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LGBTQIA+ Rights in Romania

ACCEPT is the first Romanian non-governmental organization that advocates for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community in the country. Its mission is to protect and promote these rights as human rights.


We interviewed Alex Zorilă, the volunteer coordinator of the organization, in order to have a clearer vision of the LGBTQIA+ community in Romania.


© Accept Romania Team Courtesy of Accept Romania

Alex, when was ACCEPT founded and what was its main goal?


ACCEPT was founded in 1994 as an informal group named Bucharest Acceptance Group, since at the time it was in effect the Article 200 from the Romanian legislation, which criminalised homosexual relationships contributing to human rights violations, including police abuse against the LGBTQIA+. The main goal of Bucharest Acceptance Group was to lobby and campaign against it. The first President, Adrian Coman, a gay math teacher who wanted to do more for his community in Bucharest, was able to find other people caring about human rights ready to make a difference for the country. The group was diversified: some people were straight, some others were gay, ready to break the silence and speak up for their rights. It wasn’t easy to do it in public and to stand for their ideas, since they lived in a homophobic society. Adrian Coman and Florin Buhuceanu were the first two gay men who appeared on TV programs talking about gay rights, and they managed not to be arrested. They made a huge difference, since if you talked publicly about being LGBTQIA+, you could risk getting arrested, considering that homosexuality being illegal in the country until 2001.


In 1996, ACCEPT became an NGO, but it couldn’t formally be a LGBTQIA+ NGO, because of the law. It was a human rights association, and even today still it is. The main goal has always been to make people see and accept the LGBTQIA+ people as human beings, even though the objectives changed during the years. At the beginning, ACCEPT was more focused on abolishing the Article 200, then it started to promote the Pride parade and events, in order to have them in Bucharest. The first LGBTQ+ Pride in Romania took place in 2005.


What are the main projects ACCEPT has worked on?


Right now we are working on equal marriage. It will take some time to achieve this goal, because changing laws in Romania can be a difficult process, having a Government that is not really LGBTQIA+ friendly. We are also focused on fighting the censorship targeting the transgender community, which was brought in Romania by the gender ideology wave. Gender is, for the Right-wing, a mobilization strategy. That's how Law and Justice systems have taken the idea of ‘gender ideology’ from religious right-wing networks. This gender ideology is what pushed countries such as Poland and Hungary to silence the LGBTQIA+ communities by censoring them, through various anti-LGBTQIA+ laws.

In 2018 we had a project dedicated to the transgender community: we wanted to meet as many trans people as we could across the country, because we didn’t know the situation of the transgender community in different cities. It was hard to get to them, also considering that not all of them had come out. We were able to help them to form specific groups, such as groups for teenagers, in order for the people to open up and share their needs and concerns. These support groups are very important, because we can help them with food, clothes or any other thing they need, even though, unfortunately, we don’t have resources to help them with surgeries or hormones.


We are also trying to help transgender people dealing with documents updating, which is not an easy process. They still need certificates from their doctors proving that they actually had sex reassignment surgery, for their documents to be changed.


A pretty sad and sometimes humiliating process for someone who simply wants to be who

they want to be. Unfortunately, there isn’t a medical organization who helps transgender people in transition.. We have a list of doctors in Bucharest and in other main cities who support them, but if you live in small areas, you have to reach them, make an appointment and travel. We are working on creating a bigger network of doctors, but it will take some time.



What’s the main case your lawyers worked on?


You may have heard of the Coman-Hamilton case back in 2015. Adrian Coman, our former President, got married to his American lover Robert Claibourn Hamilton in 2010 in Belgium, and he wanted to obtain the recognition of their marriage in Romania. It was basically impossible: once they crossed the Romanian border, they ceased to be a family, in the eyes of the Romanian authorities. His husband requested a permanent right to reside in Romania, but it was rejected by the authorities, based upon the Civil Code. It prohibits equal marriage and doesn’t recognise such unions even if got abroad. Supported by ACCEPT, the spouses challenged this decision, claiming that it was a case of discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, and that the latter provision of the Civil Code is unconstitutional. They filed a discrimination complaint in 2013 after the refusal of the Romanian authorities to consider a residence in Romania for Hamilton. Romania effectively denied their right to free circulation, safeguarded in EU principles and law. The Romanian Consulate in Brussels also refused to transcribe their Belgian marriage certificate into the Romanian register. They brought the case to the Constitutional Court, asking to decide on the right to private and family life of a same-sex couple. The Court decided that the EU countries have to offer the residence to Hamilton, based on the fact that he was Coman’s husband, but they can decide whether to recognise the marriage or not.


Their marriage hasn’t been recognised in Romania yet. It looks like many years of love and union are not enough for a State to legally recognise a relationship...



Talking about the concept of family, tell us about the 2018 Romanian constitution referendum.


In October 2018 there was a referendum regarding the definition of the family in the Romanian Constitution. It asked the voters whether they approve a change to the family's definition as provided by Article 48 of the Constitution, to prohibit equal marriage, or not. The referendum followed a citizens' initiative launched by the Coalition for Family in late 2015 - which gathered over 3 million signatures, substantially more than the 500,000 required to initiate the process for a constitutional amendment referendum. The Romanian Constitution defines the “family” as being founded on the free-willed marriage "between spouses", but the initiative's promoters sought to amend the gender-neutral language with an explicit reference to marriage as a union “between a man and a woman”. Even though, equal union was not allowed before.


That is why, it is believed that the referendum’s purpose was to bring more hate to the LGBTQIA+ community. Had the measure passed, it would have made same-sex marriage unconstitutional in the country. Making it unconstitutional, it would have made it harder for LGBTQIA+ activists to achieve same-sex marriage in Romania. The referendum failed, as the turnout was only 21.1%, below the required voter turnout threshold of 30%. The boycott organized by ACCEPT, together with other human rights NGOs, is what made this turnout possible, and what convinced Romanians to stay home and not vote.



The more you talk, the more we feel how you truly believe in your association. We talked about how ACCEPT helps the community. Let’s focus now on what it can do for its volunteers.


I am a non-binary demisexual lesbian, and when I was 17 I’ve joined ACCEPT because I wanted to meet other LQTQIA+ people and be part of a community that would accept me. I had no idea that I would still be with ACCEPT after 6 years and become an activist. I started as a volunteer, and after one year I became volunteer coordinator. Nowadays, there are mostly 140 volunteers, grouped in many different departments, and it’s amazing how the number grew in just 6 years: when I started, we were 20. It’s great to be part of a community in which I can be myself, a queer and non-binary person. All of the volunteers find in our association a safe place where they don’t have to hide their identity and/or sexuality. That’s another important issue ACCEPT cares about, that we added in our social media communication: we tend to use the “x” at the end of the nouns and adjectives without the gendered ending, in order to respect and include everyone.


Considering the limits Romania offers for marginalized communities, youngsters think about leaving the country after high school, to go abroad, where they feel totally accepted?


Our association is working for our country, and we put all of our effort in it, considering the idea youngsters have, that Romania is not offering a lot, and you have to leave at a certain point. Especially if you are part of the LGBTQIA+ community or to other marginalized communities: since you are constantly victim of microaggressions, you end up feeling like if you really want to be free, you have to go abroad. That’s why in Romania LGBTQIA+ people are mostly cautious about public displays of affection. Some lesbians people, for example, know when it’s not safe to walk hand in hand with their partners, so they avoid it.


Is there a difference about being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender in your country?


There is a specific reason why I gave you the example of two females: until the 2000s, he LGBTQIA+ community in Romania was known as the gay community, since other communities were not visible. Lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people were basically invisible. Nowadays the situation is different, but it’s harder and more dangerous for transgender people to be their authentic selves.


Why?

(TRIGGER ALERT! This answer contain a description of an aggression)

In Romania, if you are transgender and you are safe, you’re priviledged. You know, there was a very violent episode on December 2020:: a transgender woman was on the bus talking on the phone, and some transphobic person called the police. The officers beat her, took her wig off and took her to the police station. ACCEPT had to go there, she had bruises and pressed charges. How long do we still have to wait to be ourselves without being scared?



 

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