The butterfly effect: What Americans think about war in Ukraine

September 27, 2022

Harmilee Cousin III was born in the Washington D.C. suburbs. He spent 12 years coaching swimming for several club and university teams. When he started, he never intended to coach as long as he did. Harmilee studied economics and finance at university and decided to change his career path following his last coaching job. Now Harmilee works on Wall Street, and in his spare time volunteers his editing skills in service of human rights. Harmilee is openly gay and married to Ukrainian activist and QUA founder Bogdan Globa.

We talked to Harmilee and discussed his vision of the situation in Ukraine, compared LGBTQ+ rights in the USA and Ukraine and the influence of religion on it, and talked about the state of interracial marriage in America.

IMG_2548 Harmilee Cousin III, David N. Cicilline (D-R.I) and Bogdan Globa during World Pride at Copenhagen, 2021.

Sexuality as evolution - private and state

I think that sexuality is an evolution. At any point, anyone can be at one point on the spectrum and move to a different point. I never questioned my sexuality when I was younger, but I knew that I was different in addition to being a black American. I was very lucky because I grew up in an upper middle class family. We had everything we needed. We had access to good education, health and food. So there was a kind of inclusiveness. At the same time, my family is very religious (Protestant). That makes things a little difficult. Because you know that you are different, you feel that you are different but you don't quite know what it is and you live in a religious environment. As for me, I haven't attended a church service in a long time. But I still believe in God.

I didn't actually come out to my parents until after my graduation. At first, they told me: “You're our son and we love you no matter what”. But after that the message quickly changed to: “No, this is wrong,” etc. At some point we stopped communicating. I was lucky that I was independent. I was on my own with my career and I was very busy with it so I didn't really have time to deal with the situation. Unfortunately, my mom go. Of course our family gathered again, but we still didn't discuss my coming out and my life. To this day, it is not something we talk about. My father and my sister don't even know that I married Bogdan. My husband told me: “If it can be a thing that ruins your family relations, don't be so quick to do it”.

Talking about the USA, I think that we came a long way in the last 50 years in terms of equality, not only LGBTQ+ issue. But there is always work that could be done and things that can be better. I think that in America and Europe, there is a kind of intersectionality. You can be white and gay or black and gay or lesbian and Asian…I think a lot of acheivements for LGBTQ equality have mostly recognized and included white people. But there is a huge movement for equal rights for transgender and intersex people of color. There are things going on in the LGBTQ+ Asian community. So, yes, we have made a lot of progress, but there is still a lot of work to do because of intersectionality. We are not just one thing. We are many things. And we have to deal with that.

Coming out on the workplace and culture of diversity

When I moved to New York I didn't tell my coworkers that I am gay. And it turned out to be a bad decision. I should have told them because they were completely fine with that. In America now, especially on Wall Street, being non-white, being gay, being a woman is totally normal. The companies look for diversity of people, thoughts, opinions, and they understand that it is an asset. So they want African American people, Asian people, women, gay people - people from all backgrounds.

In my office on my team there are three women, and two African Americans including me. In another team there is a heterosexual woman from Turkey. She is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met. She speaks 5 languages, she is very intelligent, she is one of the biggest producers and brings a lot of money for the firm. If my firm didn't have a diversity policy to hire and retain someone like her, she wouldn't be be bringing the results that she brings. And this is so common for Wall Street. Diversity is a good thing - it drives business.

Ukraine and LGBTQ+rights: is there any hope for progress?

There is a song by Paula Abdul: “I take two steps forward, I'll take two steps back”. I think that this song is a good description of Ukrainian LGBTQ+ policy and human rights in general. I don't understand the obsession with not advancing human rights for LGBTQ+ citizens in Ukraine. If you want a happy, healthy, productive economy and country you should care about the rights of all the citizens, even if you do not agree with them. When you start pressing the rights of one group of people and supporting another group, it is a dangerous situation.

In the USA we have a kind of religious pressure similar to that Ukraine has. But the difference is that the United States is further on the path where you can't longer ignore human rights.

How long can it take for Ukraine? Well, there are some points. First - Ukraine is a young country and sometimes it takes a while. Second - Ukrainians just have to sit down and estimate: are the rights of the people from the Council of Churches, Orthodox people, etc more important than the rights of other people? What I've learnt is that most Christian organizations (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant) are bullshit. This is all about power. These religious organizations want influence. If they followed the Bible principles they wouldn't be teaching and advocating things they preach. For example, the biggest principle of the Bible is choice. You have a choice to choose Jesus and God or to reject Jesus and God. God lets you choose. And if these organizations really truly believed in these prescriptions they wouldn't do the thing they do. Because you can not make a choice in the place of another person.

I am not afraid to come to Ukraine as a gay man. And I want to go there with my husband. I am more concerned about being Black. I read news about Zhan Beleniuk's treatment after the 2020 Summer Olympic games. He won a gold medal and how was he treated? It kind of reminds me about Jesse Owens who won gold medals before World War II. He was treated like a second class despite winning all these medals. Of course, it is not the same situation but it reminds me of that. So I am a little bit concerned about being in some small cities but I think it will not stop me from visiting Ukraine. I met wonderful Ukrainian people, ate delicious Ukrainian food, I love Ukrainian culture and I want to have this experience in Ukraine, and hope people will look at me beyond my skin.

Interracial marriage with a Ukrainian man

As a whole, nobody cares about two married men, one Black and the other White. But it depends on where you are. If you live in Alabama or South Carolina you might deal with stigma due to being LGBTQ, and being in an interracial relationship. I don't mean violence, but people may stare at you. In some parts of America, there are - as I call them - fake Christians. They are good in church every Sunday but they cheat on their wives. But in New York or Chicago, LA or Washington or any big city, nobody cares, nobody looks and you feel free holding hands on the street.


The butterfly effect: What Americans think about war in Ukraine

Before I met Bogdan, I knew some things about Ukraine. I knew the history of Ukraine: Kyiv Rus, Cold War, Soviet Union, and its consequences. But I didn't know much about its people, or culture. After I met my husband, I found out that Ukraine is a beautiful country with great culture and ideas. Of course, I keep an eye on the current political situation.

Modern Ukraine is a baby country, it's a young country and it's learning about itself trying to figure out its identity and what is important. Ukrainians learn how to be Ukrainians now in the world that is so interconnected. And I think it is tough. Ukraine has to understand what it wants to be and how to interface with the rest of the world. Putin has no right to invade and the USA has no right to use its power to force Ukraine to do what they want. Ukrainians alone have to determine their destiny. Now, Ukrainians are fighting for their lives.

What do Americans think about war with Russia? Well, I think that there is a portion of Americans who are indifferent because it is quite easy to live their lives and not worry about the rest of the world. As you remember, the last couple of years the president was Donald Trump and he's very isolationist: “America first! Only America!’ It was all about Americans and a lot of people still follow this vision.

The second portion of people is deeply concerned about the rest of the world. And they recognize that under Trump we didn't do a good job in being global citizens. And we have to earn respect from the rest of the world again.

And there is a third group who are very involved in what happens in Ukraine and Eastern Europe in general. For example, I work in the stock market. And the US stock market was up all week. And after the announcement of the Russian invasion the entire stock market sold off. It was the worst day since May or June 2020. So, for example, those involved in the stock market recognize the threat as it is. We are so interdependent and interconnected in our globalized world. If you try to destabilize one country it influences the whole rest of the world.

I watch the situation from another perspective too. If Russia invades Ukraine and Europe and the USA does nothing, my concern is that it will be a green light for China to do the same things in the South China Sea. And the threat is that Russia is a quite poor economy (just gas and oil), whereas China is a fast-growing economy, and in 30 years they will be number one. So there are things that Putin is afraid to do. But China doesn't have these fears. They will take what they want and they will kill as many people as they will need. And I think that China watches what happens in Ukraine. The United States and the rest of the world have to support Ukraine otherwise it will be a very dangerous precedent. When you let one country take away the sovereignty of another country you open the door to other countries to do the same things.

Text by Tetiana Kasian.

We seek to assist Ukrainian LGBTQ + individuals living in the US and Canada to integrate, adapt, and productively contribute to American society.