Along with 2000 riot police as protection, activists rallied for acceptance of the LGBT community in Chișinău. Despite violent unrest and evacuations at previous Prides, this year’s parade was completed
Under the slogan of “Sunt ok cu mine, nu sunt ok cu ura” (I am okay with myself, I am not okay with hatred), the 350 marchers demanded acceptance for LGBT* people.
Simultaneously, a counter-protest organized by the Moldovan Presidency called the ‘Family’s March’ was held close to the march.
Moldovan President Igor Dodon condoned the Family March that has been continually held alongside the Pride in recent years. Following Moldova Pride 2017, Dodon sparked controversy for his remarks.
“I am the president for all Moldovans, but not the gays. They should have elected their own president,” he said.
Hoping for less police
In a press statement released after the Pride, Genderdoc-M sees how the growing number of participants and public figures endorsing the march is beneficial for an increase in LGBT tolerance.
At the Pride last year, the police used teargas to disperse violent counter-protesters trying to disrupt the parade.
Hostility towards the LGBT community
Moldova is widely regarded as one of the most hostile countries in Europe regarding LGBT rights. Out of the 49 countries in Europe, Moldova is ranked number 40 in LGBT equality according to ILGA Europe that works with LGBT rights across Europe.
Last year’s Pride saw violent clashes between Christian protesters and the police. During the protesters’ attempt to blockade the Pride, police used pepper spray to disperse the protest. At this year’s march, counter-protesters held signs saying “We want normality, not perversity” and “Being gay is not okay”, but no major incidents were reported.
What being LGBT in one of Europe’s most homophobic countries is like
Despite hostile politics and conservative values, the LGBT community in Moldova continues to demand acceptance
București Street, Chișinău, Moldova. 19th May 2019.
The last days of spring brought about a wave of agitation. Hundreds of people gathered on the main artery in the city centre with the occasion of this year’s Pride march. As you take a turn on București street, what seems to be a monolithic wall of policemen prevents the eye from seeing what hides behind it. For those who did this before, being flanked by police officers and officials is no news.
But for those who were here for the first time, experiencing the constant honking of cars, people whistling and shouting, the sound of the drums might constitute a definition of organized chaos.
For Clara Abdullah, 28, this is not the first Pride. Because she has seen from afar how last year’s march unfolded, she has prepared herself mentally for potential unrest this year. But still, she can not help but feel at unease “being isolated and protected by the authorities when we should supposedly have a celebration and an acceptance for people like us [LGBT] within the society,” she says.
The Moldova Pride, also known as the ‘solidarity march’ has been held each year in Chișinău since 2013.
350 people in bright colours, holding signs while singing and playing the drums started marching on București street in Chișinău and painted a new picture in the Pride march’s history. Under the name Sunt ok cu mine, nu sunt ok cu ura [I am ok with myself, I am not ok with hatred], this year’s Pride was the second one completed with no major incidents.
In Moldova, the LGBT community not only faces a number of cultural and social challenges but also legal and political.
According to a study conducted by the NGO Genderdoc-M (GDM) in 2015, 67% of the respondents associated LGBT people with something negative, 52% of them saw homosexuality as a punishable offense and 1% of the respondents would accept an LGBT person as a family member.
With the final riffs of drums, an hour after the march has started, the participants are folding their flags and banners. This year’s event has come to an end. And while some participants started scattering through the policeman chains, others went on the lookout for the buses sent to escort them out of the Pride’s perimeter.
According to a press release issued by Genderdoc-M
, the main reason why this year’s Pride has been completed is the extraordinary safety measures taken by Chișinău’s Police Department, who sent 2000 police officers at the site.
“Unfortunately, in a society where the level of hatred towards the LGBT community is so high, the price you have to pay in order to have a safe march equals blocking the streets in the process. However, we strongly believe that with every march we get closer to the day when these safety precautions will not be needed.”, GDM’s press release says.
According to ILGA Europe, one of Europe’s largest LGBT organizations, Moldova had a 13% rating in terms of LGBT equality and rights in 2019.
Lack of data
Besides the negative public perception, the LGBT community also faces a legal challenge. Moldova does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as a motivating factor in hate crime.
On a yellow bean bag, at the headquarters of GDM, Anastasia Danilova, the director of the NGO, explains the importance of law-makers to include sexual orientation as a factor in Moldova’s hate crime law.
“When someone is attacked because of their sexuality or gender identity, the police does not register and investigate it as a hate crime, but as a hooliganism or a regular violent attack," Anastasia Danilova says.
Therefore, no statistics are made and this makes it harder to research how to prevent these attacks,” she explains. Currently, Moldovan law registers social, religious, national or racial hatred as factors in hate crime.
Despite the lack of statistics regarding hate crimes targeting LGBT people, a report by Genderdoc-M from 2015 documented numerous cases of physical and verbal assaults against people from the community due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Currently, 26 out of Europe’s 49 countries do not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as a motivating factor in their hate crime laws. Despite numerous attempts, the police administration in Chișinău did not respond to our interview request regarding the handling of hate crimes.
Moldova’s President and leader of the Socialist Party, Igor Dodon, is the frontrunner in the movement against LGBT rights in Moldova.
Known for his conservative views and support of the ‘traditional family’ (one mother, one father), Dodon made controversy following a statement after the 2017 Moldova Pride.
“I have never promised to be president of the gays, they should have elected their own president. They cannot and will not be accepted by me, neither by the whole society,” Igor Dodon declared.
We were not able to get a comment from the President’s press office.
The political pushback against LGBT rights reached a peak in March 2017, when the Moldovan Parliament launched a legislative initiative that would classify homosexuality as “sexual perversion”. The initiative was similar to the Russsian law against “gay propaganda” that was enacted in 2013. The Moldovan initiative did not succeed.
Integrated into the society
When it comes to professional and social integration into the Moldovan society, minorities like the LGBT community can face great difficulties, according to the psychologist Ștefan Popov.
“Moldova has a traditional culture in which homosexuality is seen as threat to ‘normality,’ The majority of the population feel a need to protect what they perceive as normal by confronting minority groups like the LGBT community,” he says.
The confrontation leads to discrimination and this can have a range of consequences for the person on the receiving end.
“Discrimination can lead to anxiety, depression along with a higher risk of suicide and substance abuse,” he explains.
Despite the religious resistance towards LGBT issues and a majority of the Moldovan population being Christian Orthodox, Ștefan Popov does not consider religion a key factor in the public attitude towards sexual and gender identity minorities.
“There are many who only become believers during the anti LGBT protests without thinking of any other sins while going on with their daily lives,” Ștefan Popov says.
He points to personal insecurities and a negative self-image as a factor in homophobia. Furthermore, he underlines how culture and education are key factors in shaping the mindset of a person.
“Insufficient education in both schools and in families can trigger hatred and discrimination,” he says.
Praying for forgiveness
Vitalie Șaramet, 42, is the Orthodox Christian priest of the Mereni church, located in a village outside the capital city of Chișinău. He explains how the church sees homosexuality as a sin and as “something ugly that should be treated with brimstone”.
His go-to resources when it comes to explaining his beliefs is the Holy Writ, which he considers the cornerstone of the “tradition that we all have to keep”. Vitalie thinks NGOs and organizations protecting sexual minorities are trying to attract members into “this sick society” [LGBT community] on purpose.
He goes on to explain the church’s position on the LGBT community.
“The church does not hate these individuals [gays, bisexuals etc.] but pities them as they are living in sin. We pray for their forgiveness, but they should do it as well; the way out is to repent for their sins and go back to normal,” he says.
When asked about whether sex education should be taught in schools Vitalie Șaramet was taken aback. He thinks children should be protected from learning about sexuality.
“Why should we tell kids about condoms? The children are like sponges absorbing all the information we give them. How you raise them is how you’ll have them,” Vitalie says.
We talked to Mihaela Slovineanu, the Subprincipal of Education at Spiru Haret Highschool in Chișinău. According to her, the school offers some courses of general anatomy and health, but there is no separated course focused on sex education or diversity.
“I think that the Moldovan society sort to say is quite closed off in this domain. You can’t teach this in schools since it is generally considered a taboo subject in society,” says Mihaela Slovineanu.
Mihaela thinks that if there was a demand for such a course, the Ministry of Education would find a way to incorporate it within the mandatory classes. However, she considers school “a neutral organism. In here, we don’t come to expose what kind of orientation we have, we come here to work and to study; we have other things to focus on in a way,” she says.
At Amnesty International Moldova, programme coordinator Igor Stoica wants all schools in Moldova to have a ‘non-discrimination course’. According to Igor, the course informs students about minority groups such as Romas and the LGBT community and why these groups should be treated equally. He tells how 100 out of Moldova’s around 1000 schools apply for the courses.
“But we need the Ministry of Education to make this course mandatory for all schools,” says Igor.
Not the end of life
A frequent visitor at GDM’s office is Andrei Kolioglo. On March 11 last year, he came out as gay in a post written on Vkontakte, a Russian social media similar to Facebook. Shortly after his post, Andrei started receiving death threats.
“I was very paranoid after I received the first threats. I was afraid to go out at night or to walk to my job. I felt like being all alone,” Andrei says.
According to Andrei, he got up to 10 death threats per day in the days following his post. One of the threats came from a former classmate, who wrote that he “should be buried at school” for coming out.
He knew that the threats could develop into actual violence. In March 2016, his ex-boyfriend was assaulted by three people calling him gay slurs while beating him.
“We advised him to stay open about his sexuality and be visible. Visibility is key,” Anastasia Danilova from GDM says, to which Andrei agrees.
Andrei underlines that he feels privileged to not have experienced violence after coming out; he knows too well that this is not the case for everyone.
Photo credits: Antonia Tomuș and Andreas Canvin