AMC15, First Day – Conference “Intolerance and Discrimination in Eastern Europe: the Plight of LGBTQI Youth”

 

Today, was the first day of IGLYO Annual Members’ Conference 2015, taking place in Bucharest, Romania, from the 12th to the 15th of November. The Conference was hosted in the beautiful Czech Center, in the heart of Bucharest, and was organized by IGLYO and the local member organization Association ACCEPT. The day started with a special event, a conference completely focused on LGBTQ Activism in the reality of Eastern Europe. More than forty participants took place to the conference, sharing their perspectives and ideas with the invited guests, lecturers and experts.

 

Framing the Context of Eastern Europe, Panel Debate/Press Conference

 

The conference opened up with the warm welcome of Euan Platt, Executive Co-ordinator and of the Ambassador of Czech Republic in Romania, Vladimir Valky. The first panel was moderated by Teodora Ion-Rotaru and included experts on LGBTQ activism in the Romanian context. Among these, the floor was initially given to Daniela Prisacariu, Programs Coordinator at Association ACCEPT and Co-chair at IGLYO and Florin Buhuceanu from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, who both gave a detailed introduction on the situation of LGBTQ people in Romania and how activism is often challenged by political institutions.

After this presentation, Patrick Braila, Executive Director from TRANSform, explored even more the Romanian context by sharing some facts on the situation of transgender people. It was highlighted during the presentation, how is important for transgender people in Romania to be united and fight together; standing alone is not an option at present time. Personal stories and visibility are instead the major tool to empower trans people and media are essential to achieve this result. Some statistics followed with the presentation of Petre Florin Manole, from the National Council for Combating Discrimination. Florin reported how only nine complaints were filed to the institution where he works during the last year. This very little data is quite indicative of how significant is the fact that homophobic actions and speeches are not reported in Romania.

Diplomatic figures also made strong points on the topics discussed. H.E. Ms. Anneli Lindahl Kenny, Ambassador of Sweden in Romania stressed how despite the many laws existing in the country, this does not mean that these rules are necessarily implemented. Swedish reality was presented as a positive example in terms of anti-discrimination campaigns occurring inside political environments. However, work is always in progress: after thirty years of this training inside the Ministry, there is still significant levels of intolerance. RFSL, one of the main Swedish LGBTQI organisations, was mentioned as a very powerful actor for raising awareness inside schools.

Nora Nitescu, from the Netherlands Embassy in Romania, shared some interesting insights on the Netherlands. Even if the Netherlands was the first country to allow same-sex marriage, polls on acceptancy towards homosexuality has still a long way to go. According to some surveys, 95% of Dutch citizens claim that are not against homosexual people, but 42% would dislike to see two men kissing in public. This means that at present time homosexuals are not very visible in the Netherlands and coming out still takes many years for many Dutch people. However, at present time, the Dutch Government funds many projects. The main ones are related to youth: i.e. projects focusing on social media to empower the LGBTQ youth, by having an approach that is in line with the way young people communicate. Through these projects, young people can seek help and support, make abuse visible, and create self-empowerment. Another goal is also to facilitate LGBT-friendly clubs in media, thus local LGBTQ networks are encouraged to advertise their meetings online and promote safe virtual meeting places. Finally, advisory teams in school must be introduced with a reporting protocol for abuse.

It was extensively discussed how in Romania, there is an anti-discrimination legislation but unfortunately there is still significant lack of trust towards LGBTQ people. Unfortunately, state representatives are sharing the same values that the majority of society has against LGBTQ people. Those who complain about social injustice are NGOs who have a legal status, but not single individuals. Today the Ministry of Education, Youth, Health and Internal Affairs did not attend the conference: this means something.

LGBTQ people need visibility in Romania and media could help significantly in this. However, media themselves tend to focus more on personal stories. Often, they do not have the capacity to fully educate themselves on LGBTQ issues. For instance, in the last year media’s interest towards transgender issues increased, though they tend to be more focused on personal stories. Media are extremely important in shaping and reshaping the mind of citizens but at present time their job on LGBTQ people is quite poor. Media tend not to report LGBTQ attacks. This means that is Romanian activists’ task to invest on media.

 

Mapping of Regions – Exhibition of Hot Topics, Workshop

 

The second session of the morning was led by IGLYO Capacity Building Officer Tudor Kovacs and focused on regional realities in Eastern Europe regarding some particular topics. Participants were split into groups according to the issues they were more interested to explore. Topics include pride parades, gender recognition laws, extreme right movements and anti-gay propaganda in Eastern Europe. Participants were invited to share their knowledge and to find together possible solution to some problems that some countries face. It was observed how some countries represented a positive model to look at, and how international pressure is fundamental to help countries where human rights violations are currently happening.

 

Traditional Values, Religion and LGBTQI Rights in Eastern Europe, Workshop

 

The workshop was led by Florin Buhuceanu who gave participants some insights on how traditional values still play a role in fostering discrimination against LGBTQ people. Sexual orientation and gender identity are still considered to be an imposition from abroad for most of Romanian society. This part of society still strongly believes that homosexuality is against god and nature, thus there is still a rooted assumption that LGBTQ people must necessarily be against religion. LGBT Faith people are consequently perceived as a threat for society who could potentially contribute to make freedom of religion jeopardized. One of the main fear at society level is that homosexuals could impose a gay dictatorship on a majority of people with strong religious beliefs and moral and religious values. LGBT faith people are blamed to be willing to cause the collapse of civilization in Romania. The conclusion is that heterosexuality is apparently a traditional value in Romanian society. In this context, religious values become moral values and then national values. Thus, according to this view, LGBT Faith People necessarily represent an opposition to national values.

Till 2012, homosexuality is legal in Romania. Religion here played a significant role in promoting and sponsoring homophobia. To fight this situation, tools are unfortunately limited. However, monitoring the main actors who  are involved in homophobic campaigns is helpful to see how these movements are connected at international level and which are their tactics. Moreover, it is of fundamental importance to foster connections with other LGBT faith people and create partnerships with international LGBTQ and religious organisations. Also, another strategy is to raise awareness inside religious leaders circles about sexuality. For instance, several bishops in Malta have been confronted with parents who have LGBTQ kids. This clearly marked an impact: for the first time bishops were starting to consider the issue and be more aware of this. This means that for progresses to move further, pressures should happen at both local and international level.

 

LGBTQI and Education, Workshop

 

In the afternoon, the new session focused on education and LGBTQ issues. Tudor Kovacs moderated the session. During this workshop, participants were asked to brainstorm on which are two main barriers at present time that consist in a limitation for implementing education on LGBTQI issues. It was then asked to classify these barriers into different levels:

  1. Structural/legal/norms barriers to education
  2. External influences
  3. Community and individual problems, local problems

It was highlighted how some of the main barriers falling into structural and legal categories were access to educational curricula, politicians who are not enough aware about gender issues, lack of resources to influence curricula, patriarchy, propaganda laws, old-class politicians. In the second category, it was stressed instead how some barriers are represented by the influence of church, of right-wing politicians and of religious/conservative/informed parents. In the last category, participants pointed out barriers to education often consisted in the impossibility to present LGBTQ topics in school, in the lack of accepting diversity within the LGBTQI community, in the lack of funding and knowledge… The session concluded with having participants gathered in groups to find solutions to these problems and classify all of them as top, lateral and bottom approaches.

 

LGBTQI and Workplace, Workshop

 

This workshop was oragnised by Google, which generously contributed to fund IGLYO AMC15. The workshop focused on the many activities promoting LGBTQ visibility in the mainstream of work of Google in the last years. Participants were asked to take part to a quiz testing their level of knowledge on Google and its activities and were invited to share practices on the best ways to promote diversity and awareness in their workplaces.

 

LGBTQI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Eastern Europe, Lecture

 

During this lecture, the speaker gave context to the current situation for asylum seekers and refuges in Europe. During the presentation it was asked where does sexual orientation and gender identity fit into the criteria for asylum/ refuge status. Many participants mentioned membership of a social group as one of the main criteria. The speaker mentioned that sexual orientation cases usually get rejected on the basis of lack of credibility.

An important factor in the asylum and refugee situation is the “actor of persecution”, which happens according to two categories. In the first category, the state policy often discriminates against the individual or laws that are in place. In the second category, the non-state – which is everything else, such as a societal attitude plays a role: some examples used are honor killings and corrective rape in some cultures. A point was also raised that persecution can happen informally such as being tortured or abused by police officers but not officially being arrested or charged. To this purpose, participants suggested that in their country their organisations sometimes can write a letter to the immigration office in support of the asylum applicants application.

 

At the end of the day…

 

After a long and fruitful day of work, the first day of IGLYO AMC 2015 ended. A lovely cocktail reception and a beautiful view of Bucharest from the Sky Bar of the hostel where participants are accommodated,  made the day conclude in the best possible way!

 

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