PFLAG in Romania

-Laura Rogers, RPCV, 2007-2009

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in the Spring 2009 issue of Beyond Gender: Gay and Lesbian Rights Edition. Beyond Gender is the newsletter of the Gender and Development Committee, a group made up of Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania and Romanians (HCNs) dedicated to promoting gender equality in the social and economic processes of Romania. Author, Laura Rogers was active on their LGBT rights subcommittee.

When I was in Pre-Service training some more experienced Peace Corps volunteers came to speak to us about being gay in Romania. They described cultural beliefs that tell people homosexuality is a sickness and a sin and told us that not all, but many gay people in Romania choose to remain in the closet and live secret underground lives rather than risk losing their families and their jobs, a likely consequence of leaving the closet.

They told the story of a Romanian man who was in counseling with a professional counselor to get help with some of the things he was struggling with in his life. He came out to his counselor and told the professional that he was a gay man, and the counselor took him to a church to have an exorcism performed on him.

In response to such an environment a Peace Corps project has been implemented to help. In 2006 members of the Gender and Development (GAD) Committee, partnered with NGOs to sponsor a training seminar for Romanian mental health professionals on increasing gender sensitivity with an emphasis on providing effective care to people in the Romanian Gay and Lesbian community.

Currently the GAD Committee is revisiting the need for true and accurate information on homosexuality and has begun a project to create the first Romanian language resources for parents and friends of gay people.

Material from the web site of international organization Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) has been adapted for cultural appropriateness and translated into Romanian.

PFLAG is a support group for people who have a loved one who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The organization was started in 1973 by Jenanne Manford after her son Mortie was beaten at a gay rights protest in New York City and police ignored the assault. Manford marched alongside her son in a New York gay pride parade with a banner than read “Parents of Gays Unite in Support of our Children.” The first support group meeting was held in 1973.

A booklet written by PFLAG parents called “Our Daughters and Son’s: Questions and Answers for the parents of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People” is being published in Romanian as well as a shorter pamphlet called “Frequently Asked Questions about Homosexuality.”

There is no formally organized PFLAG in Romania, but in an effort to bring parents and family members of gay people, PSI Romania has created a web page where people can sign up for an email listserv which will be promoted in the materials.

Through the listserv the friends and family members can be connected with other parents and friends who are going through the same struggle to understand that a friend or a family member is gay.

They can communicate through email – anonymously if they wish – with other people in Romania and know that they are not alone. These parents and friends who seek support, answers, and connection with each other will be the ones to start the grassroots PFLAG group in Romania when Romanian friends and family are ready. Perhaps a group will form that will eventually move beyond support and into the realm of advocacy.

The pamphlets and booklets will be available to the counseling and mental health professionals through the participants in the GAD LGBT sensitivity training. GAD magazine Beyond Gender readers can request copies of the booklet or pamphlets through email at Gadromania@gmail.com.

Peace Corps volunteers can also request booklets and pamphlets from the Peace Corps office. Volunteers who feel they have personal connections with people in the community who would make positive use of this information should request a pamphlet or several pamphlets from the office and give them to teachers, parents, neighbors, school directors, counselors, social workers, librarians, public officials or anyone else the volunteer knows who might be receptive to the information.

Of course not all – and perhaps not many – volunteers will have relationships at site that allow for distributing these pamphlets.

The most effective way volunteers can participate in this project is to give the pamphlets to Romanian professionals or people they know personally and with whom they have had conversations about how the person would use the material.

For volunteers, gay and straight, who want to assist in raising awareness, and spread true and accurate information about homosexuality in Romania, here are some suggestions about how to open the subject with friends, co-workers or other people at site who may benefit personally or professionally from reading the PFLAG material.

  • Ask the person how their education, school curriculum, experience has informed their opinions of AIDS education, safe sex, or teenage pregnancy and then move the subject to gay rights.
  • Offer your experiences as an American: talk about movies, TV-shows, pop music, current events, American politics, and diversity within the Peace Corps. All of these topics can include your experience or knowledge of openly gay people.
  • Ask questions about Romania and Romanian history, “I heard it was illegal to be gay in Romania until 2002. Is that true?” “I heard there’s a gay rights march in Bucharest every year. What do you think about that?”
  • If you have gay friends in the United States or in Romania tell the person about it and ask if they have ever known someone who is gay.
  • Role-play the conversation ahead of time before you bring up the subject and anticipate their responses. That way you will have confidence in what you have to say.
  • Point out to the person that you are not trying to make him or her uncomfortable and he or she does not have to agree with what is being said; just that you would respectfully like to introduce them to the topic of what you believe is true regarding homosexuality.
  • Consider asking the person you’re conversing with if they would like printed material in the Romanian language and requesting the documents from the Peace Corps office after they have said yes. The information will also be available in Romanian online at: www.community.pflag.org/EasternEuropean

Just as every time a gay person comes out to a friend or a co-worker they risk being rejected so too every straight ally who approaches the subject in their community and in their place of work takes a risk on a smaller scale. We hope that volunteers will want to be involved in the distribution of this information, and will use good judgment in assessing potential reactions.

For further guidance on how to proceed in specific situations regarding these topics volunteers can turn to peer support or the Peace Corps Romania LGBT support group for advice.

For volunteers at Hungarian sites we’re investigating the cost of printing some pamphlets in Hungarian, but we don’t yet know when that will happen. If any volunteers at Hungarian sites are interested in the pamphlets they should email Laura Rogers at: theonlylunchbox@gmail.com.

The printing of the pamphlets in Romanian has been made possible by a grant from Gay and Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender US Peace Corps Alumni.

You can learn more about the Gender and Development Committee and their online resource center at www.gadromania.wetpaint.com which has GLOW/TOBE curriculum, links, and other important information about GAD in Romania. It is intended to be a resource for PCVs in other countries as well.

Laura Rogers can be contacted at theonlylunchbox@gmail.com.

About LGBT RPCV
We are an organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and others who are Peace Corps volunteer alumni, current volunteers, former and current staff members and friends. Founded in Washington D.C. in 1991, we have several hundred members throughout the country and around the world who have served in Peace Corps since its beginning in 1961. We're made up of a national steering committee, together with regional chapters. We are an active affiliate member of the National Peace Corps Association.

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