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David Moore

A Romanian LGBT history brief
Used to be when I thought of Romania the first thing that came to mind was Nadia Komenich and that horrendously evil former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

During his reign as leader of the country Ceausescu instituted laws criminalizing gay and lesbian sexual activity — even when practiced in private.

Ceausescu was eventually ousted and executed — in 1989 — but the trail of homophobia he left behind continued to wreak havoc on the lives of the Romanian LGBT community for years to come.

Even after his death, Romania grew increasingly hostile towards gays and lesbians and Romanian courts continued to regularly imprison individuals for the “crime of homosexuality.” In July 1994, however, Romania’s highest court recognized that their laws were a breach of human rights and found them unconstitutional.

Despite that, in November 1996, all gay bars, clubs, newspapers, magazines, associations or businesses were banned. Under that preposterous law was an additional addendum: homosexual acts that caused a “public scandal” were punished with up to five years in jail.

A “public scandal” was simply anything two or more people found offensive.

It was not until December 2001 that the laws were finally scrapped, prompted by the European Union’s insistence that they be removed before Romania could join the EU.

“This is an important step forward; you could say that finally the state is out of your bed,” said Adrian Coman, then-director of Romania’s leading gay rights group ACCEPT.

Despite the law’s removal, Coman said the EU forced the change on Romania rather than being the result of Romania becoming more progressive.

“The fact that law was repealed does not necessarily show that people in this country became more tolerant towards gays and lesbians in Romania,” he said.

Romania’s powerful Orthodox Church — which 99 percent of the country’s population reportedly belongs to — was furious at the decision.

“We need healthy young people in mind and body, like any civilized country, and we must try to protect them from contamination by such serious sinners,” said Holy Synod bishop Vincentiu Ploisteanu. “We want to join the European Union, not Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Proof that anti-gay religious zealots around the globe are apparently sharing talking points, huh?

At any rate, gays and lesbians were now free to associate publicly and could no longer be arrested just for having sex.

Recent developments in Bucharest with the city’s planned gay pride festival, however, indicate that the LGBT community is still facing government-sanctioned harassment.

Mayor Adrieau Videanu initially refused to issue permits for “GayFest” and Bucharest’s police commissioner even threatened on national Romanian radio to use the police to “punish” marchers if they went ahead with the parade without the required permit.

As word of the harassment of the LGBT community spread through Europe, a flood of emails poured into accounts held by officials at all levels of government.

Videanu’s email account became so clogged he shut it down. President Traian Basescu also got a torrent of email. Realizing the negative publicity being generated, at a time when he was attempting to stabilize the country’s economy and show Romania as a modern state, he realized it was time to intervene.

At the behest of Basescu, Videanu reluctantly agreed to issue a permit for the festival that was held May 28. The police commissioner then announced that policeman that were previously to be used to “punish” pride-goers would now be used to protect them.

The announcement that “GayFest” would go ahead as originally planned came only hours before LGBT activists in New York and Washington prepared to demonstrate in front of Romanian consular offices. Those protests were called off.

“The willingness of people around the world to speak out for our Romanian brothers and sisters demonstrates the power we have to change the minds of political leaders and the course of a nation’s government,” Rev. Diane Fisher, a bishop of the Metropolitan Community Churches, told supporters in New York on the phone from Bucharest.

ACCEPT/Romania welcomed the international support the Romanian LGBT community has received. Florin Buhuceanu, the group’s current director said that in the 11 years of ACCEPT’s existence, gays in the country have never received so much international support and so much media coverage.

In these trying times of religious fundamentalism in our own country — it’s good to hear a story with a happy ending. It can also make one reflect on other issues: what we have achieved so far and how we must work to assure our own rights are stabilized.

David Moore

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