In Romania, for the past two months, the LGBTI community has been under attack.
In November 2015, the so-called Coalition for Family started a nationwide campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the Constitution, by narrowly defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.
The Romanian Orthodox Church officially endorsed this campaign and is now using all of its resources to raise signatures to change the Constitution. In order for such a citizens’ initiative to be successful, one must raise 500,000 signatures from half of the counties in Romania.
After this first step, the initiative must be approved by the Parliament with a two-thirds majority and through a national referendum. So far, the initiative has raised almost one million signatures, especially in the eastern and western counties of the country. During the holidays, Orthodox priests were seen going from house to house, raising signatures from citizens. Moreover, high school students in Bacau county revealed that signatures were being raised in schools as well.
Romania is one of the last countries in Europe that hasn’t taken a position officially and constitutionally on same-sex marriage.
Central Eastern European countries have banned same-sex marriage in the constitution, but Hungary and the Czech Republic recognize civil partnerships for same sex couples.
More recently, Greece became the second Orthodox country to recognize civil partnerships for same sex couples. These events, coupled with an increase in distrust in the Romanian Orthodox Church compelled the religious leaders of the country to engage in a political battle to change the Constitution. These tactics are not new to Romania, as they were also used in 2007, when a similar initiative failed to supply the Constitutional Court with the required amount of signatures from half of the counties in the country.
The LGBTI community in Romania is not very active when it comes to such moments of intense political battle. After all, the Romanian LGBTI movement is relatively young; homosexuality was decriminalized in 2001, Romania being at that time one of the last countries in Europe to decriminalize same sex sexual relations between consenting adults.
There are disparate groups of LGBTI activists and community members throughout Romania, who currently lack the social cohesion to counter the Romanian Orthodox Church.
Although Bucharest has a number of so-called ‘out’ artists, activists and journalists, working to eliminate organized discrimination against the LGBTI community, activities outside of the capital tend to be limited as a result of political, religious and societal oppression.
Often times the oppression activists and LGBTI community members suffer is both psychological and physical. Despite greater access to the active community within Bucharest through social media, a huge gap still exists in unifying regional activists with those in the capital.
There remains a pressing need to empower individuals and groups in the regions of the country where priests are raising thousands of signatures, where the topics concerning homosexuality and gender identity are being intensely debated, and where citizens have to hide (back) in the closet, for fear of their own personal safety.
Powerful groups who oppose rights for the LGBTI community have forced the community into a difficult position. The community is under attack and it lacks the resources, both financial and human, to mount a real counter-campaign against the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The one thing it can do is build group solidarity, the feeling of belonging to a group, a discriminated yet united one.
Vlad Viski is the president of MozaiQ, a LGBTI organization in Romania.