Apart from being one of the poorest country in Europe, Moldova also happens to be one of the most homophobic. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons in Moldova face many challenges, even if same-sex sexual activity is not criminalized. A comprehensive sociological study carried out in 2014 proved how widespread discrimination in Moldovan society is, but few expected to see such alarming results, particularly when it comes to the LGBT community. An astounding 83% of respondents would not accept a homosexual as their neighbor, while 92% would not want an LGBT educator in their children’s classroom. Many still associate homosexuality with illness, perversion and sin. Some even believe it must be punished. Of those, 42% agree that homosexuals should be imprisoned, 55% said they should be fined and almost 84% agree that they should be deprived of some rights. Yet, the most revealing statistic is that only 6.7% of respondents said they knew someone who was gay.
I must admit, I myself have not met an openly gay person until I went to study to the United States. Moreover, years later, despite being a fairly open minded person, I am not aware of having any gay people in my circle of friends and acquaintances in Moldova. Even more incredible, for a European country of three million people, I would struggle to name a single openly gay public figure in my country, apart from a handful of truly brave activists at the GenderDoc-M, the leading LGBT rights NGO. Therefore, it is no wonder that people are ignorant and fearful of the unknown, easily succumbing to bigotry, discrimination and even violence as described in horrific detail by journalist Marina Shupac in a powerful article for the Newsmaker.
But, clearly, not everyone who opposes the idea of equal rights for LGBT people is simply uninformed. For many, these are deeply held personal beliefs, often rooted in religion. After all, Moldovans like to see themselves as a Christian people. Sadly, at a time when the Catholic Church is making strides to become more open and inclusive, the Russian Orthodox Church, including its Moldovan branch, does the exact opposite by embracing a rather militant form of conservatism. The Church incites homophobic sentiments under the disguise of protecting family values. Yet, the Church is less adamant about domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness and turns a blind eye on the plight of Moldova’s orphanage children. Doing something about these “ills” requires time, efforts and resources, while chastising LGBT people is an easy “fix” to the country’s problems.
However, if the Church is somewhat justified in holding its flock to a standard of morality of its choosing, the state, being separate from the Church and serving all of the country’s citizens, cannot abide by anything other than the law. Now, as with most things in Moldova, the situation looks relatively good on paper, particularly after the Law on Ensuring Equality was enacted in 2012 (in line with the EU visa free travel conditionality). However, implementation leaves much to be desired. Furthermore, the law does little to address hate speech and nothing to ensure equal rights with respect to family life. The most disappointing development remains the political opposition from the left; especially as left wing parties are traditionally known for their progressive values when compared to conservatives and Christian democrats on the right. Again, unsurprisingly, things are upside down in Moldova.
Moldova Pride Parade started in 2002, but all of the marches have been met with violent opposition from religious groups, including the one from May 22, 2016. Not even the young Liberal mayor of Chisinau Dorin Chirtoaca elected in 2007 could ensure an orderly Pride march, notoriously banning the 2008 parade. Still, it is Socialist leader Igor Dodon who has become the leading opposition voice against the 2016 Pride (called rather inoffensively ‘solidarity march’). He staged a Family Festival in the main square, precluding LGBT activists from marching into the square as they had hoped. Despite implicitly acknowledging that there are LGBT people among his fellow party members, Dodon had earlier opposed the Law on Ensuring Equality.
It is all the more ironic, because one can easily picture Igor Dodon and some of his most ardent followers wearing Armani clothes and boasting their latest IPhone while admiring their favorite actors, singers, sports stars etc, all the while denying the very same people their basic humanity by refusing to acknowledge them as equal, either because of religious fervor, or, even worse, due to political expediency.
PS: One can only imagine the suffering LGBT people have to endure as they live in constant fear of condemnation, rejection and outright violence. In order to alleviate this pain more heterosexuals need to stand up and speak out on behalf of their fellow citizens who are voiceless. It is not only the right thing to do morally, it is also sound public policy. LGBT people living in the open, once welcomed into the community, become more productive members of that community. Moldova can ill afford to squander valuable human capital.
For this, local media and civil society need to be more open to LGBT issues, thus creating more prerequisite for tolerance at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, Moldovan media is politically controlled and civil society is still weak. Hence, there is increased pressure on prominent local public figures, who continue to live in the closet, to come out not just for their own sake, but for many others like them who would probably never get the courage to do so otherwise. Moldova’s development partners could make a point by sending openly gay/lesbian Ambassadors – so that welcoming and hospitable Moldovans could no longer live in denial, saying that they had never encountered an LGBT person before.