The Primitive Discrimination

By Lucian Ursuletu []
Eugene Tifin []

Homosexuality is a delicate subject in Romania. Many Romanians still think of the gay community as "sick" and although a number of associations support the rights of "sexual minorities" important Romanian institutions remain critical. Homosexuals are regarded as strange, and the Romanian Orthodox Church has publicly stated its lack of tolerance on the subject. The only ones to completely accept the gays are the Romanian youth.

Queens Club is located on Strada Iuliu Baras, a dead-end street in a formerly Jewish neighborhood of Bucharest that is now inhabited mostly by gypsies.
It is a rough neighborhood, the kind of place that gives the impression that anything can happen at night. Queens is where the sexual minorities gather during the weekends in a bar of their own. From the outside, there is nothing to indicate that a gay bar is operating in the basement. There is no neon sign, no advertisment to lure the public into this place. A bodyguard posted at the entrance tells us politely that the bar opens at 11 o’clock. We walk through a passage covered by a canvas awning and lit along the cement with a string of red lights. The entrance looks like an office. Although it is close to midnight a several people work at computers in a brightly lit room. The Bar is in the basement but the music is quite loud. The hostess, a woman in her mid-thirties, asks for an entrance fee of 100,000 Lei—roughly $3. Guests who come back for a second time can get a membership card. We pay, and just as we are about to enter the bar, a security guard steps forward to confiscate our colleague’s camera bag. "Boss, they are up to something," he tells the manager. She looks at us for a moment. There are six journalists in our party, and she doesn’t want to lose the money. "Hold on to the cameras," she says. Then she gestures to us,"Be careful," she says. We enter and walk down a flight of stairs In the basement. The club is dark, with spots of bright lighting, and low tables and chairs that recall the furniture of pastry shops favored by teenagers during the Communist period. On one wall there is a mural of muscular young male workers. In a corner, the wall is decorated with a mural of a nude woman on her hands and knees. By the time we arrive, the party has already started. There are both men and women, but they sit separately. The Ladies corner is quite vivid. They have no restraint in public. A blonde who could be any man’s dream passionately kisses her girlfriend. They whisper and caress each other. Next to our table, two men take seats. Dressed in tight clothes, wearing perfume and sporting fresh hair-cuts they gaze at each other and carress one another, in a very discreet manner. But it’s still early. At another table next to us, a gray-haired man in his fifties seems to be a foreigner. He talks to his friends and from time to time he touches someone’s buttocks. Nobody says anything .
In the middle of the bar, a tall, slender blonde girl in a tight metallic gold dress dances with minimal enthusia. She uses a metal go-go dancer's pole for support andher presence adds color to the atmosphere. Four other man hold on to the same metal pole while their partners embrace them from the back. They kiss each other from time to time. Soon the transvestites arrive. A man wearing a skirt and a tight top walks across the bar. He is quickly noticed by several men who came alone hoping to get a date. By midnight, all restraint is gone. Everyone is dancing, drinking, and partying. The party gets wilder and wilder, and everybody in Queen’s goes into action. Men start kissing each other. Women embrace while they dance. The party won’t end until dawn. For the several hundred members of the sexual minorities who frequent Queen’s this is a place to escape those people who consider them either mad or sick. It is a place where they feel safe.

Discrimination – the big issue.

A few years ago, when their presence became more public, sexual minorities began founding asociations and foundations to support their point of view. The most important association fighting for gay rights is Accept. Although its members claim that they are no longer afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, the association"s office is discrete about its location. It is in a 10 story block of flats next to the Palace Hall. If we hadn’t know the exact address we woulnd’t have been able to find it. Accept’s headquarters, in a 3-room flat, are very crowded. The offices have the latest computers and a lot of busy people. Claudia Manta is the project coordinator. "Although sexual orientation is not a criteria for discrimination anymore," says Manta, "sexual minorities still suffer. Gay people are seen as sick and many people have a hard time accepting them or having any kind of relationship. Although we have tried to change this attitude, we hit a wall. There have been cases when members of our association have been refused jobs just because they are gay, or in which their neighbours treat them in a terrible manner." she says. Claudia Manta is defensive and somewhat cold towards us. She pauses before answering each question and she frequently responds with a counter question instead of an answer. In fact the discussion is reduced to a few words, some shrugs and some evasive answers.
Even when it comes to talking about the bad people they have encountered, the gay rights movement is cautious about talking to the press, and frequently they refuse to talk altogether. "Often they have said one thing to the reporters," Manta explains, "and the reporters have printed something totally different from what they said. So they don’t give interviews." Another big issue is the Church. The orthodox dogma forbids homosexual behaviour, so gay people have been rejected by the Church. "The Orthodox Church is against sexual minorities, but still, our association has members that are Christian and still go to church" explains Manta.

"Nu exist_ toleran__"

There is no such thing as tolerance. Anyone who wants an insight into the Romanian Orthodox Church’s attitude toward sexual minorities, only has to read the letter the Orthodox Patriarch sent to the Romanian Parlament during the discussions that led to the annulment of Article 200 in the Romanian Constitution which banned homosexuality. "Annulling this article regarding practices against the grain worries and makes us sad," wrote the Patriarch. "The Church rejects unclean love, in order to promote and protect holy love." Although two years have passed since the constitution was changed, the Romanian Orthodox Church maintains it’s position against the homosexuals. "There is no such thing as tollerance in the church. This expresion does not exist for us," explains an Orthodox priest in Bucharest. "There is only love. There is only yes or no. Unless they want to be cured, this is like committing suicide. Homosexuals remain sons of the Church and sons of God but they do not honor us. The Church is open for them and awaits them." Many older Romanians share similar opinions. They cannot accept the homosexuals, under any circumstances. "I am a Roman Catholic," says a retired man in Bucharest. "This is impossible for us, maybe other human species can accept it, but the Pope is our only chief and he dictates what we should do. This is against the grain: two men living together or two women living together. How can they have children? Maybe if they would buy them or adopt them."
The idea that Romania will be accepted into the European Union only if discrimination is ended against sexual doesn’t carry much weight with those who are deeply orthodox. "We’d rather go to Hell than the European Union!" suggests a peasant woman.
But if the older generation accuses homosexuals, young people are more open and have far less prejudice against sexual orientation of others. "I even had a friend who was gay," a young woman says. "but it didn’t bother me. They are just people, like you and me, and I have nothing against them as long as they are not aggressive towards me."
The new attitude is exemplified by Mihai and Alin, both in their early 20s. Alin has peroxide bleeched blonde hair. Mihail wears a bead necklace. They are good friends, but neither is gay. When we chatted with them in a Bucharest café, they explained that they had had "an experience" with a very successful lawyer, a very well connected man. After a few months of friendship, he proposed sex to both of them. "You know, it was very embarassing for us," says Mihail. "Alin was looking for a job and we thought that our lawyer friend would help. He visited us one week-end, he obviously had a few drinks in advance and without any introduction he just proposed sex." Despite the unpleasantness of the encounter, both men see the lawyer as an individual rather than a representative of a class. Yet while they are ready to accept homosexuals, they also see limits.
Alin says that he has nothing against the homosexuals, as long as they don’t try to pick him up. "Look, I was in Germany, in the Berlin subway," he says. "In front of me, two homosexuals started kissing. Everybody stared at them and they reacted to it. As a matter of fact, I am very annoyed when they pretend to be your friends and then they try to pick you up. In this respect, I am not even sure if you are a journalist like you said or are you also trying to pick us up.

"The case of the American ambassador"

When Michael Guest was appointed ambassador to Romania in September 2001, he spoke frankly of his homosexuality during his confirmation hearings. Arriving in Bucharest, he also spoke frankly with reporters about his sexual orientation, even though no Romanian journalist had asked him any direct questions. Since then, Guest has declined further interviews on the subject on the grounds that it really has nothing to do with his functions as a diplomat. That said, Guest’s forthrightness has given a boost to the support groups fighting for tolerance and to support the rights of sexual miniorities in Romania. It has also angered some of the politicians on the extreme right. Corneliu Vadim Tudor, president of the extremist "Romane Mare" party, distributed a press release after Guest’s arrival denouncing homosexuals as "genetic failures". Tudor went on to say: " Mr. (Mrs.) Michael Guest is a disgrace, an abnormality with the most repulsive sexual vice, as the Bible says sodomy is a mortal sin. So how dare he lecture me on morality and immorality in my own country? Just by seeing you, Romanians are sick, thinking of the disgraceful things you do with your mouth and your hand and other parts of the body." In a sense, Guest found himself exposed to the same vituperousness that many Romanians who belong to sexual minorities have to face on a daily basis. Corneliu Vadim Tudor may be more vehement in his language, but his opinions are not too distant from those of the Church which expresses itself with more diplomacy. Recent opinion polls show that the Church is the institution in Romania that is most respected by the Romanian public.When the Church says that homosexuals should not be accepted, it is not hard to understand why sexual minorities in Romania feel that they are expected to suffer.

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