This is the second in our series profiling those on the equality frontlines, both here and around the world. I recently had the chance to connect with Florin Buhuceanu, a Romanian activist combatting religious extremism and social animosity in a country where, from his own description, anti-LGBT attitudes are common and accepted. Of particular note is his description of an American-exported homophobia, something we’ve seen flourishing in Africa as well
Florin is 42 years old and lives in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. He’s been involved with Metropolitan Community Church there since 2001 and a partner of their Global Justice Institute. He is the founder of ACCEPT and the Executive Director for ECPI.
MM: How long have you been an activist, and what got you started?
FB: Several years after the collapse of the Ceausescu regime, I wrote some articles for the mainstream media concerning legal discrimination against gay and lesbian people. It was my way of making the invisible visible, at a time in which homosexuality was illegal in Romania and LGBT people were completely silenced. Thousands of people faced police brutality and spent years in the prison system, even after 1990, while the Orthodox Church campaigned for harsher penalties. As a student at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology I felt that I have to react against the public position of my church. I was excluded from faculty after than, and soon became the president of the national gay rights organization, ACCEPT Association. Years later I was lucky to find Metropolitan Community Church, a great place of spiritual activism for equal rights and a source of inspiration and energy for people like me.
MM: What is life like for most LGBTQ people in Romania? Is Romania known for being anti-gay?
FB: Without doubt, we have the sad and constant distinction of being the most despised minority group in Romanian society. In this hostile environment, hate speech is rewarded and treated as legitimate at almost all levels of society and hate crimes are not recognized as a reality for LGBTQ people, and are not properly investigated. And please taken into account that we have been members of the European Union since 2007. Sexual orientation is legally protected by the Union’s antidiscrimination legislation. However, the distance between legislation and what is going on in daily reality is huge. Sadly, only a few politicians have the vision and courage to include LGBT issues on their agenda.
FB: ACCEPT and ECPI (Euroregional Center for Public Initiatives), which are both supported by the Global Justice Institute, are organizations leading several coalitions of various Romanian groups defending and promoting sexual and reproductive rights. Our organizations are small and we do not have a grass roots movement behind us, but we have managed recently to introduce sexual orientation among hate crimes criteria and to block several legal attempts to restrict the access of women to safe abortions. It means that you can be influential if you take yourself and your people seriously enough to confront the Religious Right movement in our countries.
MM: What impact is the work you are doing, with ACCEPT, ECPI and the Global Justice Initiative, having on the lives of LGBTQ people in Romania and on the society? Is progress being made?
FB: I am quite proud to say that part of the human rights legislation was changed because of our persistent efforts. Sometimes you feel almost depressed realizing that the change is so small and that it takes years and years of hard work. On the other hand, we do what we can do. We are very few, and the support coming from partners such as the Global Justice Institute and American donors such as the Soros Foundations and the Arcus Foundation is sometimes vital to feel that you are not alone and that our voices are not silenced.
MM: Americans sometimes think there is no other world outside our country. What would you want people to know about the lives of LGBTQ people in Romania and countries in that area?
FN: In many ways, it is understandable. On the other hand, let me tell you that the rise of fundamentalism in Romania and its negative impact upon our rights as a minority group is heavily based on the export of homophobia from the Unites States. Now is the right time to find ways to organize a smart counter-reaction to this impact of the Religious Right in Eastern Europe. Here the U.S. can play a huge role in sharing resources and strategies to limit religious based homophobia.