Between Holy Church and Holy Human Rights

Life Stories of the Romanian LGBTQ+ Community after 1989 until Romanian Accession to the European Union

in Aspasia
Ioana Zamfir MA student, University of Toronto, Canada

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This article considers the experiences of Romanian men and women who expressed same-sex desire immediately following the collapse of Nicolae Ceaușescu's regime in 1989 until Romania's accession to the European Union in 2007. Drawing from the Adrian Newell Păun Queer Archives, this research puts at its forefront the voices of queer individuals to shine a light on the hardships of living as a sexual minority in the repressive environment of Romania in the 1990s. This research follows the broader framework of decolonizing Eastern European queer history by giving members of the LGBTQ+ community their rightful voices to tell the story of their plight and their perspectives in a country where they experienced widespread homophobia, transphobia, and discrimination. Through firsthand accounts, this article additionally exemplifies how queer individuals were able to survive hardship, to find their voices within their own community, and to begin experiencing and expressing themselves as a sexual minority.

We are in the 1990s and Romania has just liberated itself from communism. The promise of freedom is in the air. However, for many nonconforming identities, life remains a prison that offers little hope or consolation. As in many former Eastern Bloc countries, queer visibility and opportunities increased in the 1990s, but at what cost? Marian and Ciprian, two gay men, meet each other through a dating ad in the newspaper—a novel way for both men and women to establish contact with other queer people after the fall of the Iron Curtain.1 However, both are arrested in 1993 and imprisoned for being homosexuals, as the criminalization of homosexuality remained despite the collapse of communism. They are regularly raped and beaten in a prison in Timișoara, Romania. When they are finally released—largely with the help of international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Human Rights Watch—they try to maintain their relationship. Marian, however, resorts to the Romanian Orthodox Church as an escape from everyday social hardship. He cannot find a job because everyone knows he was imprisoned under Article 200 of the Romanian Penal Code, which criminalized homosexuality until 2001. Later, Ciprian finds out that Marian has committed suicide after attempting a relationship with a woman from the Church. People there convinced him that the only way to escape the punishment of homosexuality was death. Marian and Ciprian's impossible love reflects the enduring dire existence that Romanian people who expressed same-sex desire led after communism, but also the new possibilities that offered queer individuals a chance at deeper interpersonal relations and self-understanding.

The internalized homophobia that many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals experienced because of fear, stigma, and alienation continued to be widespread as Romania's progressive democratization and its promotion in the European community only marginally increased the degree of LGBTQ+ political empowerment in the 1990s, and has hardly increased it since.2 The debate over LGBTQ+ rights was set in the context of rising tensions as international demands for democratic reforms collided with the formulation of national values, informed by the rising power of the Romanian Orthodox Church (ROC). The national negotiation process for the abrogation of Article 200 was characterized by a debate on the meaning of national values in which Romanian politicians, the Romanian Orthodox Church, and human rights activists provided different narratives.3

Article 200 impeded Romania's accession to the European Union (EU) because both its application for membership and accession negotiations depended on Romania guaranteeing human rights to its sexual minorities.4 The Romanian government abrogated the article in 2001, not out of a desire to improve the lives of homosexuals, but as a trade-off for EU membership and to deliver its economic advantages to Romanians.5 As a result, measures aimed at improving inclusion and diversity were virtually legal fiction, at least from the perspective of the LGBTQ+ community. Cătălin Sandu writes in a letter to Adrian Newell Păun, “You must understand that it is not the suppression of an article from the Penal Code that matters, but the radical modification of certain mentalities by demolishing prejudices and taboos. This requires TIME- EDUCATION-CULTURE and most of all—an open mind, which is not the subject of current concerns.”6 As this article will show, in discussions of the topic of homosexuality, queer individuals’ own words often reflected the limitations of harmonizing international standards with local Romanian cultural values.

Scholarship on the topic of homosexuality and the history of the LGBTQ+ community in Romania has largely been addressed with a top-down approach, looking at legislative changes, the formation of activism, public opinion, and religion's role in shaping the latter and national values. Mihai Tarta, Lavinia Stan, and Lucian Turcescu have tackled the evolution of the ROC as a dominant actor in the transition and the polarizing force it played in Romanian post-1989 society with regard to national values.7 Viviana Andreescu has approached the issue from a sociological background to understand the cultural factors at the root of homophobia in Romania.8 Judit Takács and Ivett Szalma complement Andreescu through their comparison of religion in Hungary and Romania as a possible determinant of homophobia.9 Sergiu Miscoiu, Sergiu Gherghina, and Dragos Samsudean built on this research using a novel bottom-up approach with regard to religion in a study based on interviews conducted with Romanian priests to understand how they connect the topic of EU integration and that of homosexuality.10 The history of Article 200 and the evolution of queer civil society and activism have been addressed by Voichita Nachescu, Sinziana Carstocea, and Conor O'Dwyer, to name a few.11 The latter three recognize the role of the EU and of international actors in the struggle for respect for sexual minorities’ rights in Romania and build on each other's studies to explain the impact of cultural and historical factors on Romania's accession process and the various actors involved. Shannon Woodstock tackles the 2000s in an important way as she critically examines and questions the role of EU funds in monopolizing the activist agenda in Romania, at the expense of the local cultural and historical context.12

While these works have greatly contributed to understanding Romania in the 1990s and the various internal and external forces at play during that decade, there remains a lack of a bottom-up approach rooted in first-hand accounts of the community, the subject of this analysis. The critical analysis of gay, lesbian, and bisexual fears and disappointments is vital as they demonstrate the community's persistent exclusion from postsocialist Romanian identity rooted in Christian Orthodox values, despite the rising involvement of international organizations such as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLRHC), the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), and the World Health Organization (WHO).13 Through its consideration of queer testimonies, this article emphasizes the ways in which Romania differed from other countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). As the criminalization of homosexuality endured until 2001, it monopolized the works of activists struggling against a fiercely opposing society to abrogate the infamous Article 200. As a result, the queer community remained at the mercy of a postcommunist society that was undergoing repatriarchalization and retraditionalization, thus enshrining interpersonal relations at the root of queer solidarity and self-understanding.

This article utilizes the Adrian Newell Păun Queer Archives (AQANP) to provide a window into the Romanian queer experience of the 1990s. These archives are unique in Romania, and their materials are used here for the first time in academic research.14 Adrian Newell Păun emigrated from Romania to the United States in 1979 and returned to his country to become an LGBTQ+ activist in the 1990s, noting: “I wanted to meet other people from my country who are like me. I wanted to know their problems, . . . their successes, . . . their tragedy in a way.”15 He started collecting artifacts about the gay and lesbian community in 1988 and his collection now amounts to hundreds of artifacts (press clippings, magazines, newspapers, books, multimedia materials, personal correspondence, etc.).16 A correspondence of over one hundred letters represents the main corpus of sources that informs this article.17 The letters from all across Romania were sent in the context of Păun's American-Romanian Gay Solidarity Pen Pal Club, presented as a “bridge of friendship and mutual understanding” and advertised in queer magazines. The safe space the club provided is evident from the level of intimacy with which Păun's correspondents described their lives and their struggles.18

The first part of the article contextualizes the roots of social discomfort and stigma toward homosexuality in Romania through the history of Article 200 and the role played by the Romanian Orthodox Church as an uncontested moral authority. In doing so, this article heeds scholars’ call to challenge the “liberal West” and “traditional East” binary in its consideration of Romania's experience as it adopted certain “progressive” ideals under pressure from international organizations and bodies, such as the EU, while still preserving a hostile stance toward certain groups that were incongruent with the ideal national body.19 By considering the LGBTQ+ community on its own terms, this study further seeks to contribute to decolonizing queer experiences in CEE, as proposed by Emily Channell-Justice, who calls for grounded methodologies that rely more on ethnography, interviews, life histories, and archival research.20

The second and core part of this article concerns the lives of homosexuals in the 1990s as understood through the letters sent to Păun and published in the media during that period. Religious nationalism following the collapse of state socialism, the degree to which sexual minorities were hypersexualized, and the lack of private and public spaces in which to nurture a relationship and create a sense of community made social stigma omnipresent in queer Romanian life. Many queer people maintained lingering feelings of loneliness, desperation, and depression, despite the dramatic political change undergone by the country. The opening that Romania experienced, though, enabled a strengthening of interpersonal relations as queer Romanians could connect with one another more easily across borders in an exchange of experiences and materials for better self-understanding and self-acceptance. Romanian queer development of the 1990s remained very much one of the self rather than a communal one.

History of the Article 200 Penal Code

In 1918, Greater Romania adopted the 1864 Penal Code based on the Napoleonic Code, in which no distinction was made between homosexual and heterosexual relations. In 1936, under the influence of Romania's fascist movement and the Iron Guard political party, King Carol II reformed the Penal Code to apply stricter laws on social morality. Article 431 equated sexual infractions with violations of morality and criminalized same-sex relations “that provoked a public scandal,” which were punished by anywhere from six months to up to two years of prison.21 While during the same period, in Vienna and Paris, physicians and scientists drove the process of categorizing homosexuality, in Romania, the classification of sexualities was considered a political and moral problem relegated to legal authorities.22 Indeed, the influence of science was key since in state-socialist Czechoslovakia and Hungary, conceptualizing homosexuality as a pathological phenomenon led to the legalization of consensual homosexual sex in both countries in 1961. The notion of “public scandal,” however, perdured as, in the Hungarian Criminal Code, prosecution in cases of “unnatural fornication conducted in a scandalous manner” was still criminalized.23 Similarly, Bulgaria decriminalized male same-sex relations in 1968 but continued to outlaw acts that “cause a public scandal or entice others to perversity.”24 Despite commonalities in legislation surrounding homosexuality in CEE, national specificities informed the evolution of laws around homosexuality, highlighting the importance of historicizing the relationship between nationalism and sexuality to tackle sexuality in CEE on its own terms.

In 1968, the Great National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Romania revised the 1936 Penal Code and placed a new emphasis on family values, considered the microcosm of society, to which homosexuals presumably posed a direct threat.25 The laws bridged the distinction between public and private: both men and women could be imprisoned for one to up to five years under the newly applied infamous Article 200. Reference to “public scandal” was dropped, and the penalty drastically increased.26 The 1968 Penal Code exemplified the communist government's assertion of social control in which personal and sexual liberties were annihilated and the intrusion of the state into private spaces became the modus operandi.27

In 1995, Romania applied for EU membership. Rising international pressure for Romania to respect the human rights of its sexual minorities led to the amendment of the first paragraph of Article 200 in 1996.28 Only sexual activity between two individuals of the same sex performed in public or “creating a public scandal” was punishable by one to five years of prison.29 Stan and Turcescu explain that the notion of “public scandal” was an ambiguous formulation that enabled an abusive interpretation of the law to perpetuate the institutionalized criminalization of homosexuality.30 Simply witnessing or knowing of a homosexual relationship could be construed as a “public scandal,” thus compromising the freedoms of expression and of association as queer meeting places, interactions, and publications were susceptible to prosecution.31 Therefore, despite Romania's purported opening to Western Europe and adoption of values of freedom, tolerance, and democracy, queer identity and ways of life remained, under the law, incompatible with postcommunist Romanian national identity.

Romanian Religious Nationalism and Its Origins

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Eastern Europe experienced a rise in nationalism based on each country's founding myths and, in some, on the resurgence of their respective religious institutions.32 The historical legacies of communism and their ties to the ROC are essential when considering how the latter continued to embody a form of moral authority throughout the twentieth century. The ROC, wielding great political influence and credibility, legitimized a homophobic and heteronormative discourse in Romania, especially through its increased presence in schools, on the radio, and on television, which portrayed the Church in a positive light to appeal to the masses.33

Under communism, for the sake of the nation and to further their socioeconomic and political goals, the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) preferred cooperation between the communist government and the ROC, as this enabled the communist leadership to consolidate influence through mutual and informal support.34 The Church's backing of the state ensured that it continued to perform traditional rituals such as baptisms, weddings, and burials, thus remaining tied to the social body. Katherine Verdery's concept of the “indigenization of Marxism” is essential to explain how public discourse during the communist period was meant to support the political center.35 In Romania, Marxism-Leninism coexisted alongside nationalist values, since communist ideology was subordinated to the national discourse. As Nicholas Spina points outs, by using the Church as a vehicle for communist propaganda, the RCP reinforced the idea that Orthodoxy was inherently tied to Romanian national identity, which the ROC utilized for moral and political legitimacy.36

In the 1990s, two discourses emerged and clashed around Romanian postsocialist national identity: the first was informed by the ROC, with sufficient power to influence bureaucratic policies, and the second by secular groups that supported minority rights and challenged the Church's political prominence. In response to the secular groups’ public appeal for the abrogation of Article 200, the Holy Synod of the ROC wrote a letter to the Romanian Parliament in which it declared: “The ROC assumed its responsible openness to support the process of European integration, but it disagrees with decisions that lead to moral and spiritual degradation of Romanian society.”37 Speaking in the name of the people and asserting that “the people desire,” “the people demand,” and “people ask,” with no mention of sexual minorities, the ROC made it clear who was dictating moral norms and that any “deviancy” was expected to conform.

After the fall of the communist regime, religion became a unifying vehicle at the root of nationalism. In 1999, Vestitorul Ortodoxiei (Herald of Orthodoxy), the monthly magazine of the Romanian Patriarchate, asserted: “The Church for which homosexuality is a sin should take a stand in Romanian society,” and in another article, “Homosexuality is a fall from normality.”38 A similar phenomenon occurred in Poland where the Polish Catholic Church, in an attempt to preserve its influential role in society, portrayed itself as an “ethical paradigm” that would inform proper public morality and family life.39 The ROC depicted homosexuals as second-class citizens undeserving of protection and encouraged the political class to follow suit: “the State has the obligation to protect its citizens against a danger, that of a contamination [homosexuality].”40 Many accounts from the correspondence with Păun point to the fact that nothing had changed for queer people. Cristian Olarescu explains, “People like us, even now are not free! There is a sustained campaign (religious, political) against us—be it bluntly.”41 Homosexuality, under this logic, was not only a threat to the sanctity of marriage and family, and consequently to the survival of the nation-state, but more importantly to the authoritative discourse and the place of the Church in Romanian society and politics.

In postsocialist Romania, the perceived tension between tradition and “Europeanness” made it seem that accepting European values and legislation was “at the expense” of Christian morals. Srdjan Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort, Koen Slootmaeckers, and Agnès Chetaille demonstrate how the EU simply required postsocialist countries to abide by Western liberal norms without a comprehensive understanding of the historical and cultural dynamics at play in the decriminalization of homosexuality, thus rendering the adoption of inclusion policies ineffective.42 The opinions of the queer community were divided. Some, like Vlad Nicolescu, were more positive: “Let's hope that in the future the opinion regarding us will change. I'm saying this, because we (Romania) were admitted to the Council of Europe—and a condition of this admission was a change in attitude toward the discrimination of sexual minorities. . . . This openness to the world gives us courage and we hope that the shortcomings we have encountered so far will be regulated.”43 Others judged that EU pressure did little to raise their issues at the top echelons of politics: “We are nobody's people, nobody raises our problem, neither in the government nor in the parliament.”44

While the EU reified the secular version of Europeanness and EU norms, the ROC saw homosexuality as a direct threat to national identity. The strength of anti-gender mobilization in CEE is not only rooted in the power of the Church, but also, as Agnieszka Graff notes, in the intense collaboration between conservative religious forces and nationalist groups within each country, as can be seen in Romania since the 1990s and, as she remarks, can be observed in Poland, Croatia, and Slovenia.45 Takács and Szalma demonstrate that Orthodox Christian denominations contributed to homonegativity more than Roman Catholic ones and Spina complicates the regional picture by finding that the ROC, through its alliance with state power, had significant social and political capital to influence public opinion, contrary to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which could not rally support and trust due to its tainted image of collaboration with communist authorities.46

Queer Lived Experiences

Hyper-Sexualization of the LGBTQ+ Community and Lack of Information

In the 1990s, despite ongoing negotiations concerning Romania's respect of human rights for its accession to the EU and the reduced threat of the Morality Police (Poliția de Moravuri) and imprisonment, the lives of nonheteronormative individuals remained almost unchanged as they continued to risk familial rupture and professional sanctions if they were “outed” or denounced as homosexuals. The way in which newspapers and tabloids depicted queer individuals served to reinforce stereotypes and essentialist characterizations of the LGBTQ+ community, as they were hypersexualized or deemed unfit for the “pure” Romanian people. Victor wrote to Adrian: “several types of articles appear in the press, but the problem is approached differently. Some agree with our way of ‘existence,’ with our ideas, and others still place us outside the ‘norm,’ somewhere on the ‘periphery of society’! Most of our compatriots do not think of homosexuality or lesbianism as a way of being . . . !”47

Stigmatization continued in the 1990s, although as the topic of sexual minorities became more prominent so did media interest in it. As Nachescu notes, the media quickly discovered after 1989 that “sensationalism was highly marketable in Romania” and so magazines and newspapers were able to profit from associating homosexuality with crime or relegating it to the gossip section.48 She notes, however, that while maintaining a general homophobic tone, print media did not take a clear stance on the issue and was reactive rather than active on the matter. Indeed, a study conducted by the Bucharest Acceptance Group (ACCEPT) in 2001 on the representation of homosexuality in the written press concluded that the general tendency was to present sexual minorities in an unfavorable light: out of the 220 articles that mention or allude to homosexuality, 115 were written in a negative, disapproving, or ironic tone.49 Neutral articles reminded readers that sexual minorities still had an illegal status, and positive ones were short news pieces or articles “lost” on the page among the larger articles. A poignant example is journalist László Kállai's special report for Privirea (The sight), a Romanian tabloid, in 1996, for which he spend a week among gay men. Despite the fact that he dwells on “passive/active” roles to define homosexual relationship, attributes the “she” pronoun to “passive” gay men, and uses “ma'am” for cross-dressers, he concluded that it was a community that “fears our attitude [toward them] and would do anything just not to be outed. A few nights among human beings, just like us, who have feelings, experience joy and sorrow, have successes in their daily lives, people who, because of our Balkan mentality, are despised.”50

Overall, there was a lack of positive and objective information about homosexuality. After living in fear and secrecy and lacking self-confidence, Romanian queers had little with which to understand their queer identity and build relationships.51 Oana, pansexual herself, explains in A Space of Our Own, an anthology of Romanian queer stories, that “Heterosexual relations were ‘serious relationships’ and we ignored other types of desires that we might have, since that's how we had been taught.”52 Discussing the Soviet context, Francesca Stella explains that the categories of “‘homosexual’ and ‘lesbian’ remained unavailable as affirmative narratives of social identity for most of the Soviet period.”53 This was also the case in communist Romania, and remained so well into the 1990s, as evidenced in Oprea's letter: “Here gays are very scared, and many do not even know that they are homosexuals.”54 One correspondent thanked Păun for the materials on LGBTQ+ life that he sent from the United States, saying: “I found these articles interesting and indeed very enlightening. For a person like me who doesn't know too much about this [gay] world.”55

In the context of a quasi-total lack of information and entertainment addressed specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, magazines such as Al treilea sex: Revistă de cultură erotică și reintegrate socială (The third sex: Magazine for erotic culture and social reintegration) seemed to compensate for this lack by including entries on gay men and lesbians. Among the largely frivolous and pseudopornographic content, there were some attempts at sexual education, for instance, definitions of cunnilingus, tribadism, and lesbianism.56 However, lesbianism, not considered as an identity and included in a list of sexual acts, remained pathologized through explanations given by psychoanalysts or medical doctors describing it as an “identification . . . with the desire of a father's penis and with the denial of the fantasy to castrate the father.”57 Al treilea sex's publisher was a mainstream media company that put hypersexualized content on the market, which worked against the LGBTQ+ community by reinforcing the stereotype that homosexuality was solely a matter of sexual preference.

A few LGBTQ+ magazines appeared that minimally counterbalanced tabloidization and oversexualization. One of Păun's correspondents writes that “timidly, some publications (Prostituţia [Prostitution], Bordel [Brothel], Occident [West], . . . and Gay45) appeared that tried to provide sexual education, but unsurprisingly, they stopped their activity due to pressures from the bastards in power who considered them obscene.”58 Gay45, with only two issues in 1993, broke with the past as it represented a public attempt at organizing the community and giving queer individuals a channel through which to understand themselves and to feel heard. Szulc reaches a similar conclusion in his analysis of Polish queer magazines of the 1980s that worked together to create “homosexual solidarity” by sharing common experiences of discrimination, normalizing nonheteronormative sexualities, warning against and preventing police abuses, and promoting positive portrayals of homosexuality.59 Gay45 largely consisted of translated articles from abroad or stories and testimonies of gay men who had been arrested under Article 200. While it might have been the case that in Polish magazines the authors used stories from abroad to emphasize the need for self- organization, in the Romanian case, the magazine condemned the Romanian state in its efforts to integrate into the European community, as the editor-in-chief, Razvan Ion, writes in the second issue of Gay45: “minorities are only good when we go out into the ‘world,’ to demonstrate how tolerant we are,” and points to the needs of the Romanian queer community during the 1990s: “the right to organization, to free expression, to self-determination.”60

The publication presented itself as a safe space for homosexuals to feel understood, as its main aim was to change “mentality.”61 Contributions to the magazine considered homosexuals as human beings above anything else and included articles to help identify oneself, such as “Are we born or do we become homosexuals,” “Homosexuality a phenomenon that exists,” and “A family history ‘I love my son!’”62 One reader wrote back to Gay45: “I'm writing to you in tears of joy and hope because I never thought it was possible for such a magazine to be published that accurately reflects gay problems and fights for their rights.”63 Similarly to Polish queer magazines of the 1980s, Gay45 had the evident goal of creating homosexual solidarity and of normalizing same-sex desire; however, it also challenged the state at an ideological level by including content on the abrogation of Article 200, Romanian prisoners of conscience, and EU integration, which Polish 1980s queer publications did not.64

Overall, however, there was overwhelmingly more information available for gay men than for lesbians, which also relates to gaps in the historiography on queer women. Ana, a contributor to A Space of Our Own, mentioned that “sex between two men is discussed in high school, but sex between two women, never.”65 Alina Ionescu, herself a lesbian, explained in a letter to Păun that in Romania they did “not have any true homo-positive publication, for gays or lesbians.”66 Women lived a more secluded sexual life and had less access to instructive and useful information than gay men did. Regarding a press conference, Ionescu explains, “they only talked about gay men and not about lesbians, which is not fair.”67

Igor Kon's “conspiracy of silence,” which surrounded the topic of homosexuality in the former Soviet Union, is useful in that it presents the idea that any person who had same-sex desires might have looked to written sources to escape from the dire, isolated reality they endured.68 In the Romanian context, queer people clearly attempted to break their sense of isolation through open correspondence, but also through the materials they were requesting.

During the 1990s, Romanians began to emigrate to places like Canada, the United States, and various parts of Europe, notably France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and so materials could be provided more easily back home.69 In a report conducted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and IGLHRC that discusses the case of three roommates arrested under Article 200, it was noted that, while searching the flat, the police found “various materials of a pornographic nature (videocassettes and magazines), exclusively depicting sexual relations between men, as well as a letter sent to [Chetea] by a person living in Holland (having emigrated from Romania) through which they were given these materials and the addresses of some homosexuals the defendants could contact in order to be able to emigrate.”70

The type of support and open communication that could be fostered through correspondence was vital to one's sense of queer self and to accepting one's sexual orientation as normal; it reduced isolation and the sense of despair. Alina wrote to Păun requesting materials as such: “Being a very active bisexual lesbian, I would very much like to know the addresses in the USA where I can buy video cassettes and magazines on ‘lesbian love’ themes” and “Can you help me get magazines and video tapes [referring to pornographic material]?”71 Arthur Clech asserts that by communicating how they lived, felt, and understood their homosexual desire, homosexuals could experience a shared self-understanding.72 Thus, by sharing intimate details of their lives and desires, Romanian queers developed a better sense of their nonheteronormative identity. Interpersonal relations were thus crucial to counterbalance the grim Romanian environment.

Stigma and Fear of Social Alienation

The highly stigmatizing media discourse around homosexuality exacerbated the hardships of homosexuals in Romania, but simple day-to-day events also worsened their sense of isolation and led them to silence their sexuality both in their public and private lives. In the sources consulted, a common pattern was the fear of social alienation from personal experience or from knowing of someone else's, which ultimately led to isolation and, as Roman Kuhar would argue, was an expression of internalized homophobia and social control.73 A young man from Coltău confesses that in Maramureș, making friends and finding a partner is “more difficult because everyone is afraid of gays, and we have to be very careful with whom we become friends.”74 Ionescu describes how “There is still the fear of recognizing yourself as a lesbian.”75

Kuhar's concept of the “transparent closet” is particularly pertinent to understanding the social conditions under which queer people continued to live despite the end of communism and the enduring presence of “the theatre that has to be performed daily in society,” as described by Liviu Vasile.76 The “transparent closet” appears when a queer person comes out, but the person or society to whom they have come out to refuses to acknowledge the information.77 A person, therefore, understanding that a public expression of their identity is impossible, relegates their sexual orientation as a private matter of which only a selected few, if any, have knowledge.78 To the only lesbian publication in Romania in the 1990s, Identităţi (Identity), a woman commented on her sister coming out to her, “I realized it was a lot more difficult for her to accept herself as she is than it was for me to acknowledge that she really is a lesbian.”79 A queer person therefore engaged in mimicry of the heteronormative model as a mechanism of self-control and self-protection. A 23-year-old from Galați wrote to a newspaper: “I live with the regret that, from an intimate point of view, I'm different from the vast majority. I tried to change my sexual orientation, but it's not something that depends on consciousness or will, therefore I didn't succeed.”80 The ensuing result is the self-inspecting gaze, as described by Foucault, whereby a person begins surveilling themselves, thus creating enormous psychological pressure out of the attempt to conceal their sexual orientation.81

Repressions further permeated queer life and discrimination as social discourse linked them to violence and aggression.82 The Public Scandals report conducted by HRW and IGLHRC attested to widespread law enforcement brutality from the moment queer people were arrested and brought to the police station to their time in prison if convicted under Article 200. The report describes “the invasiveness, and corruption, of a judicial system avid for evidence of private acts, as well as the brutality of prisons,” the “systematic discrimination in many walks of life,” and underage arrests.83 The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe reported on the physical and psychological harassment of homosexuals detained by the police and the abusive methods employed by the police “who use blackmail or extortion tactics . . . to force them to ‘out’ other members of the gay community.”84

People who expressed same-sex desire additionally continued to fear imprisonment, which, among other consequences, entailed violent abuses such as rape or torture. US-born activist for international LGBTQ+ rights, Scott Long, and Romanian activist and editor of Gay45, Răzvan Ion, interviewed gay men who had been imprisoned under Article 200. Long wrote to Păun describing a case in Jilava prison, one of the most notorious in Romania for detaining people arrested under Article 200:

In Jilava prison, we met a heartbreaking case. He is nineteen years old, from a working-class family, arrested last summer for having sex with a thirteen-year-old. The sex was completely consensual. The young boy had had sex before, with an older lover. For the older boy (Marian) it was his first time. They were lovers for a week; had sex in a park because there was no place to go; were seen and reported to the younger boy's parents. The parents locked the younger kid up and forced him to report to the police that he had been raped. The older kid was arrested, tortured, forced to confess, and sentenced to four and a half years in prison. . . . He's probably been raped several times in jail, for what we could gather (he cried when we asked him about this). Imagine that your first sexual experience led to almost five years in jail.85

An ILGA-Europe report noted that hundreds of LGBTQ+ people were imprisoned or held in pretrial detention in the 1990s. By April 1998, though, there was nobody in prison solely under Article 200, paragraphs 1 or 5, regarding “same-sex sexual acts taking place in public or resulting in a public scandal” or the enticement and seduction of a “person to practice same-sex sexual acts, as well as propaganda, association or other forms of proselytizing” respectively.86 The last person imprisoned solely under Article 200 was a lesbian woman, Mariana Cetiner who with the help of ACCEPT and Amnesty International was released from the Aiud Penitentiary on 25 March 1998.87 She describes her four years in prison, where she was held in isolation because of her sexual orientation, as “Torment, terror, inhumanity, bestiality, people are beasts, the police are beasts . . . to be tied to the radiator, for them to beat you and rape you.”88

Indeed, the involvement of international organizations was crucial to counterbalancing the precarious daily existence that queer people led in Romania. O'Dwyer notes that Romania was different in that there were no therapeutic clubs, discussion groups, or other forms of public association, unlike in late-communist Czechoslovakia, Hungary, or Poland, where queer life existed despite being deeply underground.89 Homosexuality in Romania remained de facto and de jure illegal, thus making LGBTQ+ activism illegal and creating strong impediments to the formation of a queer civil society, especially as conservative Orthodox forces were strong politically. Reports by international organizations provided an encompassing picture of Romanian queer reality in the 1990s, noting the abuses the community endured and the hostile social forces at play. For example, the role of the ROC was mentioned in almost all interviews with government officials, legislators, and prosecutors, who recognized that their point of view was guided by the Church in matters regarding homosexuality.90

The formation of the Bucharest Acceptance Group (ACCEPT) in 1994 marked the beginning of change. The group was established as a “nongovernmental organization for the defense of human rights as prescribed in the Romanian Constitution and in international treaties,” thereby circumventing illegality to begin their work on LGBTQ+ issues.91 The international presence helped raise awareness, as did the Public Scandals report, written by ACCEPT in collaboration with HRW and the IGLRHC, which reported on systemic discrimination and abuse in Romanian penitentiaries against LGBTQ+ people. After it was presented to the President of Romania, Emil Constantinescu, on 15 January 1998, all prisoners sentenced on the basis of Article 200, paragraphs 1 and 5, were pardoned.92 An important note that O'Dwyer makes about Romanian activism in the 1990s is its “strategic lobbying.”93 ACCEPT collaborated with the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the European Commission, and foreign NGOs such as ILGA-Europe and COC Netherlands, but they did so for institutional purposes to decriminalize homosexuality, rather than for grassroots mobilization as was the trend in Czechia and Poland. The specific concerns of the only LGBTQ+ organization in Romania explain the enduring dire conditions of queer life on a personal level, as testified to by the first-hand accounts.94

Lack of Community and Public Spaces

Having few places to socialize made it hard for Romanian queer people to build a collective identity and community, or stable romantic relationships. Dan Healey and Francesca Stella have demonstrated that male and female informal queer networks might have only rarely crossed paths and the pleshkis (cruising spots in the former Soviet Union) were essentially masculine environments rarely frequented by women.95 Romanian men who expressed same-sex desires found escape in the multiple cruising spaces in Bucharest, which, in comparison to the former Soviet Union, did not have a name for them. Cruising spots included parks, movie theatres, and public restrooms and baths, where the spark ignited, the need was met, and each continued with their own lives once they left the premises. Gara de Nord (a train station in Bucharest), the movie theatre Feroviar, and the Grivița public restroom were notorious meeting spots for gay men. One of Păun's correspondents described it bluntly as: “All that is left now are one-to-one encounters in the most sordid places—public toilets and bushes.”96 Sandu described Romanian reality in the 1990s as follows: “there is no such thing as a civilized, socially, morally and intellectually-sustainable gay life.”97 To connect it back to Kuhar's “transparent closet,” cruising spaces were the expression of homosexuality in selective moments when queer men believed they were not “in the view of the heteronormative panopticon.”98

Parks, such as Cișmigiu or Operei, were notorious for rapid conversations that decided the course of action for the next dozen minutes. In an interview with the Museum of Communism in Romania, Păun narrates how certain benches in Cișmigiu indicated that “one had gone ‘fishing’” and was waiting for suitors to claim their due. Wearing a red tie, for example, indicated this, as did various mannerisms that regulars recognized as a sign that it was safe to engage in conversation to reach the “essential questions: are we putting it? Who's receiving gifts and who's giving them? And that was all.”99 Equally, certain phrases such as asking for a “țigaretta” instead of a “țigara” (cigarette) was also a signal for gay men to recognize one another. These public spaces, however, were plagued by the militia, ready to arrest or blackmail their targets, and, starting in 1994, by organized gangs of at least a dozen people that would raid the parks at night.100 The police were known to harass and blackmail gay men they found in cruising spots and to threaten to take them to the police station should they not pay.

Public restrooms were the most frequently mentioned cruising places as they offered gay men the ability to engage in sexual acts while also being able to quickly pretend to urinate if a militiaman made an appearance. Anonymity was preserved but at what cost? Cosmin Popa writes to Păun that “frequenting miserable bathrooms or abandoned establishments, exposing yourself in risky places are variants below the natural dignity of an individual.”101 At the end of the day, many recount being confronted with the grim reality that they did not have someone to share intimacy with. One gay man described to Păun how “We cannot organize ourselves due to the lack of possibility.”102 He had attempted to find a new partner, but in vain: “The majority were simply one-night stands. Far from having similar qualities to the one I lost, I secluded myself in isolation, accompanied by music and pets.”103

Cruising spots were a common feature of most Romanian cities, as Caius Popescu attests when discussing gay and lesbian life in Galați: “The meeting places are actually the same as in any big city in Romania, the train station, the city's central park and that's about it. Gay groups still meet at a friend's house, but very rarely.”104 Richard C. M. Mole describes how in post-Soviet Russia, the public space was a heterosexual one in which homosexuals were expected to remain invisible.105 A true and authentic relationship or community is difficult to nurture without a space where it can develop and grow. Scholars have demonstrated that limited access to private spaces, surveillance of public and private spaces, and limited opportunities for self-identification had a notable impact on queer life in CEE and on grassroots mobilization.106 While in the GDR, Hungary, and Poland, queer people were able to organize themselves in private spaces, the enduring criminalization of homosexuality in Romania and the fierceness of the Morality Police did not permit for this kind of communal mobilization.107

By having these encounters in parks, cinemas, and public facilities, gay men bridged the public–private dichotomy in a way that queer women could not. Having little information to construct their nonheteronormative identity as a result of living in fear and secrecy, lacking common places of socialization, and ignoring the history of LGBTQ+ life in Romania, gay lived experiences were rooted in subtle signs while cruising, which preserved anonymity, and, for the broader queer community, in the “common know-how on avoiding detection.”108

New Avenues for Self-Discovery and Acceptance

One of the novel ways in which gay men and lesbians met in the 1990s was through anonymous dating ads in the print press. In this hostile environment dominated by “blocked minds, blocked by prejudices, [and] fruitless taboos,” anonymity was prized, as homosexuality remained characterized as “dirty” and “sinful.”109 Quasi-certain social suicide ensued from having one's sexual orientation known. To protect the placer's identity, printed ads rarely provided a phone number and offered P.O. boxes where interested people could send their letters.110 Ionescu, who above asked Păun for magazines on “lesbian love,” describes meeting someone after writing to all the ads for lesbians that appeared in magazines such as Emmanuelle and Pasiunea [Passion]: “for almost a year since I started looking more seriously for some lesbian connections, I could only meet one woman, which is, let's face it, very little . . . she had more experience (and was older) [and] had sophisticated equipment (vibrator, double dildo, etc.—which are not commercially available in our country); in fact, she is bisexual . . . the guy she lives with, in a very big house, gives her total freedom.”111 In addition to the question of visibility, class and privilege remained an indicator of the facility with which some people could engage in same-sex relations and have access to queer materials and accessories.112 Clech tackles class and sexual orientation in his analysis of the intelligentsia in Georgia to demonstrate that class solidarity prevailed over sexual desire and thus calls for intersectionality as a relevant framework of analysis to better understand the construction of queer subjectivity.113 In Romania, as noted in the Public Scandals report, lesbians could not enjoy the same measure of mobility as gay men did in cruising spaces due to economic and social pressure and the fact that models or images were not widely available to construct a lesbian identity.114

The opportunity to write to others offered a space in which to discuss one's worries, to feel as though one had someone who would understand one's situation and empathize with one as with any other human being. Alin writes to Păun: “I always feel the need to talk to someone about my situation, I don't feel good around normal people and that's why I always run away from them, even my parents.”115 Aurel Lupu explains that “It's a great pleasure to write to you and at the same time it is my last hope to find a true friend for a sincere and lasting friendship.”116 Similarly, Sandu explains, “it is my only honest . . . possibility to find the friends I need.”117 Émigrés advocated for and provided moral support to those who remained in Romania. One of Păun's correspondents writes, “I am happy that you understand me and you want to help me escape a very monotonous life that eventually became unbearable.”118 Similarly to one of Clech's interviewees, lesbians and gays protected and looked out for each other in some instances, which demonstrates that, despite the lack of vocabulary to define themselves, queer people still identified themselves by connecting with others they understood to be the same as themselves.119


“You need warmth, love, but you cannot follow the model.”120 A simple statement from an article in Gay45 discussing homosexuals’ lived experiences in the heteronormative Romania of the early 1990s encompasses the complexities and limitations that members of the LGBTQ+ community felt as Romania transitioned away from communism, starting in 1989.

As Romania began its postcommunist era, the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals exemplify precisely the argument posed by many scholars that challenge the East versus West divide and the idea that transition is linear: as queer communities in CEE experimented with newly acquired political capital and the ability to make claims and demands for their rights, Romanians who expressed same-sex desire remained constrained by the criminalization of homosexuality. The evolution of institutions is pertinent to understanding the beginnings and the growth of Romanian LGBTQ+ activism, aided by international support. However, adding the voice of the community is crucial as it shows that, on a daily basis, Romanian queer lives remained marked by the same limitations and oppression they had experienced for decades, in part because the ROC championed itself as the moral authority and characterized homosexuality as fundamentally “un-Romanian.”

The bottom-up approach rooted in first-hand queer accounts provides the necessary subtleties to understand what changed in the daily lives of queer individuals. The importance of interpersonal relations remained and, more so, it expanded as Romanians who expressed same-sex desire could rely on people from abroad to provide support. Access to foreign materials also increased through personal correspondence, like the one that some had with Păun, or through emerging queer publications that used articles and news from abroad to normalize nonheteronormative sexuality. Despite Article 200 remaining in force in the 1990s, the publication of these magazines and increasing interpersonal connections marked a new period in Romanian queer self-understanding as new alleyways were created for queer self-expression.

Compared with other countries, Romania endured a radically different postcommunist experience, although not necessarily one of lagging behind. Catherine Baker argues that queer movements operated in transnational spaces by drawing on European and global trends parallel to national institutions and publics; thus each country represented distinct paths for LGBTQ+ activism despite the presence of similarities.121 In line with Baker's conclusions and with regard to queer magazines, the Romanian LGBTQ+ community experienced a similar kind of information activism: while legally they remained in the last European countries to maintain its criminalization of homosexuality, internationally, they were firmly supported by organizations such as the Council of Europe, the ILGA, or IGLHRC.

As of 6 September 2001, all homosexuals in Romania were no longer born criminals under the law. In the eyes of the majority and of powerful institutions such as the ROC, however, quite the contrary could be said.122 Andreescu attests to the fact that equality under the law did not automatically translate into social justice.123 LGBTQ+ identity in Romania continues to challenge the very notion of being Romanian, as defined by a heteronormative society based on the integrity and health of the family. Andreescu explains that the legislative changes meant to promote equal social and civil rights for sexual minorities that occurred prior to Romania's accession to the EU failed to do so because these reforms were the result of strong international pressure and EU requirements rather than the majority's true internalization and acceptance of EU norms for sexual minorities.124 This phenomenon has similarly been observed in Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Serbia, and Slovenia, where the necessary or perceived need to Europeanize through LGBTQ+-inclusive, antidiscriminatory clauses has caused backlash over time, which has led to the utilization of anti-gender discourse as an expression of anti-EU sentiments and resentment toward Western liberal encroachment.125

At the second Pride parade, locally known as GayFest, in Bucharest in 2005, members of the LGBTQ+ community heard shouted at them: “Don't besmirch the Holy Mother's garden [Romania],” “No to sexual perversions,” “Don't forget Sodom,” “Don't destroy life and family.”126 Woodstock argues that the 2005 and 2006 GayFests were the “containment of European diversity,” since LGBTQ+ individuals adopted a nonviolent, peaceful language of communication, in contrast to the “Normality March” that responded with violence.127 The LGBTQ+ community was, in Woodstock's words, “physically forced out of visibility in the name of protection.”128 As long as they remained invisible, the Romanian state and normative citizenry could demonstrate tolerance. The relative invisibility of homosexual individuals and the lack of a well- established queer community or clearly defined groups are other factors that Andreescu names as influencing the negative perception of homosexuals.129 Kon's “conspiracy of silence” endured beyond the communist period into the 1990s as homosexuality remained the unnameable vice looked down upon by much of the citizenry.

I close this article with the words of Adrian Newell Păun, without whose work and dedication to the memory of LGBTQ+ lives this article could not have been written. He discusses the post-Article 200 generation and the next steps for the queer community to thrive in Romania: “I hope that this community will be united, in its own right, and that it will be able to produce culture, to produce social influence, to produce its own politicians. . . . The cultural aspect is crucial in contemporary activism. Culture educates and by doing so, produces a solid change of mentality. . . . Respect comes from education. We have to generate more and more culture: movies, documentaries, books, everything. This is our future.”130


This research owes its invaluable source basis to Adrian Newell Păun, who created these archives and devoted his activism to the memory of queer life in Romania. I would further like to extend my gratitude to ACCEPT and Florin Buhuceanu, who provided me access to the AQANP. My thanks also go out to the editor-in-chief, Sharon Kowalsky, for believing in the article and for continuing to support me throughout the publication process. Lastly, this research and its publication could not have been possible without the help, guidance, and encouragement of my undergraduate supervisor, who has remained my mentor, Dr. Kristy Ironside.



Conor O'Dwyer, “Russian and Eastern European LGBT Movements and Interest Groups,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, 27 October 2020,;jsessionid=B3CEA4383E91E16B271DD78E5A7F47E4?rskey=L2Ci1B&result=25.


Voichita Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference: National Identity, Gay and Lesbian Rights, and the Church in Postcommunist Romania,” in Sexuality and Gender in Postcommunist Eastern Europe and Russia, ed. A. Štulhofer and T. Sandfort (New York: Haworth Press, 2005), 130–165, here 135; Mihai Tarta, “European Culture Wars: Sexual Nationalism between Euro-Christian and Euro-Secular Civil Religion in Poland and Romania,” in Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. Srdjan Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 33–51, here 38–39, 48.


Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference,” 132.


Tarta, “European Culture Wars,” 40.


Arhivele Queer Adrian Newell Păun [Adrian Newell Păun Queer Archives] (AQANP), Bucharest, Romania, personal correspondence, Cătălin Sandu, 14 August 1992.


Tarta, “European Culture Wars”; Lavinia Stan and Lucian Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratisation,” Europe-Asia Studies 52, no. 8 (2000), 1467–1488,


Viviana Andreescu, “From Legal Tolerance to Social Acceptance: Predictors of Heterosexism in Romania,” Revista Română de Sociologie [Romanian journal of sociology] 22, no. 3–4 (2011), 209–231; Viviana Andreescu, “Sexual Minorities, Civil Rights, and Romanians’ Resistance to Social Change,” Analize: Journal of Gender and Feminist Studies 10 (2018), 38–68.


Judit Takács and Ivett Szalma, “Social Attitudes towards Homosexuality in Hungary and Romania: Does the Main Religious Denomination Matter?” Intersections: East European Journal of Society and Politics 5, no. 1 (2019), 71–99,


Sergiu Miscoiu, Sergiu Gherghina, and Dragos Samsudean, “Religion, Homosexuality, and the EU: Grasping the Beliefs of Romanian Orthodox Priests,” Sexuality, Gender & Policy 5, no. 2 (2022), 108–121,


Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference”; Sinziana Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine: Considérations historiques sur l'homosexualité en Roumanie” [Benchmarks of a clandestine identity: Historical considerations on homosexuality in Romania], Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine [Journal of modern and contemporary history] 53–54 (2006), 191–210,; Conor O'Dwyer, Coming Out of Communism: The Emergence of LGBT Activism in Eastern Europe (New York: New York University Press, 2018).


Shannon Woodcock, “A Short History of the Queer Time of ‘Post-Socialist’ Romania, or Are We There Yet? Let's Ask Madonna!” in De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives, ed. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 63–84,; Shannon Woodcock, “Gay Pride as Violent Containment in Romania: A Brave New EUrope,” Sextures 1, no. 1 (2009), 1–17.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 199.


These documents have only been used elsewhere in the context of two exhibitions in Bucharest: “SAVAGED pINK: A History of 90s Gay Media” in 2017 in collaboration with ODD, an art gallery in Bucharest; and “Karol Radziszewski: QAI/RO” in 2020 in collaboration with the Queer Archive Institute (Poland).


“Meet Adrian Newell Păun,” video, 8:03, uploaded 16 February 2018,


The majority of the archives, including the letters, press clippings, and magazines, are accessible to consult and are presently partly stored at the Bucharest Acceptance Group (ACCEPT) organization in Bucharest.


These letters are only the ones available in the archives and do not represent the totality that Păun received. The collection is largely comprised of the initial letters between Păun and the queer person writing to him to get in contact with another queer person in Romania or abroad. For the purpose of maintaining the privacy of the correspondents, their names have been changed.


This article will only tackle the experiences of gay and lesbian individuals due to the lack of sources for other members of the LGBTQ+ community; however, considering the hardship that this part of the community experienced, one can only infer that others, such as transgender people, experienced a harsher fate in Romanian society.


Lukasz Szulc, Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland: Cross-Border Flows in Gay and Lesbian Magazines (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018); Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska, “‘Contemporary Peripheries’: Queer Studies, Circulation of Knowledge and East/West Divide,” in De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives, ed. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011); Anita Kurimay, “Nationalism and Sexuality in Central-Eastern Europe,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson, and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 187–195.


Emily Channell-Justice, “Conclusion,” in Decolonizing Queer Experience: LGBT Narratives from Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. Emily Channell-Justice (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2020), 189–194, here 189–190.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 194.


Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania (New York, 1998), (accessed 6 July 2023). For more on criminalization and decriminalization in state-socialist Hungary, see Judit Takács, “Legalizing Queerness in Central-Eastern Europe,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson, and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 246–254.


Judit Takács, “Disciplining Gender and (Homo)Sexuality in State Socialist Hungary in the 1970s,” European Review of History/Revue européenne d'histoire 22, no. 1 (2015), 161–175, see 169.


Michael Jose Torra, “Gay Rights after the Iron Curtain,” Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 22, no. 2 (1998), 73–88, here 75.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 195.




Ibid., 196.


Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference,” 136-137.


Romanian Parliament, “LEGE Nr. 140 din 5 noiembrie 1996: Pentru modificarea și completarea Codului penal” [LAW No. 140 of November 5, 1996: For the amendment and completion of the Criminal Code], Monitorul Oficial [Official journal of Romania] 289 (14 November 1996),


Stan and Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratisation,” 1479.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 203.


See Tarta, “European Culture Wars.” Szelewa explains that after 1989, the trend in CEE became a “reversal” to “normality,” as understood through traditional values and the reintroduction of separate gender roles with the man as the breadwinner. See Dorota Szelewa, “Social Welfare and Family Policies in Central-Eastern European Countries,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson, and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 514–522.


Stan and Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratisation,” 1471.


Tarta, “European Culture Wars,” 34–35.


Katherine Verdery, National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceauşescu's Romania (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 140.


Nicholas Spina, “The Religious Authority of the Orthodox Church and Tolerance toward Homosexuality,” Problems of Post-Communism 63, no. 1 (2016), 37–49, here 41,


AQANP, Teoctist, “Apelul Sfântului Sinod al Bisericii Ortodoxe Române adresat Senatorilor și Deputaților din Parlamentul României” [The appeal of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church addressed to the Senators and Deputies of the Romanian Parliament], Observator Cultural [Cultural observer], 26 October–2 November 2000.


AQANP, “Interviu cu dl Florin Buhuceanu, președintele Asociației ACCEPT” [Interview with Mr. Florin Buhuceanu, president of ACCEPT Association], newspaper article, Vestitorul Ortodoxiei [Herald of orthodoxy], 15 June 1999, 8; AQANP, Father Constantin Coman, “Cuvântul Bisericii ar trebui sa fie perceput ca un cuvânt de dragoste” [The word of the Church should be perceived as a word of love], newspaper article, Vestitorul Ortodoxiei, 15 June 1999, 9.


Tarta, “European Culture Wars,” 36.


AQANP, Father Ionel Durlea, “Eu, ca duhovnic, stau mărturie ca scăparea din această încercare este posibilă” [I, as a clergyman, testify that escape from this trial is possible], Vestitorul Ortodoxiei, 15 June 1999, 12.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cristian Olarescu, 16 December 1993.


Srdjan Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort, “The Interplay of Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe,” in Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. Srdjan Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 1–14, here 3–5; Koen Slootmaeckers, “The Europeanization and Politicization of LGBT Rights in Serbia,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson,and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 387–394, here 387; Agnès Chetaille, “Poland: Sovereignty and Sexuality in Post-Socialist Times,” in The Lesbian and Gay Movement and the State (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011), 119–133.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Vlad Nicolescu, 15 November 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alin, 19 February 1993.


Agnieszka Graff, “Anti-Gender Mobilization and Right-Wing Populism,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson, and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 266–275, here 272; Miscoiu, Gherghina, and Samsudean explain the ROC's political and social capital through its constant involvement in politics, for instance, its involvement in the 2018 referendum to define a family as based on the marriage between a man and a woman, and its omnipresence through building churches and developing social and philanthropic projects. See Miscoiu, Gherghina, and Samsudean, “Religion, Homosexuality, and the EU,” 113–116.


Takács and Szalma, “Social attitudes towards Homosexuality,” 96; Spina, “The Religious Authority of the Orthodox Church,” 46; In fact, the Romanian Synod's mea culpa for the ROC's collaboration with the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) established the former as both a prominent political figure advocating for “traditional” Romanian values and an unchallenged moral authority. See Stan and Turcescu, “The Romanian Orthodox Church and Post-Communist Democratisation,” 1471.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Victor, 11 March 1994.


Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference,” 139.


ACCEPT, Reflectarea homosexualității in presa scrisă: Raport de monitorizare [Representation of homosexuality in the print press: Monitoring report] (Bucharest: ACCEPT, 2001), 2–3, (accessed 6 July 2023); in a report conducted by ACCEPT in 2004, an improvement could be noted, as the proportions of the articles on homosexuality in the written press were as such: negative articles, 45 percent; neutral articles, 35 percent; and positive articles, 20 percent. See ACCEPT, Homosexuality in Romanian Written Media: Monitoring Report (Bucharest: ACCEPT, 2004), 1–2, (accessed 6 July 2023).


AQANP, “Articolul 200 văzut cu ochiul liber” [Article 200 seen through the naked eye], Privirea [The sight], 17–23 July 1996, 23.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 199.


“Oana,” in Un spațiu doar al nostru [A space of our own], ed. Luca Istodor (Bucharest: Hecate, 2020), 59.


Francesca Stella, “Lesbian Identities and Everyday Space in Contemporary Urban Russia” (PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2009), 134.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Octavian Oprea, 5 January 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cluj, 4 November 1992.


AQANP, Al treilea sex: Revistă de cultură erotică și reintegrate socială [The third sex: Magazine for erotic culture and social reintegration], 1993, 3.




AQANP, Personal correspondence, Bucharest, June 1993.


Szulc, Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland, 205.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 2, 1993, 3.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 1, April 1993, 1.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 1, April 1993; AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 2, 1993.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 2, 1993, 5.


Szulc, Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland, 200–205.


“Ana,” in Un spațiu doar al nostru [A space of our own], ed. Luca Istodor (Bucharest: Hecate, 2020), 122.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alina Ionescu, 30 September 1993.




Igor Kon and James Riordan, Sex and Russian Society (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993), 176.


Jill Massino, “Gender and the Ambiguities of Economic Transition in Romania,” in The Routledge Handbook of Gender in Central-Eastern Europe and Eurasia, ed. K. Fábián, J. E. Johnson, and M. Lazda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2022), 357–365, here 362; Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alina Ionescu, 30 September 1993.


Arthur Clech, “Between the Labor Camp and the Clinic,” in Soviet and Post-Soviet Sexualities, ed. Richard C. M. Mole (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), 32–55, here 36.


Roman Kuhar, “The Heteronormative Panopticon and the Transparent Closet of the Public Space in Slovenia,” in De-Centring Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives, ed. Robert Kulpa and Joanna Mizielińska (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011), 149–166, here 156.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, 18 November 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alina Ionescu, 26 December 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Liviu Vasile, 14 April 1993.


Kuhar, “The Heteronormative Panopticon,” 151.




AQANP, “Interviu cu sora mea,” [Interview with my sister], Identități [Identity], magazine, 2003, 5.


AQANP, Dorian Gheorghe, “Oameni între oameni: A nu fi homosexual” [People among people: Not being gay], Jurnalul de Galați [Galați journal], newspaper, 10–16 May 1993, 1.


Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. C. Gordon (London: Harvester Press: 1980), 155, cited in Kuhar “The Heteronormative Panopticon,” 2011.


ACCEPT, Reflectarea homosexualității in Presa Scrisă, 2.


Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Human Rights and Democratization in Romania (Washington, DC, 1994), 29, (accessed 6 July 2023).


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Scott Long, 25 February 1993.


ILGA-Europe and OSI, Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men (Brussels, 2001), 56, (accessed 6 July 2023).




Gazeta Sportului, “Mariana Cetiner, invitatul zilei la GSP Live (22 februarie) » EMISIUNE INTEGRALĂ” [Mariana Cetiner, the guest of the day at GSP Live (February 22) » FULL SHOW] video, interview, 1:05:35, 22 February 2021, here, 45:15–45:30, 1:00:00–1:00:30,


For more about the comparison between Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania see O'Dwyer, Coming Out of Communism. On Poland, see Szulc, Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland, Chapter 7. The Polish organizations responsible for publishing queer magazines cooperated with another Polish “homosexual group,” the Warsaw Homosexual Movement (WRH), to set up the Association of Lambda Groups in 1989, a nationwide federation for queer activism, thus exemplifying the radically different environment in which Romanian activists were operating in the same decade. On the evolution of queer Polish civil society and the impact of the 1990s, see Anna Gruszczynska, “Queer Enough? Contested Terrains of Identity Deployment in the Context of Gay and Lesbian Public Activism in Poland” (PhD thesis, Aston University, 2009).


Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 204–205. For more on the evolution of Romanian civil society in the 1990s and the obstacles it faced due to the criminalization of homosexuality, see Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine”; O'Dwyer, Coming Out of Communism; Tarta, “European Culture Wars”; and Nachescu, “Hierarchies of Difference.”


Carstocea, “Repères d'une identité clandestine,” 206.


O'Dwyer, Coming Out of Communism, 210.


Amnesty International, Romania: Broken Commitments to Human Rights, 1995, (accessed 6 July 2023).


Dan Healey and Francesca Stella, “La dissidence sexuelle et de genre en URSS et dans l'espace postsoviétique: Introduction” [Sexual and gender dissidence in the USSR and the post-Soviet space: Introduction], Cahiers du monde russe [Notebooks of the Russian world] 62, no. 2–3 (2021), 251–282, here 280.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Bucharest, June 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cătălin Sandu, 14 August 1992.


Kuhar, “The Heteronormative Panopticon,” 156.


Alexandru Negrici and Muzeul Comunismului, “Adi Newell—Being Queer in Communist Romania,” video, 50:37, 23 September 2019, (accessed 6 July 2023).


Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cosmin Popa, 22 February 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Marius Gheorghe, June 1993.




AQANP, Personal correspondence, Bucharest, Caius Popescu, 28 August 1992.


Richard C. M. Mole, “Constructing Soviet and Post-Soviet Sexualities,” in Soviet and Post-Soviet Sexualities, ed. Richard C. M. Mole (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019), 1–15, here 5.


Josie McLellan, Love in the Time of Communism: Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Josie McLellan, “Glad to Be Gay Behind the Wall: Gay and Lesbian Activism in 1970s East Germany,” History Workshop Journal 74, no. 1 (2012), 105–130,; Scott Long, “Gay and Lesbian Movements in Eastern Europe: Romania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic,” in The Global Emergence of Gay and Lesbian Politics: National Imprints of a Worldwide Movement, ed. André Krouwel, Jan Willem Duyvendak, and Barry D. Adam (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1999), 242–265; Takács, “Disciplining Gender and (Homo)sexuality in State-Socialist Hungary in the 1970s”; Szulc, Transnational Homosexuals in Communist Poland.




Long, “Gay and Lesbian Movements in Eastern Europe,” 245.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cătălin Sandu, 14 August 1992.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, no. 2, 1993, 5.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alina Ionescu, 7 February 1993.


Healey and Stella, “La dissidence sexuelle et de genre en URSS,” 271.


Arthur Clech, “An Inconspicuous Sexual Dissident in the Georgian Soviet Republic: Subjectification, Social Classes and the Culture of Suspicion in the Late Soviet Period,” Cahiers du monde russe 62, no. 2–3 (2021), 367–390, here 389.


Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC, Public Scandals.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Alin, 19 February 1993.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Aurel Lupu, 6 October 1992.


AQANP, Personal correspondence, Cătălin Sandu, 14 August 1992.


AQANP, Personal correspondence. Cluj, 4 November 1992.


Clech, “Between the Labor Camp and the Clinic,” 34.


AQANP, Gay45 magazine, April 1993, 2.


Catherine Baker, “Transnational ‘LGBT’ Politics after the Cold War and Implications for Gender History,” in Gender in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe and the USSR, ed. Catherine Baker (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 228–251, here 228.


For more on the historical influence of the ROC in Romania, with ties to its present-day rhetoric, see Miscoiu, Gherghina, and Samsudean, “Religion, Homosexuality, and the EU.”


Andreescu, “From Legal Tolerance to Social Acceptance,” 226.


Ibid., 228.


For more on the evolution of LGBTQ+ rights and its regression due to far-right, anti-gender, anti-EU sentiments in Serbia and the Balkans at large, see Slootmaeckers, “The Europeanization and Politicization of LGBT Rights in Serbia.” For more on the correlation between religion, anti-genderism, and right-wing populism in recent years in CEE, more specifically in Poland, Croatia, and Slovenia, see Graff, “Anti-Gender Mobilization and Right-Wing Populism.” On Latvia and anti-genderism, see KārlisVērdiņš, “Queer Male (Post)Soviet Narratives in Interviews by Rita Ruduša and Fiktion by Klāvs Smilgzieds,” Interlitteraria [Interliterature] 20, no. 1 (2015): 228–237. On the Hungarian nationalist backlash against sexual minorities since 2004, see O'Dwyer, Coming Out of Communism.


AQANP, G. Capuerde, “Homosexualii români bătuți de legionari” [Romanian homosexuals beaten by the Iron Guard], Libertatea [Liberty], newspaper, 29 May 2005, 4.


Woodcock, “A Short History of the Queer Time,” 75.


Woodcock, “Gay Pride as Violent Containment,” 14.


Andreescu, “From Legal Tolerance to Social Acceptance,” 227.


Negrici and Muzeul Comunismului, “Adi Newell,” 47:40–50:24.

Contributor Notes

Ioana Zamfir is an MA student at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto. She received an Honors BA in history and international development from McGill University in 2021 and has since been awarded the esteemed Canada Graduate Scholarship SSHRC, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and the Mark Gayn Graduate Scholarship to support her graduate research on queer lived experiences in Belarus and Moldova during late communism and the 1990s. She is a Junior Fellow at Massey College and a Harney Graduate Fellow.

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The International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History