Friday, June 22, 2007

GayFest: Live from Romania

Between The Lines Newspaper
by Rev. Mark Bidwell

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - Despite rain the GayFest march went on as planned for almost a year.The event served as a reminder to me that we in the United States take pride events for granted. It also made me fully aware that we should never be complacent in fighting for the rights of all LGBT people in all countries. I'm sure the recent violence and oppression of gays and lesbians in Russia affected this event both for those marching and those protesting. Tension was in the air.

"As we arrived at the march site in the heart of the city the first thing we saw were 20 armored vehicles, each holding 20 to 30 police personal with helmets and weaponry. We were about 300 to 400 very worried -- but nonetheless brave -- marchers, outnumbered by about 500 -- concerned and very wary -- police officers. (The number of LGBT marchers was down from the first march. Even in Romania, it seems many gays don't like to get wet!)

"The police marched with us step by cautious step. 12 man-made smoke bombs were thrown at the vehicles escorting us as we marched inside their narrow corridor of safety. The hour-long march seemed an eternity. Four hours after the march we heard no reports of actual violence done to LGBT people (although the BBC later told the real story). At a gay film showing a few nights prior to the parade one gay man was seriously beaten as he left the movie house.

"Fortunately because I speak no Romanian I didn't understand what the protesters were angrily screaming and shouting at us. (The words certainly didn't need any translating. Hate is hate in any language.) Protesters had held a counter march earlier in the day with several hundred attending. Several arrests were made.

"'Axil', a German MCC minister, and I carried an MCC banner with 'God loves all' in Romanian. It was a hit with the TV news crew. We supplied many marchers with face masks to shield their identity from family, friends, and coworkers, enabling them to be, if not fully out, an important part of the body count. Our rainbow-colored plastic Pride Bracelets were popular. I took pictures of several persons proudly wearing them. We also printed cards for distribution with contact information about our Sunday service, to be held in an out-of-the-way building in Bucharest where pride events are often being held. The service was well attended. We also distributed literature and books on transgender issues -- information very scarce in Romania.

"LGBT Romanians are proud, dedicated to on-going, activist organizing, and determined to speak out for acceptance as citizens with full human rights and dignity. In many ways their struggle is our struggle."

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