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Vol 3, No 16
7 May 2001
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Adrain Coman
Adrian Coman
ACCEPTing the Future
An interview with Adrian Coman
Emelia Stere

ACCEPT (The Bucharest Acceptance Group) is the main Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) dealing with sexual minorities rights in Romania. Founded in 1994 with the help of some foreigners residing in Romania, ACCEPT was officially registered in 1996.

Nowadays, it is a very active organization and maintains a good reputation amongst Romanian NGOs. Since its outset, ACCEPT has bought a property to house its offices and organized public campaigns demanding the abolition of the (in)famous Article 200. The organization is also involved in HIV prevention programs; it hosts a documentary centre and provides legal, psychological and medical counseling for its beneficiaries.

According to Article 200 of the Penal Code, anyone who is proven to partake in "homosexual activities" and who incites "a public scandal," can be thrown in prison.

Article 200 contravenes the Amsterdam Treaty, which calls for Romanian law to change in order for the country to be admitted to the European Union (EU).

Opposition and support

The Romanian Orthodox Church fiercely opposes the idea. Recently, a member of CNSAS (the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives) denounced the Patriarch for having collaborated with the secret services of former Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. The Securitate had blackmailed the Patriarch because of his homosexuality. He was removed from his position; a move that generated much media interest.

ACCEPT is sponsored by various international organizations, among them: the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (through the MATRA program); Cooperating Netherlands Foundations for Central and Eastern Europe; the Royal Embassy of Holland in Bucharest; the Finnish Embassy in Bucharest; the Canadian Embassy in Bucharest; UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations for HIV/AIDS) and UNDP (United National Development Program); the Open Society Institute; ASTRAEA; and the Kimeta Society of Toronto, Canada.

The following is an interview with ACCEPT's Executive Director Adrian Coman, who is also a legendary figure in the Romanian society.

CER: In the last few months, the Romanian media has supported a large public debate regarding homosexuality and Article 200. What chances are there that the law will change?

Adrian Coman: The parliamentary agenda includes a bill which, if accepted, would abolish Article 200. The same bill would modify articles 205 and 206, namely those dealing with insult, calumny and defamation of authorities. On 28 June 2000, the bill was passed by the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of parliament) and was forwarded to the Senate (upper house of parliament).

Nothing happened until after the general election in November 2000, when the Human Rights Commission in the Senate endorsed the bill. There are now only two more steps to be taken: Firstly, the Legal Commission has to produce a report which will guide future debates. Secondly, the bill has to be voted for in the Senate.

CER:To my knowledge, the Minister of Justice, Rodica Stănoiu, publicly stated her disapproval of the bill. As a representative of the executive power, wasn't she interfering with the legislative in this matter?

AC: She didn't actually say that she was against the bill, as such. On the day of his investiture, Prime Minister Adrian Năstase presented the people he had chosen for the new cabinet; among them was Rodica Stănoiu. The same day, Ms Stănoiu held a press conference during which she stated that, in her personal opinion, and given the opposition from the Orthodox Church, in a country like Romania. she didn't see why a referendum on the issue should not be organized. And we all know what outcome such a referendum would have in Romania...

Since then, she has never publicly mentioned Article 200. However, interference between the executive and the legislative powers is not uncommon, especially with a PDSR (Party for Social Democracy in Romania) government.

CER: Does your organization have good relations—if any—with other minorities? I'm especially interested in your relationship with the UDMR (the Democratic Union of Magyars in Romania), which, for many, represents a model of efficiency in fighting for minorities' rights...

AC: The UDMR is the only political organization that has never negotiated human rights, unlike other Romanian political parties. For instance, they stated that there shouldn't be any special provisions for homosexuals in the Penal Code.

The probable reference point for the UDMR is Hungary—the only East European country to have a partnership law for gays and lesbians. UDMR was the only political organization, prior to the elections, to invite ACCEPT to meet their candidates and initiated a serious debate regarding homosexuality. It wasn't a face-to-face meeting—other youth organizations were invited as well—but let's not forget that they were the only ones to consider us worth talking to and worth consulting with.

Unfortunately, after the elections, this dialogue ceased. We wrote to Senator G˙orgy Frunda and asked him to set up a meeting with us. So far, he hasn't bothered to answer, although according to the law of civil servants, he is obliged to answer within 30 days.

However, we cooperate very well with the Romani organization, Romani Criss. We see them quite often, we publish articles about them in our newsletter, and they do the same for us. On International Roma Day (8 April), Executive Director for Romani Crisis Costel Bercuş was invited to speak in front of our members. On 12 February, together with Romani Criss and Pro Europa, we organized the first meeting of human rights organizations in Romania.

There is one particular legal provision that helps us work together: decree 137/2000, issued by the Romanian Government in the year 2000 when Mugur Isărescu was still Prime Minister. This decree (known as "the antidiscriminatory" decree) establishes sanctions and penalties in the case of discriminatory conduct and is the first decree to have mentioned sexual orientation alongside other criteria, such as race, gender and so on.

CER: Do you think that the mass media has shown more tolerance towards homosexuality following this decree?

AC: No—and I don't see why it should. Freedom of speech shouldn't be limited in any way. Of course, we may question the kind of language media employs, a language that is pretty offensive on some occasions. But, as a rule—as we both lived under Ceauşescu—we both know that media's freedom cannot be regulated.

CER: Between 4 and 8 October 2000 you organized the annual meeting of the ILGA (International Gay and Lesbian Association) in Bucharest. How tolerant was the media on this particular occasion?

AC: The media took a great interest in the event. We counted 52 journalists at our press conference. Each and every TV channel, radio station and newspaper covered our meeting. What matters most for us is that this meeting took place at all. Remember that in 1996, Jehovah's Witnesses (a neo-evangelical church) weren't able to hold their annual congress in Bucharest because all officials, ranging from the Romanian Government to the Patriarchy leaders, agreed that such "pagans" had no business meeting on Romanian territory.

Now spirits are less agitated, and we had no problem dealing with State institutions. We even got help from the police who offered to protect us if need be. The public were therefore able to see that the gay movement isn't necessarily about marching in the streets and carrying rainbow flags, dressing outrageously and so on.

CER: What about after the conference? Was it a success in terms of establishing new contacts and fund raising?

AC: We gained most in terms of image. The fact that we managed to gather (for the first time!) representatives from all East European countries increased our credibility as an organization. We set the basis for a lot of regional projects.

CER: I know that ACCEPT was already involved in common projects with gay organizations from Bulgaria and Moldova, for instance...

AC: Yes, we were. On 1 March we started both the projects above. To put it short, we intend to establish a coherent regional movement. We have a lot to learn from each other, as most of us face the same problems. Although in Romania the legal situation for homosexuals is probably the worst. Did you know that in Moldova there is no law to directly deny human rights for gays and lesbians? In other countries, such laws only refer to "details," such as the age of consent for homosexuals against heterosexuals. Only Chechynya keeps a law like ours...

CER: Give me some details about your cooperation with the gay organization in Moldova. Given our language and historical similarities, I am especially interested in this particular project.

AC: Our cooperation with them presupposes two main steps. First, we assist them in their setting a psychological counseling service. We have already provided such a service for our members for two years now, with the help of the Canadian Embassy in Bucharest. The second part of the project involves ACCEPT assisting them with their organizational development. We invited them to send some of their members to ACCEPT for a training period. Thus, they have the opportunity to see how we work.

CER: The media made a lot of fuss about the homosexuality of Teoctist, the Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Do you have any comment on this matter?

AC: I have two points to make. First, the media wouldn't have been so excited about all this without the Church's fierce opposition to the abolition of Article 200. Journalists felt hypocrisy in the air... Second, it is a sign that people still don't understand that sexual orientation is a private matter, so there is nothing to debate or investigate here. Even the president rushed to the Teoctist's defence. Personally, I would have liked the latter to speak for himself.

CER: You mentioned the abolition of Article 200. Do you think that political parties have decided how to vote? Can you draw a political map based on their standpoints in this matter?

AC: We know that the UDMR will vote in favor of the abolition of Article 200, and it is likely the PNL (the National Liberal Party) will also vote in favor of abolition; their leader, Valeriu Stoica, initiated the bill while he was the Minister of Justice. Most of the PD (the Democratic Party) members will also vote in the same way, although there are some very homophobic voices in the party. For instance, last year Trăian Băsescu (mayor of Bucharest) and another gentleman, asked for an aggravation of penalties for homosexuality. Of course, the PRM (the Greater Romania Party) will try to keep the present-day law.

As for the ruling PDSR, its members refuse to make any official statements, as they are divided on this matter. Consequently, they postponed the vote in the Senate. On one hand, the PDSR is represented by those including the Minister of Justice, who speaks about what is best "in a country like ours." On the other hand, there are those like Ms Hildegard Puwak, the Minister for European Integration, who in front of the Economic Commission in the Senate requested that discrimination should be stopped. Quite a heterogenous party, I'd say...

CER: How are the police forces reacting? Are they still enforcing Article 200?

AC: To enforce Article 200 would mean to arrest someone according to paragraphs 1 or 5, and to carry on the procedure until the court reaches a decision. As far as we know, this doesn't happen anymore. However, the problem with Article 200 is that for most people, it represents written proof that homosexuals should be punished.

Many policemen have no idea what the law actually says, and don't care to find out. It is a question of moral justice, in their eyes. And without actually arresting people, policemen can do a lot of things that in other countries would be interpreted as manifestations of homophobia, abuse and harassment.

They stop gay people in Opera's Park (a well-known cruising place for gays), although they wouldn't do so in another place. Let's not forget Adrian Georgescu, a 30-year old gay who was summoned to police headquarters. Nobody told him why, although he explicitly asked for an explanation. For three hours he was humiliated and interrogated about his private life, his sexual orientation and his friends. He was even confronted with lists of names and asked to identify those who were gay.

We thought such stories belonged to the past... On 17 January, Adrian Georgescu agreed to speak at a press conference which was organised by us and the Helsinki Committee. The case was highly represented in the media, on TV channels, radio stations and in newspapers. Finally, Adrian Georgescu, Monica Macovei, a lawyer for the Helsinki Committee, and the policeman in question were invited to appear on a PRO TV (a very influential and popular private TV channel) talk show.

The show lasted an hour and brought to the surface some interesting points. For instance, the policeman admitted some of the facts and even said: "Yes, I asked him whether he was gay, it was perfectly normal for me to ask him that, this constitutes a clue for us policemen." From our point of view, someone's private life can in no way constitute a matter for police investigation.

CER: Well, technically speaking, the policeman was entitled to conduct such an investigation. Article 200 is still in force.

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AC: Up to a point, maybe. However, we denounced the policeman to the Military Prosecutor's Office, but they decided not to initiate a penal investigation. With our support and Monica Macovei's legal advice, Adrian Georgescu lodged a complaint against the policeman, addressed to the Military Prosecutor's Office of the Supreme Court. In case this institution also fails to respond, we will help Adrian to appeal to the Strasbourg Court.

Seemingly, such a case would be a novelty for the European Court. They are usually called to decide whether a certain matter belongs to someone's private life or not; this time, it is the very principle of interfering into people's private lives which is in question.

CER: Some have reproached your organization for being a little too rigid and official. Do you communicate well with your members? Are you able to respond to their specific needs?

AC: We now have around 120 members. In the last year, we have tried to be more transparent, to encourage people to communicate with us. We have implemented some of the new changes in the statute, and in the procedures for admitting new members. As a result, we have received dozens of applications since our last General Meeting on 17 June 2000. A lot of heterosexual people want to join our fight. Do you call this being too rigid?

Emelia Stere, 7 May 2001

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