Belarusian officials are still hung up over a rainbow flag that was flying outside the British Embassy in Minsk last week to acknowledge International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT).
The kerfuffle started three days before the May 17 IDAHOT when the embassy flew the flag alongside British and European Union flags to promote the rights of the LGBT community and draw public attention to the discrimination LGBT people face around the world.
The move was accompanied by a video put out by the embassy to commemorate the day, with Ambassador Fionna Gibb saying Britain is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community.
On May 20, the Belarusian Interior Ministry fired back in a tersely worded statement accusing the British government of trying to “create problems where they do not exist” and asserting that “same-sex relationships are fake.”
“This day has never been and is not in any way memorable or significant in our country,” the statement said.
“The reason is obvious: The overwhelming majority of Belarusians adhere to traditional family values, including Christian ones. A statement of this kind [by the British Embassy] is a challenge to these values,” it added.
Olga Rapinchuk, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Minsk, told RFE/RL by telephone on May 21 that it would not comment on the ministry’s statement.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Belarus face deep-rooted homophobia, discrimination, and the threat of violence, activists and human rights defenders say.
They add that repression and violence against LGBT people in former Soviet republics such as Belarus has been encouraged by Russia’s 2013 law criminalizing the distribution to minors of “distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”
Belarus's LGBT intolerance was on full display in October 2017 when police raided nightclubs popular with the LGBT community, during which two clubs were shuttered and patrons were harassed, with some even being detained by police.
A year earlier, Belarus reportedly led a group of 17 countries to block a plan to include LGBT rights in a new urban strategy crafted by the United Nations, according to Reuters.
Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarus Helsinki Committee, called the statement “decidedly homophobic” and noted that the ministry’s function is not to moralize.
“We would question the legality of such statements and ask they remove this material from the website and refrain from further comments of this kind,” he said.