by Oana-Maria Moldovan
For those who were born or live in conservative and traditional countries, they know what it's like, they know how it feels. They've heard the stories, seen them, maybe even lived them. For those outside this “bubble comes” the mystery, the unknown.
Pride, an anaphoric combination of letters that at first glance makes a short, simple word. But what does this pride represent for an often disadvantaged community in a country that still cannot accept differences between people? We could blame the generational traumas, laws and punishments imposed when the communist party was in power in Romania and other neighbouring countries, but the lack of concern cannot be excused.
In Romania, there were, until this year, four cities where the Pride Parade was celebrated. With the coming of August, however, a fifth city was added to this list - after, might I add, a very long wait from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Did you know that even though the act of homosexuality was only outlawed and criminalised in 1936, it wasn't until the late 90s and early 2000s that laws and reforms to legalise homosexuality and reassignment of biological sex to protect the community began to emerge. More than a decade after Romania left the communist government, in 2001 it was no longer a crime to have same sex relations.
Romania went backwards, especially considering that there have been prominent queer historical figures in the country's history. Let's take a walk through the history lane.
The history of a hidden community and the Romanian legislations
In the book Queer Budapest, 1873–1961 by Anita Kurimay it is stated that three cities from Transylvania (then part of the Hungarian Kingdom) were part of a larger - and secret - organisation for mostly gay men. The Romanian cities where this took place were Oradea, Cluj-Napoca and Arad. It is believed that the one in Oradea started in the early 1920, but there are no concrete sources about this information.
They existed more than 100 years ago, we just didn't know about them. Or maybe some didn't even want to know.
In 1936 was first criminalised same-sex relationships in Romania, under the influence of totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia - Art. 431 of the Penal Code of Romania - and the punishment was represented by imprisonment from 6 months to 2 years.
In 1937 appeared the first men to be arrested for “the crime of homosexuality”; three of them were caught in a “gay club” and photographed shamefully while in police custody.
The case of the translator Dinu Albulescu, known as Albu, and implicitly of his good friend and former life partner, the painter George Tomaziu, known as Toma, remains to this day one of the most tragic stories of the communist period. Both of them spent more than a decade in prison, both for their political views and for their sexuality. In 1965 Albu gets a deal from the Police, he either becomes an “informant” and tells on all his friends or goes to prison once again. Dinu chooses the third option, the supreme sacrifice and in the same year he takes his own life.
In 1968 the sexual relations between people of the same sex became punishabel by 5 years of imprisonment. The “gay propaganda” was also punished with the same amount of time.
Is important to note that, most if not all of the gay men imprisoned in the communist Romania were artists, writers, actors, musicians and so on. And all of them were opposed to the Communist Party and anti-fascism. Some did years in prison for their sexuality, some for the political views they held, some for both.
After the Revolution ended on 25 December 1989, it took about a decade for laws to change. But the crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in Romania will never be forgotten.
Oradea Pride and the religious propaganda
Oradea Pride is a cultural event, organised for the first time this year in the Romanian city of Oradea by the organisation Ark.Oradea, which has stirred a number of controversies and negative opinions both online and on the streets of the city, since before its start. Threats of physical aggression or even death threats were made online against the organisers, the venue where the event was to be held and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Every day, for the month of August, there are protests against the Pride events, run by all the Christian Churches and all the Christian organisations in Oradea. All this protests were, are and will still be held in all the public spaces to make sure that there would have not been a way for the LGBTQIA+ community to have a march. The march was never in the plan for this event, and it was stated so from the beginning.
There was, as well, a public letter, from the Heads of Churches addressed to the queer and gender non-conforming folks in Oradea, asking them - in a passive way if I may add - to stop the event. There were also more petitions than someone can count against the Pride, in the hope of it changing something.
Is very important to note that the protesters also sent young people around the city to collect signatures and donations under a fake organisation that does not exist. A lot of people signed those forms, without actually knowing what they were signing (and giving money) for. One of the young men who tried doing this was apparently very verbally aggressive if asked anything about the fake organisation or if someone didn't want to donate.
In a very similar way, the signatures took place in the Churches. Priests, Popes and Pastors told people to sign a form without actually telling them what they were signing.
On Friday evening a mother came to “search for her son” that she thought may be gay, in the hope to beat him physically if he was there. She might as well have been a protestattar in disguise since, at some point, even she was confused of how the name of this boy was. She was invited kindly by the organisers to attend a discussion on a storytelling workshop but she refused. The mother of one of the organisers - who was proudly present for each day - tried to give her some advice, but she became even more verbally aggressive after that.
However, even if the protesters tried everything in their power to stop the event, the Pride went on, with the hope for a better future
Oradea Pride in itself, the colour, the glory, the hope
The first thing anyone could have seen when entering the room where all took place was a big yellow light putting all week on a metaphorical note of friendship.
In a small hidden room with an even more hidden garden Ark.Oradea made history, or, if we think about the secret organisation from the 19th century, they remade the history, paying a not intended homage, through this cultural event, to the Romanian people of culture who have suffered from their sexuality in the last century.
The organisation team was made from Yry, Chelsea and Iulian, their families, friends, the volunteers and the security. Every one of them worked hard, with sleepless nights to make history.
We met the young - and older - volunteers, happy just to be there, to be part of something great. We also met the young artists, like Matei, that sold queer merch for the people that are not yet out. We met the families, who were there to love and support. And we finally met the public, who was there with the hope that something is changing, that now they have a safe space to go to.
Many things could be said about this week, but I will just say this, the people and their stories were the ones who made it happen.
The events and the participants
The 7th of the month, on Monday, started with an expo from Identity.Education, named Studentx (the gender neutral form in romanian for the word “student”), about the young queer and trans people and their coming out stories. The expo took place till Wednesday.
Cristina Săracu, from MozaiQ talked that evening about diversity and inclusion in all the LGBTQIA+ spaces, the first panellist and the first to declare that week as an historical one. She also told a funny analogy about how she, as a young child, was afraid of long haired men just because her parents told her to be, in the same way that some people are afraid of the LGBTQAI+ community because that is how they grew up.
The first panellists of Tuesday were Vlad Viski, Roxana Marin and Bogdan Dogaru who talked about the history of the Pride Parade in Romania, with short movies and about their project “Campus Pride on the move” that has the purpose to help students from romanian universities that struggle with marginalisation. The focus point of their disscusion was that “Pride is both a protest and a celebration”.
After a short break, came the team, with Ruth Borgfjord as their main speaker, from Queer Sisterhood Cluj with a heart to heart disscusion about the LGBTQIA+ experience both in Romania and in Oradea. This represented a very emotional moment as the public talked about their own experience. The most used words to describe the experience were “loneliness”, sometimes “confusion”, but more importantly “hope”.
On Wednesday came Marcu Băcilă with a philosophy workshop about economic democracy. After him there was a concert with a local singer named Antonia Ganea. Wednesday was also the day we saw the protestatars.
Friday came with the change of the expo, also from Identity.Education, named this time “My story” with a serious TW that stated that the images and stories in the exhibit can provoke emotional distress. The pictures had a QR code that could have been scanned so that anyone could have heard the stories behind them. The expo took place until the 12th.
First panellist on friday was Diana Miheș with a talk about eco feminism and not only that. She stated that “is not the fact that I am a woman, and a bisexual and I stand in front of you” continuing saying that the right to live your own life should not be a luxury or something someone wins, it should be the norm.
After Diana came Andreea Hermann and Lia Burg from Identity.Education with a workshop about safe and unsafe spaces in Oradea. “Is it not maybe the space that might be safe, but the people that make you feel that way.”
After that we saw ten short movies. The first three were from a young local director, named Paul Șoptirean and the rest from ART200 (International queer film festival in Bucharest).
Saturday started earlier in the day with a fair from artists and local producers. They sold clothes, homemade goods and everything in between.
Then came the hard disscusion with Florina Presadă from ACCEPT (the first queer organisation in Romania after the Revolution), with the campaign “Protect all kinds of families”.
The evening continued with two concerts by Creamy and Mock Surprise and then a queer party.
The last day, and maybe the most breathtaking one, started with panellist Florin Buhuceanu from The Queer Museum of Bucharest, titled “Our families” and about the LGBTQIA+ history of Romania. The disscusion came together with the last expo, named “Let them see us!”. The expo was part of the historical presentation and was as beautiful as sad. “To me pride is a roar of rage” - Florin Buhuceanu
The day continued with Ioana Fotache from TransCore about the trans community. They held an emotional disscusion about the importance of both mental and physical health in the trans community of Romania and how in every LGBTQIA+ event there should be at least one trans person to talk about the trans experience.
The Pride Oradea week ended with a movie, named Colors of Toby (2021) by Alexa Bakony, placed in Hungary, about a young teenage transgender facing issues with his identity. The movie also focuses on his mother Éva as she learns to support her son.
A pride week that was long awaited and will forever change the history
Maybe it was not about the history - even though it was that as well - and maybe it was not even about the negative comments, the panellists or even about the events in themselves. More so, it was about the people there and about creating a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community in a small city, in an even smaller country where the conservatory's old ways are still in place.
The organisation in disscusion, Ark.Oradea did an incredible step for the younger, braver, and from now on safer generations that are coming.
There was never about anything else than about making sure that there is a place where people can go. As I said before, it is a beautiful homage, even though it was not an intentional one. The second week of the month of August of 2023 will remain in the queer history of Romania as, yet another one, courageous step to being proud in a country that does not accept the idea of pride.