Are we fighting in Ukraine in order to “queer the Donbass”? That phrase, which I believe originated with The American Conservative’s editor-at-large Rod Dreher, implies that the ideological package that NATO rallied to Ukraine to defend includes not only freedom and democracy but also pride parades and drag queen story hour. That would, of course, be a ridiculous reason to fight a war. Many Americans don’t want to queer their own kids’ elementary school, much less an industrial Slavic province five thousand miles away.
In August 2022, President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged that his government would introduce legislation to create civil partnerships for gay couples. The bill was approved by the Ministry of Justice in October 2023. Instituting gay marriage will require a constitutional amendment, which Zelensky has said will have to wait until after the war ends. In the meantime, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in June 2023 that two Ukrainian men seeking a marriage license had been illegally discriminated against and, as a signatory to the European human rights convention, Ukraine must pass a law that grants them equal treatment.
In theory, it ought to be possible to be part of the democratic world and not buy in to America’s particular version of non-traditional sexual morals. In practice, apparently, it is not.
The story of how gay rights came to play a role in American foreign policy is a curious one. It started under Barack Obama and continued, surprisingly, under Donald Trump. It was folded into our broader support for human rights at a time when every single referendum on gay marriage here in the United States had failed and support for gay marriage at home was far from unanimous. In light of that, it should be unsurprising that the answer to our original question is: Yes, in fact, we are fighting to queer the Donbass. The average American may not be interested in that goal, but our State Department is.
In 2004, billboards appeared in the Macedonian capital of Skopje with pictures of gay couples and the slogan “Face Reality, The Campaign to Promote the Rights of Sexual Minorities.” At the bottom right corner of each billboard was the seal of the U.S. embassy. The billboards had been purchased by a local gay rights group called the Center for Civil and Human Rights, which two years earlier had received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. government. The ambassador to Macedonia at the time, Lawrence Butler, was a Clinton appointee rumored to be personally hostile to the “family-values agenda” of Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski. The embassy nevertheless disavowed the posters, saying the CCHR had used the seal “inappropriately.”
The controversy over the Macedonian billboards put a chill on efforts to incorporate gay rights into American foreign policy. Proponents would absolutely continue working toward that goal. They just realized they would have to be cautious. When Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, his State Department appointees got to work on how to frame an international gay rights agenda. After two years, they were ready to proceed….