01/06/2017 at 12:41 #9849
Jun 6th, 2006 | Romania | 21 comments
In 2004, when my father and brother flew from Romania to visit me in Missouri, they sweated right into the wet hot American summer of gay marriage.
One Sunday, we were driving back from a water park and we stopped in Jefferson City to see the capitol. A choir of kids was singing on the steps, and a crowd of mostly middle aged folks was slowly huddling in the shade with large cardboard signs displaying the male and female symbols as seen on the doors of public restrooms.
Man plus woman equaled marriage, the signs read. You know, the real kind of marriage, the kind that doesn’t involve men doing stuff to other men.
I reacted the way I usually did back then. I directed a little anger at the demonstrators and even more at the politicians who successfully made gay marriage a campaign issue. I might have even quipped that Americans didn’t seem more tolerant than us, Eastern Europeans.
My dad mumbled something about gays not needing to marry because of their lifestyle or something like that. I tried to explain to him this wasn’t really about marriage; it was ultimately a fight to get the same benefits heterosexual married couples receive. He didn’t buy that. I told him marriage in the United States comes with significant financial incentives. He didn’t buy that either. I could see an out of control gay parade flash before his eyes—a horde of chain-wielding leather-clad dudes that were ready to take you to school. I was disappointed.
My dad calls himself a liberal. He has built a non-profit organization to help disabled children—one of the great tragedies of post-communist Romania. He is a brain surgeon, cutting open the scalps of people of all backgrounds. He is half Hungarian and he has taught me Romanians and Hungarians are the same—an important lesson to learn for a kid growing up in a town that saw ethnic clashes in 1990, an episode that left eight people dead and hundreds injured. He has organized local AIDS-awareness campaigns three years in a row. He doesn’t go to church because he believes it’s nothing more than a powerful lobby.
But the idea of gays getting married seemed too much for him to accept. And it probably wasn’t the sanctity of marriage part that disturbed him (my parents’ marriage fell apart almost a decade ago). It was a gut reaction. To him, gays were… gross. Gays were nothing more than perverted men with deviant lifestyles and careless attitudes.
We never fought like we did that afternoon.
This past Saturday, Romanian gays marching in Bucharest at the second annual GayFest were attacked by a group of anti-gay demonstrators. According to Reuters, ten people were injured and dozens were detained. The footage shows a street brawl reeking of genuine hatred of “the other.”
Un afis Noua DreaptaEarlier that day, a larger march packed right-wing extremists (Romania’s version of skinheads) next to Orthodox priests and nuns, all chanting in unison: “Romania is not Sodom,” and “We don’t want to be a people of faggots.” They were displaying Christian symbols and banners calling for “normalcy,” saying they had enough with the deviants corrupting society.
Romania is almost 90 percent Orthodox and the Church has been campaigning against gay rights for years. In 2001, they fought to block the elimination of the controversial Article 200 from Romania’s penal code. The article, which criminalized homosexual relationships, was a relic of the communist era. The European Union, which Romania desperately hopes to join in 2007, welcomed the elimination of Article 200, as did gay rights groups.
But that hasn’t made homosexuality more acceptable in Romania. On the contrary, Romania has remained at heart an anti-gay country, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. A close friend of mine recently told me he couldn’t watch “Six Feet Under” because he couldn’t stand HBO bringing gay men into his living room.
Globalization might have made it easy to import American culture, but it still struggles when it comes to importing values. Gigi Becali, the owner of Romania’s most decorated soccer team, Steaua, told reporters last week: “I’ll give two or five million dollars and we can finish all homosexuals in this country.” Becali had the backing of the Orthodox Church; their alliance is supports the idea of a national referendum on gay marriage to show gays they are not well liked in the Carpathian land.
Until I came to America in 2003, I never met anyone who was openly gay. Back home, being gay was not a topic of serious conversation, but one of vicious jokes. Adrian Nastase, the former prime-minister was mockingly referred to as “Candyboy,” and Traian Basescu, the current president, hinted at Nastase’s supposed sexual orientation during the 2004 presidential campaign. Lest you misread Romanian politics, Băsescu is the pro-gay candidate and Năstase was the candidate who criticized his opponent for having liberal views on homosexuality.
The Saturday attacks on gay marchers are disturbing because they show how much the country has to learn. Even the Romanian media fell in the trap of identifying marchers “as the other.” One of the major papers ran a sidebar with its news story listing “famous homosexuals” such as Martina Navratilova and Elton John. If “Will and Grace” was a Romanian
sit-com, Will would either be spending a lot of time in the emergency room, or he would be experimenting with innovative forms of denial.
Romanians will deny they have an aversion to gays. They will go even further and deny any form of intolerance. They might even tell you the idea that Romanians can be intolerant is part of a Western smear campaign against our country. Romanians don’t hate gays. Nor do they hate gypsies, Hungarians or blacks. They just don’t believe any of these groups are really necessary for the country to function. After all, if God intended for the Romanian people to be Hungarian black gypsies attracted to people of the same sex, he would have passed on that memo to the Orthodox Church leadership.
My mom is also a doctor, also half Hungarian, and on top of that, she is a cancer patient fighting medical prejudices. Last winter she asked me what I would do if I had a gay child. How would I feel?
“I’d feel great,” I told her. “It’s a human being, mom. Isn’t that the whole point of life? To love other human beings? What if I were gay?”
“But you’re not,” she replied.
We didn’t go further than that because you can’t really bring gays into our living room. And Saturday showed you can’t really bring them out into the streets either. Not without a solid egg-pelting, a hellish sermon, and a serious public beating from right-wing extremists.
Technorati tags:Gay rights, Gay marriage.