LGBT rights in Belarus
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2009)|
|LGBT rights in Belarus|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Legal since 1994,
age of consent is equalized
|Military service||No (LGBT persons are barred from the Belorussian military on the grounds that homosexuality is a psychitriac disorder.|
|No recognition of same-sex relationships.|
|Same-sex marriage constitutionally banned.|
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Belarus face legal challenges and abuse not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Belarus, but households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.
Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in Belarus in 1994; however, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Belarus are still severely limited and homosexuality remains highly taboo in Belorussian society. Many Belorussian people believe "homosexuality is a psychiatric illness" and many LGBT persons in Belarus tend to hide their sexual orientation. Those who are "out" face harassment, violence and psychical abuse.
- 1 History of gay rights in Belarus
- 2 Current Laws
- 3 Free Speech Rights
- 4 Right to Assemble
- 5 LGBT rights in education
- 6 Rights in the Military
- 7 Mental health care rights
- 8 Summary table
- 9 See also
- 10 External links
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
History of gay rights in Belarus
While a part of the Soviet Union, Belarus used the laws common for all Soviet republics. As such, homosexuality was considered illegal. Sexual relationships between females have never been illegal in Belarus (though lesbians could be sent to mental institutions if discovered) while those between males were frequently prosecuted. Words such as homosexuality or gay were not present in any old Soviet code and the Soviet juridical system used the term sodomy.
Article 119-1 of the previous Criminal Code of Belarus set out that homosexual men having voluntary sexual contact were to be convicted to prison terms up to five years. In 1989 nearly 50 Belarusian citizens were fired due to their sexual orientation. A special department was set up in the KGB to combat homosexuality. The secret services used blackmail to recruit agents from the gay community. This prevented the possibility of the emergence of any gay organization, or print media designed specifically for sexual minorities. Nonetheless, gay people met in the streets, toilets, railway stations, or gathered in private flats or houses.
In 1992 a newspaper named Sex-AntiAIDS-Plus was founded through help provided by a non-governmental organization called Stop-AIDS-Belarus (SAB). The second issue of the newspaper was intercepted by a procurator’s office, and a criminal case was initiated against the newspaper. The newspaper contained personal ads for gays and lesbians. The prosecution regarded these announcements as pandering. In 1994, the criminal case against the newspaper was dropped. However, its founder and chief editor, Ruslan Geniush, fearing persecution, stopped his publishing endeavour. In 1992 a magazine named Randez-vous was registered, and began publishing. The magazine focused primarily on personal ads and contained articles written by psychologists, sexologists and letters and announcements from LGBT readers in a special column called "Blue Salon". In 1994 the magazine ceased to exist.
On 1 March 1994, the Parliament of Independent Belarus changed Article 119-1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, and homosexuality became legal.
Civil and Family Law
According to the Constitution (Article 32) and the Marriage and Family Code (Articles 1 and 12), marriage is a specific civil contract, concluded before a state organ and available to two persons of the opposite sex. This final requirement makes marriage inaccessible to homosexual couples.
There is no domestic partnership option under Belarusian law, although co-habitation outside of marriage, even by heterosexual couples, is common. Domestic partnership is not a legal basis for one partner’s changing his or her surname. It does not lead to spousal material commonwealth between the partners. Among the responsibilities taken on by the partners in their life together, the only ones legally enforced are those listed in the civil law. When they have a common business, their relations are regulated by the rules of commercial law. If they break up, the partners have no access to the legally recognized rights of a spouse in a divorce. Current and former partners in cohabitation have no right to alimony or financial support.
Cohabitation is not a legal basis for inheritance, since partners are not included in the legal circle of heirs. Therefore, domestic partners may inherit from one another only when there is a last will and testament. The taxes on such an inheritance are higher than the taxes imposed on inheritances received by a legal spouse. Domestic partners inheriting through a will also have no right to a preserve part of the estate.
Cohabitating partners have no parental rights over the children of the other partner. It is possible, however, for one partner to legally adopt the other’s biological children. The adoptive parent must not be legally incapacitated, must not have been stripped of his or her parental rights by the courts, and must be at least 16 years older than the adopted child. It is not possible for co-habitating couples to adopt orphans, since the law requires adoptive couples to be married.
The Labour Code (Article 14) prohibits discrimination in the sphere of labour relations. However, sexual orientation is left out of the list of social characteristics on whose basis discrimination is legally prohibited.
Homosexual sex was decriminalized in 1994. The Criminal Code in force at the moment in Belarus was passed in 2000. The only homosexual acts that remain crimes are those that are non-consensual. The crimes regarding homosexuality are covered in Chapter 20 (Section VII) of the Criminal Code, the chapter dedicated to “crimes against sexual inviolability or sexual freedom”. Article 167 covers "forced actions of a sexual character":
- 1. Muzhelozhstvo [specific Russian definition of “male sexual intercourse with male”, literary “man lying with man”], lesbianism or other actions of a sexual character committed by use of force or threat thereof against the victim, or by exploiting the victim's vulnerability, are punished by deprivation of freedom from three to seven years.
- 2. The same actions, if they are committed several times or by a person previously convicted of rape, or by a group of persons, or wittingly against an underage person, are punished by deprivation of freedom from five to twelve years.
- 3. Actions which are foreseen by the first or second parts of the present Article if they are committed wittingly against a person under fourteen years old, or carelessly brought about the death of a victim, or carelessly inflicted heavy damage to his/her health, caused HIV infection or some other heavy consequences, are punished by deprivation of freedom from eight to fifteen years.
Article 170 on "Coercive acts of a sexual character" states that:
- 1. Coercion of a person into sexual intercourse, muzhelozhstvo, lesbianism or other actions of a sexual character by use of blackmail, threat of destruction, damage or withdrawal of property, or by exploiting the victim's material or other dependency, is punished by limitation of freedom up to three years or deprivation of freedom on the same terms.
- 2. The same action, if it is committed wittingly against an underage person, is punished by limitation of freedom up to four years or deprivation of freedom up to five years.
The age of consent for participation in sexual acts is equal for homosexuals and heterosexuals: 16 years old.
There is no Belarusian law that refers specifically to perpetrators of crimes motivated by homophobia. In the Criminal Code, homosexuals are only singled out when they are the “subjects” of a crime (e.g., when they are the perpetrators), and not when they are “objects” (e.g., victims of a crime). Judicial and police organs do not express any eagerness to collect evidence about the homophobic motives of those who perpetrate crimes. Judges are not obliged to consider such motives as aggravating the circumstances of guilt, or to impose more severe punishments when homophobic motives are present. LGBT people are in danger to face discrimination and violence.
On 18 April 2001, a dead body of the pensioner Alexander Stephanovich, known in Minsk as a homosexual, was found in the yard of the apartment block where he lived. His body was stabbed all over with knives. On 16 May of the same year, Andrei Babkin, an activist with Lambda Belarus, was badly beaten and raped at the entrance to his flat. He was taken to the hospital with severe injuries. On 2 July, the police in Minsk detained and badly beat Andrei Scherbakov, one of the founders of Lambda Belarus. The next day, Ivan Suchinski, the owner of the gay club “Oskar,” was killed. The club had been closed by the authorities in February 2000 and Ivan brought civil claims because of the unfair actions of the police. On 13 November 2001, in Molodechno, Lambda Belarus leader Edward Tarletski was assaulted which resulted in a concussion and required seven days' hospitalization.
On 15 February 2002 in Zhlobin (Gomel Region), 34 year old accountant Victor Kovyl was found dead in his parents’ flat. He was openly gay both at work and in public. The police refused to give the details of the murder to Kovyl’s partner Alexander and one of the members of the police said to him: “It serves you right, sodomites (faggots)!”. On 12 April 2002, an assault and beating of gay men took place outside the gay club “Babylon”. According to witnesses a group of skin heads (10–12 men) attacked three patrons before the police arrived. Among the victims was Edward Tarletski, Editor in Chief of gay magazine Forum Lambda and leader Lambda Belarus leader. On 10 June in Kommunar, Buda-Kashalyova District, Gomel region, three unidentified men beat and raped local resident Dmitrii L., 18. The victim was taken to the hospital where he spent two weeks. On the evening of 2 October 2002, Edward Tarletski was assaulted outside his flat entrance on his way home. Four unidentified men asked him if his name was Tarletski and started beating him. That night he was taken to the hospital. He had a broken shoulder and three smashed teeth. Finally, in 2002, the Minsk Police started a criminal case in connection with the murder of Mikhail M., 50, whose mutilated body was found in his flat on 17 November. According to the police this was the fifth murder of this kind committed in the capital of Belarus. However, the detectives fully denied the possibility of a serial killer.
On 18 February 2003 Tarletski was beaten again by unidentified persons near his house. Edward was taken to the hospital with a head injury and plenty of bruises on his body. On 29 March of the same year, a bouncer at the night club “Budda-Bar” in Minsk beat Yuliya Yukhnovetz, a volunteer for Minsk Pride, because she kissed a girl in the club hallway. She was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with an injured cranium.
On 28 May 2008, Edward Tarletski was attacked again by three youths in Minsk. Tarletski stated that he did not intend to report the attack to police because they would not do anything about the incident. He also said this attack was the third against him in five years.
In prisons and correctional facilities, homosexuality is subject to speculation, blackmail and extortion. While in prison, gays and lesbians are largely unprotected. Reportedly, executing bodies often make use of prisoners’ sexual inclinations to receive needed data, and turnkeys often encourage prisoners to abuse homosexuals.
Police officers seek information of a personal nature about homosexual persons who are victims of violence. This information is of no relevance to the prosecution the perpetrators of the crimes against those victims. Police officers collect information of a personal nature as well as passport data and mugshots of homosexual persons who visit known gay cruising areas. The national NGO “Vstrecha” [“Meeting”] (HIV-prevention group for gay men) reported about those practices in Brest and Gomel. Police officers refuse to register cases of brutality committed against sexual minorities and do not conduct investigations that would seek criminal responsibility from the perpetrators of crimes motivated by homophobic prejudice. Lambda Belarus reported many cases of brutality against lesbians and gays and passive behaviour of police in all regions of the country. Police have conducted unprovoked actions in bars frequented by homosexuals. AILGBT-Belarus, “Vstrecha”, Lambda Belarus and lesbian group “YANA” reported about those practices in Gomel and Minsk.
Immigration and Asylum Law
Persecution on the basis of sexual orientation is not explicitly recognized in law as a ground for granting refugee status. Same sex partners are not recognized for the purposes of immigration law. After the fall of the communist regime many Belarusians requested and were granted political asylum abroad, based on fear of persecution because of their sexual orientation. The most frequent reason cited was formal or informal harassment by the police. Amnesty International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Network – Belarus (AILGBT-Belarus) has information on individuals who were granted asylum in Czech Republic, France, Netherlands, and Sweden. One 19 year old former Minsk resident received asylum in a Western country in May 2007 because his parents had been trying to change his sexual orientation by means of shock therapy.
Political Figures' Stances on LGBT Rights
The open support of lesbians and gays is not a popular position for a political movement in Belarus. In July 2001, the Organising Committee of the 1st Belarusian Youth Congress, voted against allowing delegates of Lambda Belarus to participate.
In March 2002, a number of Belarusian media published the statements of Young Front (the youth organisation of Belarusian Popular Front), which contained homophobic statements. Specifically, Young Front leader Pavel Severinetz published a letter where he called homosexuality “a death-worthy sin and perversion”. According to Severinetz the fact of the existence of homosexuals is “the result of spoiling and sinfulness in the world”.
In another incident, Belarusian sexual minorities attempted to make a formal statement of solidarity with victims of the Chernobyl disaster. This attempt created a backlash, which led to an opposition youth leader, Dmitry Dashkevich, stating on the radio program "Freedom Night" that Belarus is no place for gays, and that homosexuals are sick people and that the opposition would not enter into a dialogue with them.
In September 2004, President Lukashenko, in a speech before the Belarusian Security Council, said, "we have to show our society in the near future, what ‘they’ [EU and USA] are doing here, how they are trying to turn our girls into prostitutes, how they are feeding our citizens with illicit drugs, how they are spreading sexual perversion here, which methods they are employing”.
Gay life is still largely underground and most Belarusians consider homosexuality a disorder[dead link]. Homophobic attitudes, suspicions and prejudices are still very strong. According to a survey by the Belorussian Lambda League for Sexual Equality (Lambda Belarus) in April 2002, 47% of Belarusians think that gays should be imprisoned. Young people increasingly tolerate homosexuality and show a growing interest in gay and lesbian culture. However, their interest remains part of youth popular culture and is often considered as a kind of fashion that will be outgrown and forgotten when they become adults. In 2007 Information Center TEMA and MyGomel.com organize a voting about react of Gomel region youth to sexual minorities. 47.6% had negative feelings to sexual and gender minorities, 10% want to criminalize homosexual relations.
Free Speech Rights
The internet provider Beltelecom (a monopoly telecom provider in Belarus), which controls the external gateway, tried to block access to gay sites, at least from internet clubs. Internet resources for gays and lesbians in Belarus have recently been operating without problems. However, access is blocked to Russian gay internet sites, including Gay.ru.
A private company in Belarus censored gay personal ads on its gay-oriented website, Apagay.com, today known as Gay.by. In response to complaints, the website owner first explained that they had the right to edit personal ads. Then they stated they were merely implementing recommendations, but did not state whose recommendations.
The only specialised magazine for the LGBT community (Forum Lambda magazine) was published by Lambda Belarus in Russia and disseminated in Belarus from 1998 to 2002. The publication has been banned several times by the State Publishing Committee.
The main source of information about life of LGBT community in Belarus is the internet portal Gay.by. It is one of ten most visited sites in Belarus with a monthly audience of over 350,000 visitors. The creators of the web site encounter a lot of problems when trying to disseminate information about homosexuality. In December 2002, Belarusian State University in Minsk banned access to all gay internet resources. In March 2003 the administration of the internet café “Soyuz Online”, the biggest and most popular among gays in Minsk, blocked Gay.by. In January 2004, the national web hosting company N1.BY refused Gay.by its services. Earlier in 2003 the system administrator of "Krasnaya Banernaya" (RED.BY) banned the portal Gay.by from participating in banner exchange. On 10 May 2003, an unknown hacker broke into the Belarusian gay and lesbian web site Gay.by. The hacker deleted all topics on the site's forum and started a new thread containing an appeal to kill gays. In addition while downloading the home page of Gay.by the notification “PIDARS MUST DIE” and “STOP PIDARS IN BELARUS” appeared on the screen. The hacker’s break in was followed by telephone calls to the members of the site’s team with threats of physical violence.
However a new line of sites keeps the Belarus LGBT audience well-informed and entertained. The first Belarus gay blog, sunshine.by since 2003 have been keeping abreast of all developments in the country, providing invaluable insight into the world of Gay, Lesbian, Bi and Transgender community of the country.
Right to Assemble
Controversy over the public promotion of LGBT issues
After previous failed efforts, in 1999 a gay pride festival was organised by "Forum Lambda", a magazine for Belarusian gays and lesbians. The festival was supported by the UN Development Programme, studio Tatyana, United Way Belarus, IREX, the Titanic Club, and guests from Ukraine. The 1999 festival was a success.[dead link]
In 2000, the organisers of the festival encountered great difficulty in preparing for the event. According to Edvard Tarletsky, head of the organising committee, the radio station Radio BA which was to cover the event and grant its dancehall for evening events received an order from the Presidential Administration not to do so. Other radio stations reportedly refused support on the same grounds, and events at other venues were also canceled. Orthodox Church-related groups demonstrated in Minsk against the Gay Festival the day before the festival was planned, on 9 September. The planned gay pride march through the city was banned by the city government 24 hours before it was due to take place, and authorities acted on the day to prevent festivities. Newspapers reported the outcome of the day. See and 
In 2001 the Belarus government allegedly prohibited the Belarus Gay Pride Festival. On 3 August 2001, unidentified vandals broke into and vandalised the flat of Lambda Belarus leader Andrei Babkin where fliers, posters and booklets of the festival “Gay Pride 2001” had been kept.
In 2002, days before Gay Pride 2002, Lambda Belarus leader Edward Tarletski was called to the Minsk police station where he was told that if a gay pride parade took place, “the police will not take any responsibility for possible disorder.”
In 2004, an international gay and lesbian festival was forced to be canceled. The organizing committee of the final (Belarusian) phase of the 4th International Moonbow Human Rights & Homo Cultural Festival and the first stage of this year's ILGCN (International Lesbian & Gay Cultural Network) World Lesbian and Gay World Conference 28–29 August 2004 were forced to cancel the event in Minsk. This came after authorities frightened a club owner into withdrawing his promise to host the event. In addition, threatening phone calls from authorities said foreigners trying to attend the event for workshops and discussions "would be immediately expelled from the country in keeping with the article of intervention in domestic affairs of the Republic of Belarus." 
On 27 October 2008, the same group asked permission to hold a protest in support of gay rights near the Russian Embassy in Minsk. Both events were not authorised. Because the country is currently not a member of the Council of Europe, Belarussian activists cannot appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. It is the same group which decided to organise with Russian LGBT activists a Slavic Pride which is planned to alternate between Moscow and Minsk every year.
In January 2009, an event titled "The Right To Love" was planned and designed to raise public awareness about homophobia and discrimination against LGBT people in Belarus. Authorization was denied. LGBT activist Roman Mandrykin filed a complaint in the Court of the Central Borough of Gomel in response to this decision of the Gomel City Administration. In the text of the complaint, Mr. Mandrykin claims that the decision of the Gomel City Administration violated his right to the Freedom of Assembly, as guaranteed by Article 35 of the Constitution of Belarus. He adds that the local regulation, Regulation 299, is itself unconstitutional in that it imposes unreasonable burdens on those seeking to organize public gatherings. The organizers intend to pursue this claim until it is resolved and hope to be able to organize a gathering in 2010.
Month Against Homophobia
The "Month against Homophobia" was a campaign by Belarusian LGBT activists from 17 April to 17 May 2009 in Minsk, Grodno and Luninets. It consisted of informational campaigns and events. The month was organized by Gayby.org, Gay.by, members of the League of Sexual Equality "Lambda", and Amnesty International (Belarus). More than fifty media outlets reported about the month's events. Belarusian media began to talk about gay and lesbian people.
The main aim of the month against Homophobia was to resist any kind of physical, moral and symbolic violence to people with a different sexual orientation and gender identity, to show solidarity to LGBT in the world who are unable to fight for their rights and to carry on a wider campaign for Human Rights.
Recognition of LGBT Organizations
There is no official organization in Belarus that represents the interests of gays and lesbians in Belarus. The Women's Organization (Jyana), which was officially registered and working on "gender questions." Jyana, which protected young women in the country, recently announced that it soon will close. The men's organization, Republican Youth (Vstrecha) is not an LGBT-organization, but conducts a great deal of work aimed at preventing HIV infection and AIDS among men who have sex with men. Any other organization or initiative is working outside the legal framework.
- Belarusian initiative by sexual and gender equality 
- LGBT Human Rights Project Gaybelarus.by, the organizer of the upcoming Slavic Pride in May 2010 in Minsk
- Vstrecha ["Meeting"], located in Minsk, . The oldest gay group in Belarus, founded in the early 1990s. Activities include HIV/AIDS prevention; HIV+ support group.
- Gay Alliance Belarus was founded in 2008 and represents the interests of the LGBT community. Gay Alliance organized a national competition of Mister Gay Belarus and edits a national LGBT web site www.gayby.net and LGBT.BY.
LGBT rights in education
In May 2003, the administration of the European Humanities University in Minsk banned a showing of the documentary “Outlawed” about discrimination of gays and lesbians all around the world. According to the University staff, the ban was made under pressure of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Rights in the Military
According to the Belarusian Ministry of Defense and the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Belarus bans gays from serving in the military. AILGBT-Belarus has documented at least five cases of gay men from Gomel who did not serve in the army because of their sexual orientation. No cases of harassment of gays in the army are reported, but this may be the result of gay individuals hiding their sexuality.
Mental health care rights
A high percentage of suicide is observed amongst gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. Qualified psychological help is not generally available. In Minsk, the capital of Belarus, three universities – Belarus State University, Belarus Pedagogical University and European Humanities University – have full psychology courses in their curriculum but do not address the problems of sexual minorities.
- National LGBT portal Gay.by (English) (Russian)
- LGBT Human Rights Project GayBelarus.By (English) (Russian)
- sunshine.by (Russian)
- Attempt To Register A LGBT Organisation In Belarus Provokes Police Raids
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- Viachaslau Bortnik's report presented at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 4–15 October 2004; side event “Intolerance, discrimination and hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the OSCE region.”
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