“Can you believe it? The movie depicts the evolution of attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights in Ukraine, including a gay plumber.”

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I grew up in a small village in the Khmelnytskyi region of Ukraine during the Soviet Union’s rule. As a child, I was unaware of the LGBT community. It wasn’t until I moved to Kyiv for my studies that I first learned about them, and the idea frightened me. The thought of two men being in love was something I couldn’t wrap my head around.

At the age of 56, Nepytaliuk is a filmmaker whose most recent work, Lessons of Tolerance, aims to challenge the way that Ukrainian society treats others. The film was inspired by Igor Bilyts’ 2017 production Gay Parade, and follows a struggling Ukrainian family who are initially homophobic but eventually come to terms with their prejudices after hosting a gay activist in exchange for funding from the EU. Like the family in his film, Nepytaliuk’s own biases began to fade as he got older and had the opportunity to interact and collaborate with LGBTQ+ individuals. Through this process, he came to realize that these individuals are no different from himself, and his fear and prejudice towards them dissipated.

The goal of Lessons of Tolerance is to reflect the heterosexist culture in Ukraine and target heterosexual viewers. Bohdan Zhuk, director of Ukraine’s inaugural LGBTQ+ film festival Sunny Bunny, believes that the film has the potential to shift people’s perspectives. In Ukraine, there are many misconceptions about queer individuals due to limited knowledge and propaganda. This film challenges audiences to challenge these stereotypes and form their own opinions after meeting a real gay person.

Even though Ukraine was the initial post-Soviet nation to remove penalties for homosexuality in 1991, advancements in legality and societal acceptance have been slow. While there are regulations prohibiting discrimination in employment, there is no acknowledgement of same-sex partnerships and no laws against anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes or conversion therapy.

Throughout the majority of the movie, Vasyl, the activist, calmly confronts and undermines the family’s preconceived notions of a homosexual individual. For example, both the father and son are taken aback when they discover that Vasyl works as a plumber, with the father commenting, “A gay plumber? That’s hard to believe.” Gradually, the family’s concerns and stereotypes about gay men begin to fade away. The father, who initially viewed Vasyl as a potential threat to children, even ends up asking him for massage lessons as a surprise for his wife.

The Equality March, organized by the LGBTQ+ community in Kyiv in 2021.

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The film “Lessons of Tolerance” will have a widespread release in Ukrainian theaters beginning on Valentine’s Day. This is a promising indication that many people will have the opportunity to see it, although it is being released just a few weeks before the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Surprisingly, this timing may actually benefit the film by increasing its reach and influence, as the ongoing conflict has sparked a significant surge of political and social support for LGBTQ+ individuals in Ukraine.

Based on findings from Nash Svit, the prominent LGBTQ+ group in Ukraine, in 2023, only 33% of the population holds a negative view towards the community. On the other hand, a majority (63%) believes that LGBTQ+ individuals should be granted equal rights. To provide context, in comparison to eight years ago, 60% of Ukrainians held negative opinions towards the queer community.

Many activists see this sudden change in mindset as a direct consequence of the Russian invasion. According to Zhuk, “The war has caused Ukrainians to rethink their attitudes.” He adds, “We have a common enemy in Russia, which is actively trying to destroy us and our culture. People are realizing that someone’s sexual orientation does not pose a life-threatening danger to them.”

The LGBTQI Military has played a significant role in bringing attention to Ukrainian LGBTQ+ soldiers serving in the war, as Ukrainian patriotism, sovereignty, and democracy have increasingly been defined in contrast to Russia. According to Lenny Emson, the executive director of Transgender Europe and a Ukrainian native, the presence of openly LGBTQ individuals fighting against Russia as part of the Ukrainian military has helped bring visibility and recognition to the LGBTQ community. This has resulted in a shift in public support for same-sex civil partnerships and a draft bill is currently being considered in Ukraine’s parliament.

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The moral of Lessons of Tolerance, which promotes unity and understanding despite differences, is similar to how the invasion of Russia has shifted perceptions of who poses a threat and who is an ally. Nepytaliuk believes that the film is crucial for Ukraine at this time because they are currently in conflict with a foreign enemy (Russia) who wants to revert them back to a totalitarian regime. At the same time, there is a need to combat internal enemies, such as outdated prejudices.

Nevertheless, doubts among advocates imply that the recent advancements are precarious and limited to the issue of war. Emson states, “We should not underestimate the opposition from individuals and groups that oppose LGBTQ+ equality.” He also adds, “Pride celebrations in Ukraine can only take place under strict regulations enforced by the police, and the streets must be cleared. We are simply parading through blocked streets controlled by the police.”

The final scene of Lessons of Tolerance portrays the fears that are present, as Vasyl, who has gained acceptance from his host family, discovers that tolerance has its limits in other areas. The current support for LGBTQ+ individuals in Ukraine seems to be conditional. These individuals may be accepted and granted equal rights as long as they fulfill their patriotic duty and contribute to the war effort. However, what occurs when this duty ends?

Maybe the greatest possibility is that acceptance can lead to freedom. According to Zhuk, “The world may not realize it, but a queer liberation is essential. Increasing the number of queer films is one approach to aiding this process.”

Source: theguardian.com

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