Over 52 thousand signatures were put by Belarusians under a collective appeal to President Aleksandr Lukashenka with a request to "initiate a law banning propaganda and public demonstration of homosexuality and other sexual perversions to minors." Director of the Open Hearts charity foundation Uladzislau Valakhovich, Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Orthodox Church Archpriest Andrei Lemyashonak were presented at a news conference in Minsk as the authors of the appeal.
The desire to "preserve traditional values" united the prolifers, the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Traditional values are understood as chastity before marriage, marital fidelity, multiple children, openness to the birth of every child. The initiators of the appeal also seek the introduction of criminal liability for people who "promote" LGBT in Belarus.
The propaganda, as understood by the authors of the appeal, includes the LGBT flag on the building of the British Embassy, the festival of queer culture Dotyk, seminars on gender equality, and just an occasion of there being "a children's theater in one room and there was an openly gay man performance" at an exhibition.
How exactly should "propagandists" be punished?
This is a question that journalists were most interested in. We did not get an answer at the press conference. In short, the position is as follows: let the initiative be first supported at the state level, and then the punishment will be determined by experts. "We are not talking about the return of the article on sodomy. We are talking about our children being corrupted by the propaganda of homosexuality," Uladzislau Valakhovich specifies.
There is no unity among Orthodox Christians about the treatment
The Belarusian Orthodox Church was one of the main drivers of the appeal. In late 2019, believers drew attention to the fact that signatures for the ban on "propaganda and public demonstration of homosexuality and other sexual perversions to minors" were collected simply in church stalls. However, there is no unity in the BOC regarding the content of the document.
Archpriest Pavel Siardyuk, chairman of the Synodal Commission of the Belarusian Orthodox Church on Family, Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, who attended the press conference, is dissatisfied with the fact that LGBT propaganda is proposed to be criminalized. To explain his position, he stopped journalists of Euroradio and BelaPAN at the exit of the Slavyanskaya hotel, where the press conference was held.
Siardzyuk says that the collection of signatures under the appeal from the Orthodox Church is an initiative of St. Elizabeth Monastery and its father confessor Andrei Lemiashonak. "Neither I, nor my wife, nor my parishioners have signed this appeal," says the Archpriest.
According to Pavel Siardzyuk, "the introduction of the paragraph concerning the criminal prosecution is undoubtedly a discriminatory component. It's "more than strange" to organize the collection of signatures under such an appeal.
"I see a deep danger in such appeals," says Siardzyuk. "Having no persuasion in our lifestyle, we turn to the tools of the state. The society which was persecuted not so long ago, in the twentieth century, should by no means turn into persecutors, as the situation may turn against us".
Politics or not politics?
Father Pavel believes that Belarusian society has not yet learned to discuss subtle subjects.
"I am personally against criminal responsibility," he says. "The position of the church is aimed at those who recognize themselves as members of the church. One can demand something from the society only taking into account the laws of life in this society".
Addressing the head of Belarus in this case is a provocative step, which will lead to the wrong results. You can talk as much as you like that we are not engaged in politics, but today's press conference and the campaign as a whole is a political step".
However, the Open Heart Director Uladzislau Valakhovich has another opinion on this issue.
"We are not playing politics. We are protecting children with this initiative. We are setting a boundary that must be crossed," he says.
Position of the LGBT community: Stop building a wall between people
In the evening of March 9, the project on gender and sexuality MAKEOUT published an emotional text. It was a reaction to the press conference. In it, representatives of the LGBT community talk about the harassment and fear faced by the people living in the Belarusian society.
"They say to us 'Belarusians share our initiative'. We are Belarusians, too. We pay taxes, study and work in this country. We are daughters and sons, neighbors and colleagues.
We are told that Orthodox and Catholics have signed the appeal. We, too, are believers. We go to orthodox and catholic churches. Stop pretending that LGBT parishioners do not exist," the text says.
Its authors note that 50,000 signatures are a lot, but even if there are fewer LGBT people, their existence cannot be denied and they cannot be referred to as "second-class people". They call on LGBT opponents to stop building walls between people and inciting hatred, on the Belarusian civil and human rights community to respond to discrimination, and on the government to adopt an anti-discrimination law that protects the rights of all citizens without exception.