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February 25, 2021

The political victims of homophobia

To believe that homosexuality is a minor problem in today’s Romania is naiveté. Its political implications are more significant than we would expect. For the time being, it has caused a top-class victim.

A year ago, the USR was riding high, despite being just recently established, and the good score it obtained in its first parliamentary elections seemed to confirm its role as the hope of Romanian politics. Its opponents, who had just returned in power, attacked it with predilection, considering it more dangerous than other old parties. But all of this did not last long, USR becoming the field of an extended civil war that took it on the side lines of the politics that matters, and the outlook of a real comeback is full of uncertainties. It all started, at least apparently, from… homosexuality.

After all, the temptation of all parties was not to stand against the homophobic initiative of the Coalition for Family, which wants to change the Constitution to block future attempts to legalise same-sex marriage. Not only the PSD, the great backer of the initiative – which is a good opportunity for a party caught up in an approval rating freefall to show its brotherhood with the Orthodox Church (and other minority denominations) –, but also the representatives of the Opposition did not want to risk distancing themselves from an electorate that is massively homophobic.

The only ones who tried to do so was a group from the leadership of USR, which, out of leftist conviction of rejecting discrimination and the interference of religion in such matters, but also out of keener political inspiration, sensing the electoral capital of distancing itself from the PSD and the Romanian Orthodox Church, asked for the adoption of an opposite stance on the upcoming referendum.

But the leader of the party, Nicusor Dan, opposed that, probably less out of personal religious convictions than out of a calculus of political advisability. His option was supported by a group with more conservative views, which was not absent from the heterogenous USR. But following an internal referendum, this group turned out to be a minority. Which led, after Dan’s resignation, to the designation of a leader with opposite views (at least) on this issue. But the former leader does not seem to have come to terms with this change of direction. It is not ruled out that in the future there may be two USRs, as irreconcilable ideological options decant.

After all, Nicusor Dan’s pretention to avoid adopting a stance on the issue of the homophobic referendum was politically unrealistic. The clarification was inevitable, even at the cost of the party’s de facto scission. Moreover, even the camp that has now taken over power could split in the future over other insignificant topic. At any rate, the issue of homosexuality has already shown its insidious potential for ideological polarisation.

In this context, the film ‘120 Beats per Minute,’  (photo) awarded with the Grand Prix at the latest edition of the Cannes Festival, can be watched with supplementary attention in Romania. Robin Campillo’s film talks about the France of almost three decades ago, which was facing, for several years already, the ravages of the AIDS epidemic and was being pressured to change its public policies on sexual education.

The protagonists are a group of young homosexuals, most of them HIV positive, involved in radical civic actions meant to make society more sensitive to the plight of those decimated by a sexually transmitted disease. Their sights are set not only on pharmaceutical companies, guilty for interest-driven lack of haste in introducing new drugs on the market, but also on the Government (of the Socialist President Francois Mitterand) that did not get sufficiently involved, or on the public schools that refused a sexual education without multiple modesties. Their actions, often rapidly repressed by the police, were trying to be as spectacular as possible, also animated by the despair of young people condemned to imminent death.

Such activism is not on everyone’s liking – not to mention those directly attacked by it. While homosexual acts have been decriminalised against the backdrop of the relaxation – in former socialist Eastern European countries for instance – of older homophobic legislations, restrictions on homosexual propaganda have been maintained at the same time. In other words, we no longer interfere in anyone’s bedroom, but homosexuals are not allowed to assume a pro domo discourse in the public space. They should act but should remain silent.

To be honest, Nicusor Dan’s stance is not very far from such a hypocrisy either. Even though we are inconvenienced by the radical activism of some, we must admit that, without it, discriminatory mentalities would change only partially and at a snail’s pace. Especially since our politicians are so versatile – let us recall Traian Basescu, whose party today is siding with the homophobic Coalition but who did not shy away from attacking both homophobia and the Romanian Orthodox Church around two decades ago. But Robin Campillo’s film is very relevant for us also because it denounces the cynicism of a corrupt medical system, far too little preoccupied with the priorities of saving certain patients. The case of those who suffered burns at the Colectiv nightclub, who went through an ordeal in hospitals, an ordeal we would not have suspected possible in an EU member state, is equivalent to the drama of the HIV-positive dying men ignored by the interests of pharmaceutical companies.

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