A former standup comedian who became president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky is a Jewish man who has become a global hero for standing up to a tyrant. Against all odds, Zelensky has led his nation to successfully rebuff the efforts of a world superpower bent on assassinating him and taking political control of his country.
In refusing to surrender to Russia, he inspired his fellow Ukrainians (including 90-year-old grandmothers) to take up arms. His rousing speeches in defense of democracy, peace, and equality have moved the international community to support his cause with billions of dollars of military and humanitarian aid. His insistence that war crimes be documented in real time (and the power of social media during war time) is forcing us all to confront the horrors that can be committed in the name of nationalism and the whims of a despot.
Admittedly, the majority of Ukrainians didn't support LGBTQ+ rights before the war (according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 69 percent said homosexuality should not be accepted). But as Ukrainians unite to defend their nation, things are changing rapidly. One recent petition calling on Zelensky to legalize same-sex marriage received 28,000 signatures. He's moved to consider more rights for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians, many of whom have been enlisted in the battle to defend the country.
"In the modern world, the level of democracy in a society is measured, among other things, by the state policy aimed at ensuring equal rights for all citizens," Zelensky wrote in response to the call for marriage equality. However, he pointed out that the Ukrainian constitution defines marriage "based on the free consent of a woman and a man," and the constitution cannot legally be altered during wartime. In the meantime, Zelensky said he supports a civil partnership law to get rights rolling.
This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 People Of The Year issue, which is out on newsstands Nov. 1. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.