ACCEPT has been part of the Anti-discrimination Coalition since 2000, a group of currently 12 organizations joining forces to promote human rights and equality for all minorities and vulnerable groups. The Coalition supported the adoption of OG 137/2000, which provides comprehensive anti-discrimination protection on the ground of sexual orientation in the fields of human dignity, employment, healthcare, education, access to services and housing.
Key partner in this Coalition is ECPI – The Euroregional Centre for Public Initiatives, which focuses on promoting sexual and reproductive rights and comprehensive sexual education.
In 2017, aiming to combat the referendum to ban same sex marriage, a wide civil society platform, Respect, was established under the coordination of ACCEPT. Respect currently has 110 member organizations, and 170 supporting individuals. Respect is continuing its public presence following the referendum held in 2018, with the goal of promoting the respect for democracy and individual freedom and civil rights in Romania. It supported initiatives to increase electoral participation in European Elections, which had a record turnout of 50.07%.
ACCEPT also works closely with other LGBTI organizations and informal groups, an emerging LGBTI civil society, involving them in community events, such as the LGBTI History Month and Bucharest PRIDE, while supporting other community events at a local level by expertize, participation and, when available, funding. On the short term, ACCEPT will engage them in comprehensive training programs over the course of the coming 6 months regarding advocacy tools and techniques.
ACCEPT also engages over 120 volunteers in our current activities, especially around Pride or other community events. Their vision is key in setting up the agenda of large community events, and their interests and priorities inform our programming. ACCEPT also started a major strategic litigation case aiming to reach the European Court of Human Rights focused on the respect for private and family life for rainbow families. So far, 13 couples have joined the case, and illustrate with their stories the need for regulating civil partnership, while providing us with insight in the needs of rainbow families at large.
In what ways have young LGBTQI people in your community been affected by the COVID-19 emergency and the lockdowns?
During the lockdown, most young LGBTQ+ people in Romania had to stay home with their families, without having physical contact with their allies and/or friends from the community. Sadly, few families of queer people tend to be accepting of their child’s orientation and gender identity. LGBTQ+ youth have been continuously exposed to their family values, which go against their way of expressing themselves. They have been subjected to verbal and physical abuse, harm and suffering. It’s important for LGBTQ+ people to stay in contact with their community and have someone to talk to in case they need support. That’s what Accept has been trying to offer during the lockdown.
Furthermore, the transgender community has struggled with obtaining their hormonal treatment at all or on time. Some trans people, including trans youth, have had to take their shots/pills later than the recommended time period. COVID-19 slowed down the transition of many, given the health risks associated with undergoing gender affirming surgeries during a pandemic.
Are there specific ways in which you have supported the community that you would like to highlight and/or share with other organisations?
One of our goals during the pandemic was to make sure the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community had some of their basic needs covered, as many have lost some or all of their sources of income due to the crisis. That is why we started a project called “Here for the Community.” Through this project we were able to give supermarket food vouchers to people who were most at risk during this time.
We conducted an online survey and inquired with key community members and groups, so as to identify four categories that needed our support:
- queer and trans artists,
- sex workers,
- older LGBTQ+ people (65 and above), and
- LGBTQ+ people with low income/ unstable/ no sources of income during this time.
Through the project, we ended up supporting 50 community members with a total of 10.000 euro in food vouchers. Older LGBTQ+ people, who are at greater risk to develop COVID-19 complications, receive their food delivered at home. Others pick up their vouchers from our office and use them to personally buy the food they need.
We are also making a sustained effort to support LGBTQ+ independent artists. They often do not have employment contracts and gain their income from irregular gigs/ performances. They are one of the groups that is most affected financially during this time, and many of them are not eligible to receive aid from the government. We are planning to organize a series of online parties called QUEERantine which are both an opportunity to engage the community and a way to support and pay LGBTQ+ artists.
In terms of community support and wellbeing, ACCEPT has two support groups that have moved online as a result of the pandemic. One is hosting the wide LGBTI community, the other is focused on trans individuals. Both are well attended and we have noticed that various trans people started hosting their own online meet ups. This is an upside of social distancing measures. The support groups are facilitated by psychologists who work pro-bono.
Moreover, we have been faced with issues affecting rainbow families as a result of the lack of recognition and protection for their family life in Romania. We have offered support, legal information, connection with Austrian activists and communicated to Romanian authorities regarding the case of a Brazilian man married to a Romanian who was blocked in Austria because of the COVID-19 border restrictions. We are closely monitoring a case which is the carbon copy of Coman (the ECHR ruling that held that a Romanian national could require the Romanian government to admit with its territory his same-sex spouse, even though marriage had not been opened to same sex-couples within Romania). This new case involves a couple (Romanian and Serbian nationals) that was married in Germany and has now returned to Romania. Despite applying for residency at the beginning of 2019, they were refused and are currently litigating their case against immigration authorities.
What can governments, (national and international) authorities and institutions do more to support the communities you serve throughout this crisis?
During the lockdown, there was a visible fear that the LGBTQ+ community had of law enforcement. Trans people tend to avoid the police because of the fear of being asked to show their ID. Thus, having to come out in unsafe circumstances. For this, we need authorities to create a safe space for LGBTI people in relation to the police. For queer youths that have to stay home with their unsupporting families, authorities could have created national campaigns that would educate the society on this issue, to address the family abuse that LGBTI young people experience at home. There is not enough space in shelters for queer youths that run away from home or are kicked out of their homes. There is also a need for safe space shelters that would take in vulnerable people from discriminated communities. The authorities should encourage equity in schools, provide safe and stress free exam conditions and to show more coherence regarding the actions taken when addressing the population.
There are reasons to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a part of our lives for 1-3 years. In what way do you think that prolonged lockdowns and/or other preventive measures will impact your work and LGBTQI+ youth in your country?
It’s worrisome to think that some LGBTQ+ youths will be forced to stay home with families that don’t support them and even abuse them, for such a long period of time, and for trans people to continue having trouble in getting their treatment on time for as long as 3 years. Our work is dedicated to helping the community and now, it’s of utmost importance to be visible, offer our services and make sure that the information that we share reaches as many LGBTQ+ people as possible. In case of a prolonged lockdown, our physical events, as well as our volunteering program will have to be rethought to have less people on the site at the same time and more contributing via on-line. Our concern is, that we are starting to see the tiring effects that frequent online meetings have on our society. More people search for time spent away from technology, and spend more time in nature, and this can be seen in the lesser interest of joining such meetings and events. This will impact the way we organize our online and physical activities. We need, as Accept, to be present and use our platform to give strength and support to our community during those times.