviance is bad for national security.
Natalia: National security?
Ruslan: Of course. First of all, the homosexual lifestyle spreads AIDS. Second of all, it contributes to the demographic crisis in Europe. Third of all, it undermines the family, and families, traditional families, form the basis of any nation. Without family, a nation ceases to exist.
Natalia: I haven’t noticed gay-friendly nations ceasing to exist yet, but I have noticed in one of your brochures the following statement: “Homosexuality interferes with personal development.” Would you like to explain what you mean by that?
Ruslan: There is this prevailing myth in our society – “gays are talented,” but homosexuals are more depressed and suicidal, actually. They can’t reach their full potential.
Natalia: Well, wouldn’t that be because…
Ruslan: Because they’re oppressed? No. That’s the argument many people use, but it’s wrong. These people just have a hard time living with themselves. Look, I believe that sexual deviance is a mental illness. There are many factors responsible. It’s a condition that people have. This is why our organization is 100% opposed to violence. These people need help, they don’t need to be beaten up.
Ruslan: No. Violence is real, but I think it’s mostly caused by individual circumstances. It’s very much a politicized issue, so it can be hard to tell. That’s not true in every case, I understand that. There was a case in Israel recently, a gunman attacking a gay center. Obviously, we know what his motivation was. Though I don’t think propaganda of their lifestyle helps gays stay safe.
Natalia: And what do you think about gay honour killings? When families kill their kids if they are outed?
Ruslan: I understand that’s a problem in the Muslim world. I’m not an imam, so I can’t really comment. But our organization believes that homosexuality is caused by many factors. So if your child is gay, your question should be – “What have I done to contribute to this situation?” It shouldn’t be – “What’s the best way to kill this child?”
Natalia: You’ve spoken about challenging so-called “gay propaganda” in court. What Ukrainian laws actually support your position?
Ruslan: Well, our family codex is quite good, actually. It defines marriage as something between a man and wife. Of course, that can change, and we don’t want to let that happen. It’s like – you should know about this – when the American Psychological Association decided that it wasn’t going to list homosexuality as a mental condition anymore. Why did they decide that? What’s next? “Schizophrenia has become so widespread, we can’t call it a bad thing anymore either?”
Natalia: And are you also personally opposed to other non-traditional lifestyles? It’s a big world out there, many freaky people, doing freaky things.
Ruslan: I’m an Evangelical Christian, but I’m not necessarily against people who go against the grain. I don’t care if someone is emo, for example. I hate it when people like me are painted as total conformists. I look at emo boys, I say, “they’ll grow out of it.”
Of course, I oppose adultery and lust and sin in general. I’m not telling people what to do in their bedrooms, mind you. I don’t even care what gays do in their bedrooms. People do whatever they need to do. I might think it’s a sin, but that’s not the issue. The issue is when they impose a dictatorship of their ideas.
Ruslan: Read the news. Everywhere you look in the West, somebody’s getting disgraced because they said something against gays. Well, excuse me, it shouldn’t work like that. I should be able to say whatever I want. It’s how democracy should work.
Natalia: The counter-argument to that, of course, is the entire idea of minority rights and how society is fundamentally stacked against certain people from the outset, resulting in inequalities that must be corrected somehow.
Ruslan: Rights? Look, there is such a thing as natural rights. For example, let’s say I’m black. Someone discriminates against me, that is not OK. But what does a deviant sexual lifestyle have to do with natural rights? Nothing. And I should remind you that we’re on a slippery slope here. Two hundred years ago, the very idea of a lesbian parade in this city would have been unthinkable. Now suddenly people have this idea? So what will happen tomorrow? A parade of zoophiles?
Natalia: Two hundred years ago, most people also thought that slavery was pretty great.
Ruslan: Well, I’m not saying that history is singular. That’s not what I mean. Society doesn’t move in one direction, it’s more complicated than that. I just look at the statistics to determine what is going on, what’s good and what’s bad. Did you know that gays, proportionately, have a higher rate of pedophilia among their ranks?
Natalia: Is that statistic quoted from an independent source?
Ruslan: We take all of our statistics from this Russian website. They translate a lot of studies, which are independent. I’m wouldn’t play fast and loose with numbers anyway, that will only be used against our organization later.
Natalia: So you and I have been sitting here and discussing so-called deviance, and I’m curious, what do you make of straight men who get turned on by the sight of two attractive women kissing?
Ruslan: [laughs] Attractive lesbians are a myth. Men have been brainwashed by porn and glossy magazine covers into believing otherwise. But it’s not real.
Natalia: All of these men. So turned on by ladies making out. Where do you think that impulse comes from?
Ruslan: I’m telling you, it’s from brainwashing.
Natalia: So it’s a totally modern phenomenon, in your understanding.
Natalia: Are you against “sexual deviance” when it crops up in, say, a relationship between a married, heterosexual couple? I mean, you have this equation in your brochure: a man plus and woman equals a family with kids, but not all sex out there is procreative.
Ruslan: Honestly, I think married couples should do whatever they want, as long as both parties consent. There is this misconception, as if the church actually can advise people on positions during sex or something like that. Well, it can’t. I guess we keep coming back to this point: people are going to do whatever they want, behind closed doors. It’s when you begin to advertise it that the trouble starts.
Natalia: I’d like to ask you about the upcoming Ukrainian election. Any favourite candidates?
Ruslan: I’m a public person, the face of our organization, so I’m not naming names. I will tell you this, though, the things that divide Ukraine right now? They need to be put to rest. There are five issues: NATO, EU, relations with Russia and Russian as a second state language, competing religious confessions, and the fight over the legacy of WWII, and we need a moratorium on all of them. We can’t fix up the country if the country is torn apart.
Natalia: You know, it’s interesting that you should say that. Have you ever heard the English expression – “let’s agree to disagree”? Perhaps your organization might benefit from it.
Ruslan: [laughs] It’s a good expression, I must remember it for later use.