Romania’s LGBT community sees gains and continued struggle for their rights
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) – The last person jailed for being gay in Romania was released in 1998.
The country decriminalized homosexuality three years later, in 2001, while reforming its laws to qualify for membership in the European Union.
The 20th anniversary of the abolition of Section 200, which allowed prison terms of up to five years for same-sex relationships, was one of the grounds for celebration at the parade and gay pride festival which was held in the Romanian capital this month. People danced, waved rainbow flags and watched performances at Bucharest Pride 2021, an event that would have been unimaginable a generation earlier.
Yet many members of Romania’s LGBT community remain frustrated with the failure of the central European nation to go further and pass laws that would legalize same-sex unions or marriages. There are also fears of a conservative reaction to the gains made so far.
Some Romanians, influenced by the Orthodox Church, reject the growing social acceptance of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people, especially among young people.
“We live in an increasingly polarized society, in which opportunities for real dialogue, education or learning are very difficult to create,” said the executive director of the Accept association, Teodora Ion-Rotaru, whose LGBT rights group organizes the annual Bucharest Pride Festival. . “This horrific cultural war that dominates Western societies is also becoming very visible and real here. “
Tension accompanied the planning of this year’s festival, said Ion-Rotaru. The local government initially denied organizers their usual location, one of the oldest boulevards in the Romanian capital, Calea Victoriei. Officials spoke of difficulties protecting an area closed to vehicle traffic on weekends.
They overturned the decision following protests and an appeal by British Ambassador to Romania Andrew Noble, who joined a protest outside Bucharest City Hall.
Ahead of the pride march, around 100 people staged a counter-demonstration while holding up religious icons and banners expressing their opposition to the demonstrated civil partnerships – and the British Ambassador. Among the participants were supporters of New Right, a political party whose slogan is “Orthodoxy and Nationalism”.
Romanian authorities have limited participation in cultural and sporting events due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the pride festival, like the protests, being limited to 500 people. Some festival supporters argued that the limit was unfair since religious gatherings have no such restrictions; a recent pilgrimage drew tens of thousands of people.
LGBT rights have recently come under attack elsewhere in Central Europe. A new law that came into force in Hungary this summer banned the portrayal of homosexuality in films, books and other content intended for audiences under the age of 18. Dozens of communities in Poland have passed largely symbolic anti-LGBT resolutions amid a conservative backlash that began more than two years ago.
In Romania, lawmakers from two parties, including a junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, plan to introduce legislation next month banning so-called “gay propaganda” in schools.
Although young Romanians increasingly support LGBT rights, too many Romanians don’t know anyone who openly identifies as gay, Ion-Rotaru said.
“It shows that we are still prisoners of invisibility,” she said, “and that our fight must be to assert our identity, to recognize it and to be known.”
Andreea Alexandru contributed from Bucharest. Gera contributed from Warsaw.