It Isn't Easy Being Gay In Belarus

Bohdan Andrusyshyn

In September 1989, as a well-known singer, I gave a series of concerts in Belarus. The concerts had a distinctly political tinge. Audiences were composed of mostly reformist, presumably democratic, patriotic men and women, the "movers and shakers" of those heady days of national renaissance.

They were also representatives of a repressed minority -- nationally conscious, Belarusian-speaking Belarusians. And I was there to lend my voice in support of their aspirations for freedom and dignity in the face of majority-rule oppression and disdain.

I did this gladly and with an open heart. Under the right circumstances, I would do it again.

Yet even then I couldn't help feeling somewhat ambivalent. During those concerts, I often thought to myself: If these people knew I was gay, would they do the same for me? Indeed, would they even have bought a ticket?

The irony didn't escape me: Even in my own country, the United States, a land which likes to see itself as a bastion of democracy and equal opportunity, I had and continue to have far fewer basic civil rights than any of those beleaguered democrats of the brave new Belarusian "front."

I am deprived of these rights for one reason: because I am gay.

Fortunately, in mine and many other Western countries, the sands of public opinion are shifting and societal tides are turning. Last week, Laura Bush told CNN's Larry King that she supports gay marriage and that she's certain it will come.

The former first lady is right, of course. In many Western countries, the achievement of full human rights for gay people is either already here or on its way. Most sociological surveys show that the younger the age group, the more in favor they are of equality for all. As older generations die off, so too will the hateful rhetoric and bigoted attitudes that wreak havoc on so many young gay lives.

I am, however, not at all sanguine about Belarus.

Last weekend's aborted gay pride parade (watch the video here) drew a large number of comments from RFE/RL's Belarusian audience. Most of them -- breathtaking for their sheer ignorance and vitriol -- apparently emanated from the mouths of the young. Equally disturbing was the reaction of many Belarusian "democrats" (both in Belarus and abroad) who expressed little outrage at the security services' gratuitous and cynical assault on peaceful protesters. Some, to their everlasting shame, even condoned the brutality.

This week's event and its media fallout reminded me of the ambivalent thoughts that passed through my mind as I sang for those Belarusian audiences two decades ago.

I knew then what I am even more convinced of now: It is my great fortune not to have been born in the country of my maternal ancestors.

-- Bohdan Andrusyshyn


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