LGBT Rights Made Visible in Moldova’s Quest to Join the European Union
FRIDAY FILE: Activist Anastasia Danilova explains how Moldova’s campaign to join the European Union provides some opportunity and some backlash for LGBT Rights
By Masum Momaya
As one of the many struggling post-Soviet economies, Moldova currently finds itself at a crossroads between more ensuing years of economic despair and the opportunities associated with European Union membership. Riddled by political instability in recent years, growing emigration of its young people and ongoing territory disputes with Russia, recent elections have highlighted poignant discrepancies between change and “more of the same.”
Anastasia Danilova, a women’s rights activist from Gender Doc-M, the oldest organization in the post Soviet space that works with LGBT persons, discusses daily discrimination, the role of the church and the difference that Moldova’s quest to the join the European Union (EU) may make for the country’s LGBT community.
AWID: Many of our readers may not be familiar with Moldova. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Anastasia Danilova (A.D.): Moldova is one of the former states in the Soviet Union. It is a very Christian and orthodox country in which the church has a lot power, including in political matters and public policy. Moldova is also very poor right now, having experienced economic devastation since the collapse of the Soviet Union twenty years. We are trying to become part of the European Union (EU). To join the EU, the government needs to demonstrate that it adheres to human rights principles, but this is different in theory versus practice and is going very slowly.
For us in the LGBT community, while the opportunity to join the EU has brought more consciousness about human rights principles, it has also created a backlash. Some people, including nationalists, say that Europeans are influencing us to be homosexuals, imposing this on us from the outside. So there is currently a lot of tension around EU accession, for this and other reasons.
AWID: What is the situation for LGBT persons in Moldova right now?
A.D.: As I mentioned, the church has a lot of power in Moldova, and it publicly denounces homosexuality as a sin. It is very difficult to speak out against the church here; 90% of the population identify as Christians.
LGBT persons face daily discrimination in homes, schools, workplaces and public places. For example, children who are suspected to be gay or lesbian or known to have gay or lesbian parents are harassed in schools. Many people are kicked out of their homes and workplaces if they speak about or express their sexual orientation. I recently tried to secure a place in a domestic violence shelter for a lesbian woman who had experienced abuse from her family, but the shelter refused to take her because she is a lesbian. LGBT persons are also routinely evicted from restaurants and bars.
LGBT persons living in areas outside the capital city, Chisinau, face even more challenges because many of these areas are politically unstable and economically even worse off, including the region of Transnistria, which is occupied by Russian troops and under dispute. For safety reasons, many of them mate with someone of the opposite sex and live out their lives this way. LGBT people in remote and rural areas have no access to support or services. In general, it is safer to be in Chisinau if you are an LGBT person.
AWID: Are LGBT persons punished by the law?
A.D.: No, homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, just as in other post-Soviet countries. We have been working with a coalition of NGOs to draft and push for anti-discrimination legislation, which would address the needs of not just LGBT people, but also persons with disabilities, elderly people and members of the Roma community. It has been difficult to push this legislation through as we have a really unstable political situation right now in which many are unhappy with current leadership and question the integrity of electoral processes, but we continue to work on this.
AWID: What other things are LGBT organisations doing within Moldova?
A.D.: We publish two magazines to raise awareness about sexual orientation and sexual diversity. One magazine is for the public, and the other is for the LGBT community. The magazines include poems and stories in addition to information about legislation and policies. We would like to make some films but generally people are afraid of showing their faces so publicly.
We also organize seminars about sexual diversity for medical workers, social workers, psychologists, police, journalists and students. Beyond this, we don’t have many venues to speak about the issues more publicly, except in our annual three-day Pride festival. The festival is widely covered by the media. For three days every national channel speaks about homosexuality and about Gender Doc-M.
AWID: Are there any efforts specifically targeted towards women?
A.D.: The women’s movement, overall, is very weak in Moldova. Gender Doc-M does have a program especially aimed at empowering lesbian and bisexual women. Last year, on October 11, we organized a flash mob. The concept was that you should write and display a sentence about yourself, for example, “I have green eyes,” “I am a woman” and so on. Three girls wrote down, “I am a lesbian,” “I love women,” and “I love her.” Some of these girls are now beginning to participate in workshops, speaking to others, including their family members, about sexual diversity.
AWID: Do you work with LGBT communities in other post-Soviet
A.D.: For five years, we conducted a joint project with groups in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. We try to share experiences, information and strategies between us. For example, our situation is most similar with that in Ukraine but there are also some similarities between us and the situation in Kazakhstan because of the influence of Islam there.
AWID: What is the latest in terms of the government championing human rights as a means towards EU accession?
A.D.: In the last elections, many people voted for parties who said they would champion human rights. Some of those parties got elected but, after more than a year of being in power, not much has changed. Moreover, when we have tried to speak to them about human rights and anti-discrimination legislation behind closed doors or through peaceful public demonstrations, they have denied us the opportunity to do so.
AWID: What are some of your hopes for the immediate future?
A.D.: I think attitudes in our country are slowly shifting. Due to lack of opportunities within Moldova, many young people go abroad to study or work in Romania and other European countries. When they come back, they seem more open minded and more open to social changes. We are going to keep pushing for this anti-discrimination legislation and keep raising awareness about sexual diversity, along with supporting individual LGBT persons. All these things need to be done simultaneously.