Recent events in Chișinău have put LGBT rights (and the prejudices facing them) back on Moldova's political agenda. (c) Natalia Garbu.
This article originally appeared in Russian on Newsmaker.md, a leading source of reporting and comment in Moldova.
Moldova is one of the most homophobic countries in Europe. While homosexuality is legal here, some two thirds of Moldovan society believe that LGBT people should be kicked out of the country, and only one percent would be ready to accept an LGBT person as a family member.
Since being elected president in October 2016, Igor Dodon has sought to galvanise conservative public opinion — with consequences for the country’s small LGBT community. Dodon publicly opposed an LGBT solidarity parade scheduled to be held on 21 May, pledging to support a “festival of traditional families” instead. While LGBT activists attempted to hold the march, Orthodox Christian protesters threw eggs at them, and more than 100 police had to intervene to separate the two groups and evacuate the activists on buses. “I never promised to be the president of the gays,” remarked Dodon. “They should have elected their own.”
Four homosexual people living in Chișinău, the capital, shared their thoughts (on the basis of anonymity) regarding the most widespread assumptions, stereotypes, and presumptions about Moldova’s LGBT people.
Viktor, 24, Student
My parents, brother, and sisters don’t suspect that I’m gay. They wouldn’t understand me. To avoid those kind of conversations, I had to ask a female friend of mine to pretend to be my girlfriend. We often share photos of ourselves together to keep up the pretence.
I’m very selective in terms of my friends and acquaintances, I check them out before I consider opening up to them. That includes people who appear to have some understanding of equality and human rights. It’s very hard to trust people. Many people try, but still have difficulty understanding that it’s normal to be gay. I’ve asked my homophobic family members to imagine that one of their relatives were gay, or perhaps a favourite singer. I see their reaction.
But not only LGBT community participates in these marches as a sign of solidarity. Heterosexual people do too. When homophobes see that heterosexuals support LGBT rights, they begin to understand the importance of what’s happening. If such marches weren’t held, the homophobes would continue believing that society had no problem in accepting LGBT people. That such people don’t exist in Moldova.
I don’t go to pride marches. People would recognise me, and God forbid that somebody I know sees me there. I try to avoid all and any publicity on LGBT-related topics. I’m even ashamed to read about the march in the newspapers. After all, in theory, I should be there. But in practice, the circumstances and people I am surrounded by do not permit me.
For some reason, the majority of people believe that we’re incapable of love, that homosexual relationships are only about sex. When friends to whom I’ve opened up see my relationship with my partner, they admire us. Many even say that if it were their decision, given how harmonious we are, they’d legalise gay marriage and even allow us to bring up children. Still, even those friends are afraid to publicly support LGBT rights. Even if they’re married with kids, they’re afraid that they’ll be associated with gay people — and in public, they make fun of us, just like everybody else. I’m used to it.
Some would say that “we need to protect our children”, that they shouldn’t see two men or two women walking hand-in-hand. But my response would be: why should I hide who I am, simply because you haven’t worked out what to tell your kids?
I’m sure that if one day, all Moldova’s LGBT people told their relatives about themselves in unison, then homophobia would disappear in our country
Others exclaim that nobody bothers LGBT people here, asking why we need marches and “some kind of special rights”. Moldova is safe for me only as long as I keep my head down and only meet my partner behind closed doors. When I see him in the street, I act as if I don’t know him — somebody so close to me, whom I love very much. When we’re among our mutual friends, we have to pretend to be gormless tough guys to blend in. It depresses me, builds up inside and is awful for my mental health. But I don’t know when it will change, or if it can. I want to live in Moldova, but on the other side, the longer you work on a relationship, the less you’re prepared to keep it hidden.
There’s a saying that one love can drive out another. I was once in a relationship with a girl, we even kissed. But I just wasn’t attracted to her. I thought that perhaps it would work with another girl, but it always turned out the same. At some point I stopped forcing myself to fall in love with women.
In general, I’m sure that if one day, all Moldova’s LGBT people told their relatives about themselves in unison, then homophobia would disappear in our country. There’d be nobody left who “didn’t speak to gays.”
Vitaly, 32, web designer
I grew up in an Orthodox Christian family with strong homophobic views. Only my brother knows I’m gay, and a couple of colleagues at work. I’m certain that there’s nobody in Moldova who doesn’t have at least one LGBT person in their personal or professional circles — even if you live in the middle of nowhere. When I ask my acquaintances from the LGBT community, they tell me that their parents and colleagues don’t even suspect their orientation.
Many people who oppose LGBT marches or the very existence of gay and lesbian people don’t suspect that their brothers, sisters, parents or children are LGBT. Sometimes when I see a homophobic comment on Facebook, I check out the author’s profile — I often see around a dozen people in their friends list who I know to be LGBT. If nobody’s opened up to you yet, they’re probably scared and are trying to keep part of their identity hidden.
I came out for the first time at 27. Until then, it was very difficult for me to accept who I was. On the one hand, I had my religious beliefs and on the other my feelings, and they came into conflict with my faith. Once I accepted that I was gay, I started to tell people close to me. If I’m friends with somebody, it’s easier if don’t hide who I am and pretend to have a girlfriend. I don’t have a girlfriend, I have a boyfriend.
The LGBT marches are held, in fact, for people who think like this. For them to find out about LGBT, for them to see people come out. Every year, they say that society isn’t ready for LGBT marches. But it never will be. It also “wasn’t ready” to end slavery or give women the vote, but it did.
Likewise, don’t heterosexuals also organise marches? Let’s look at a normal heterosexual wedding. They arrive in the centre of town, dressed in the fanciest clothes only worn for this one occasion. They invite their friends and colleagues, who cheer them on to kiss before cameras and video cameras. That’s a heterosexual parade of sorts. In comparison, I can’t even go to an office party with my partner. I have to keep our relationship hidden.
Many of my colleagues turn up at work on Mondays and say that they went to this restaurant or that cinema with their wives. I’d like to be part of that conversation, but I can’t be. I can’t even walk hand-in-hand with the person I love, nor celebrate Easter or Christmas with him and my family. I have to hide everything, and it’s intolerable.
We’re told that for a man and a man to walk hand-in-hand “isn’t normal”. But what on earth is “normal”? In the 1960s, it wasn’t done to kiss on the street
We’re told that for a man and a man to walk hand-in-hand “isn’t normal”. But what on earth is “normal”? In the 1960s, it wasn’t done to kiss on the street. Passersby would have gawped at you. Nowadays, young couples can kiss everywhere, and nobody gives a damn because it’s their personal business. Accepted norms change.
And whatever these norms, the percentage of LGBT people in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Moldova, Russia or even Iraq stays the same. Gay people can only live freely and happily in a handful of countries, and in many more our lives are considered criminal. We hold marches so that one day, homosexuality is seen as something normal, just like heterosexuality. Once upon a time, women with red hair were considered to be witches and burnt, just like heretics once were. Norms change.
In the Soviet period, children who were left-handed were trained to be right-handed in nursery. It was considered the norm. Nowadays its different. And nobody’s worried that all children are at risk of becoming left-handed if there’s one left-handed kid in the class.
There’s no guarantee that your children won’t be gay. I know a family where two of the three sons are gay. There are all kinds of cases. I sometimes walk past Penitentiary No. 13 and see parents waiting to meet their children who are juvenile offenders. They know that their children have committed some kind of criminal act. But their love for them doesn’t vanish. It seems that parents can accept criminal children, but not gay children. I know many young people who severed all ties with their families upon coming out — or their parents simply kicked them out onto the street. Perhaps marches can help people overcome this unnatural fear of their own children, and they can learn to see them as normal.
Many parents are still afraid to send children to schools with openly gay teachers. But there are plenty of us. LGBT people cook your food in restaurants, LGBT people live and work among you. You need to take into account that LGBT people comprise between 3 and 5% of the population of Moldova.
I know from personal experience what role religion plays in this discussion. Still, I know many religious gay people in Moldova. They attend church regularly or sing in church choirs
I know from personal experience what role religion plays in this discussion. Still, I know many religious gay people in Moldova. They attend church regularly or sing in church choirs. I even know gay deacons and priests. Some of them are also torn between their sexual orientation and deeply-held religious convictions. I went through that myself, and know how difficult it can be to combine the two. But it’s possible.
I remember my first crush at school. There was never some moment when I suddenly decided to be attracted to boys rather than girls — it was all quite natural, and I could never choose who I fell in love with.
I once went to a meeting of older LGBT people in Moldova. There were 30 people between 50 and 80 years old — you couldn’t tell them apart from other people their age. They dress and behave like regular pensioners. Many are married and have brought up kids, simply because they had no other choice. There was no internet back then, which would have allowed them to meet people. They went with the flow, and have only now divorced and are living with the people they love. Homosexuality isn’t connected to age.
The Party of Socialists has proposed a bill to ban “gay propaganda” [thought to be the reason why people are gay]. And that’s the party in which I know the most gay people. I’m sure [president and former party leader] Igor Dodon knows about some of them, too. But Dodon isn’t a homophobe. I think he just needs to whip up fear of an internal enemy to win votes. It’s a method which worked in Nazi Germany — and when members of the opposition, Jews, gays and lesbians were sent to concentration camps, many people in Germany saw that as quite alright, since they identified in these groups the country’s most pressing problem. But we’ve learnt our lessons from all that, haven’t we?
I don’t like the term “homosexual”, as the very core of the word is “sex”. It’s wrong to see LGBT people only through the prism of sex. There’s a term I prefer much more in Romanian — homoafectiv, that is to say, “homo-oriented” or “homo-leaning”. The word thus implies love and affection towards your partner. LGBT people aren’t ideal, but they feel the same as heterosexuals: suffering, depression from unrequited love. And yes, there’s sex involved too, just as there is among heterosexuals.
Not long ago, on Victory Day, I watched as parents sat their children atop armoured vehicles and took photos. They weren’t worried that their children would grow up to be soldiers, and kill others. It’s easier to imagine two men holding rifles than two men holding hands. So again we return to the question: what’s “normal”?
After hearing my story, some might say that “if they hate it here so much, let them go to their beloved ‘Gayrope!’” Fine. But even if we leave, other gay people will be born and grow up here in Moldova. I always believed that I was the only LGBT person in my class. And it turned out that there were at least three of us. I once wanted to leave the country, but changed my mind. I have a good job, nice friends and colleagues. I know Moldova and Chișinău well. I know how I can help my fellow LGBT people here, and my fellow Moldovans in general, because I don’t work only on LGBT issues.
Andrei, 18, student
Without LGBT marches, society would continue to believe that only two or three gay people live in the country. LGBT people go to these marches to demonstrate that they exist and refuse to be cast out of society. On the day before last year’s march, I went to a cafe with a few of my friends. The march really angered them; they swore and cursed, and cried “they must all be killed!” “Yes,” I encouraged, “they must be killed”.
I won’t go to an LGBT mach. I’m afraid that my family might notice me, or my colleagues from college. In previous years, I’ve also been too afraid to go — though I have always followed the marches on television. I was fuming when I saw how the police evacuated people on the march last year. But don the whole, I’m proud of those who showed up.
I was born and raised in a village where gays were always criticised. My grandfather tried every possible way to get me to hate them. Once, we sat down as a family and watched a TV programme about LGBT people. My grandfather asked to turn up the volume, and vented his rage at the TV. So did my parents. I just sat and listened, as my family urged me “not to wind up like one of them.” By that time I already understood that I was attracted to guys. But upon seeing just how deeply my family felt that homosexuality was a vice, I didn’t know how to live with the truth. I kept repeating to myself: “Oh Lord, why did you curse me?” In time I understood that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. But that was a difficult journey.
My friends beat me up when they found out I was gay. In order not to raise suspicions, I try to appear stereotypically masculine
What would what my grandfather would have said if he knew that two of his grandsons were gay? My cousin is also gay. I once found him watching gay porn. When I entered the room, he wasn’t able to close his laptop quick enough, and he had to admit it. I also opened up to him, and we got to know each other anew. Sometimes I wonder: when will the moment come when I can finally open up to my family?
One of my teachers is also gay. How I found out is a long story. But when I asked him what he’d do if the headteacher found out, he simply replied that he’d move. The teacher admitted that he was afraid of being ridiculed at work. Many gay people fear losing their jobs due to their sexual orientation.
Still, it’s irrelevant whether your teacher is gay or not. It has no bearing on your orientation. I remember when I had just begun college, and during a break, my classmates watched a video of two guys kissing. Everybody started making fun of them. “Turn it off, it makes me sick!” one of my classmates said. After some time, I found out that he was gay himself, and understood that I wasn’t the only one afraid of opening up to others.
My friends beat me up when they found out I was gay. In order not to raise suspicions, I try to appear stereotypically masculine, telling everybody that I have a girlfriend. One day, I came back to the student dormitory quite late, and my classmates started asking everybody where I was. “I was at my girlfriend’s place” I lied. The guys demanded to see a photo of her. I found a photo of a pretty girl on Facebook and showed it to them.
“So, you have sex with guys, but apart from that, you’re normal?” asked one female friend when she found out that I’m gay. I responded that, even taking my sexual orientation into account, I’m still normal, and that I have feelings towards guys, just like she does.
Ekaterina, 31, illustrator
I’m outraged when people say we shouldn’t be able to hold marches. These people defend their homophobic position without even understanding that they are denying me my rights. I’m outraged when a stranger decides how I should live and what rights I have. It surprises me that these people don’t understand a basic fact — we are equals before the state. My only suggestion for these people is that if it irritates them so much, sit at home quietly and don’t watch the march. What’s the problem?
Last year I went on an LGBT march for the first time. It meant overcoming very real fears and learning to accept myself. Was I scared? Yes, I was. Will I go again? I still don’t know. But I do believe that we need marches so people understand that we live here, we didn’t just arrive one day from Europe or America, as the local populists claim. We were born in this country and have the same rights as anybody else. I hope that in the future — people should understand this — it won’t be necessary to hold marches anymore.
Moldova is my home, and I don’t want to leave. I ride my bicycle through these sunny streets that are so near and dear to me, and I feel so happy to live here
Some people say: “Single-sex love is unnatural.” For some people, it’s unnatural to eat grasshoppers, but it doesn’t mean that everyone who lives in Thailand is crazy. It’s not natural for me to sleep standing up. Being gay is quite normal in nature. It’s one of several norms for a person’s sexual orientation.
As I see it, this kind of division into “worthy” and “unworthy” workers is a form of fascism — and it must be responded to accordingly. Dividing society and casting some people away is unfortunately a normal trick politicians use to attract voters.
On paper, Moldova is safe. At least, I personally haven’t faced violence — though I’ve heard of people who have. I encounter homophobia in my own family, and that’s what upsets me more than anything. When your own family can’t accept something that you can’t change, it’s painful.
I was 20 when I finally accepted that I was lesbian. Now that time has passed, I remember that I was always running around after girls with dead mice. At first I tried to open up to a friend, but she didn’t understand me. I think it was a more stressful experience for her than for me. I had to explain to her that nothing between us had changed, it was just that all the boys were now hers. My parents know; I would have found it unbearable to hide it from them. They don’t understand me, but that’s better than lying constantly. Who will I open up to next? Well, anybody who’s interested. I don’t really understand why my sexual orientation should worry anybody.
As for “going back to Gayrope”, Moldova is my home, and I don’t want to leave. I ride my bicycle through these sunny streets that are so near and dear to me, and I feel so happy to live here.
Translated by Maxim Edwards. All images (c) Natalia Garbu / Newsmaker.