Example 1: Gay rights advocacy in Romania
Project Type: Advocacy
Formed in 1994, ACCEPT Association (ACCEPT) is the first LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) nongovernmental organization to operate in Romania. Its mission is to “defend [ ] and promote the rights of LGBT in Romania as human rights.”
LGBT persons in Romania faced rampant discrimination and state-sponsored homophobia. With the support of religious and nationalist groups, the Romanian Penal Code penalized same-sex relations and associations (see Art. 200) with terms of imprisonment lasting from one to five years. One of the effects of the law was to drive same-sex activity underground and to impede HIV prevention and outreach efforts among men having sex with men.
Conflict of Laws
Romanian Penal Code Art. 200, law. No. 140/1996 (repealed 2001) (prohibiting consensual same sex-conduct, as well as speech and associations promoting homosexual identity)
European Convention on Human Rights
Article 8. Right to respect for private and family life
- Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
- There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Romanian and international groups working to protect the rights and health of LGBT persons developed a range of claims within European and international human rights frameworks. Specifically, they:
- Issued two major reports on LGBT rights in Romania, one by Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and the other commissioned by UNAIDS.
- In 1995, ACCEPT was officially registered as a human rights nongovernmental organization. ACCEPT had to register as a human rights organization, not as an LGBT organization, because the law denied LGBT persons the right to freedom of assembly and association.
- Pressured Romania to conform to European Union and Council of Europe standards on non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as part of Romania’s process of accession to the EU.
Results & Lessons Learned
- Romania’s admission to the Council of Europe on October 7, 1993 was predicated upon its abolishment of Art. 200, which was in violation of Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. After promising repeal of the Art. 200, Romania was granted admission to the Council of Europe in October 1993. Romania did not repeal Art. 200, but instead amended it, allowing continued prosecution of homosexuality. The Council, therefore, called once again upon Romania to change or repeal its law so as to bring Romania into compliance with the Convention. Also, the Council created two new special rapporteurs to make reports every six months “until all undertakings have been honored.”
- Prior to the change to the law, it was illegal for ACCEPT or other LGBT groups operating in Romania to engage in domestic gross root organizing because Article 200 denied LGBT populations the right to freedom of assembly and association. Therefore, ACCEPT and other similar LGBT organizations focused their energy on addressing the many human rights abuses against the LGBT populations in Romania, instead of community building exercises.
- ACCEPT successfully registered as a human rights group. While it was illegal to advocate for LGBT rights, it created alliances with other human rights groups working on freedom of expression and association. It was less successful at connecting with advocacy groups working on gender inequality, violence against women, and transgender rights.
- The penal code of Romania was amended in 2000 and further revised again in 2001. With guidance from the EU, Romania adopted a comprehensive anti-discrimination mechanism that included protection from discrimination on the grounds of both sexual orientation and HIV status.
- In 2004 ACCEPT organized the Festival of Diversity, the first Romanian gay festival and in 2005 it organized the first Gay Pride in Bucharest. Every year since, ACCEPT has hosted GayFest which is a Pride festival recognizing and celebrating diversity and includes Gay Prde. See, http://www.gay-fest.ro/.
- It was accession to the European Union on January 1, 2007, and pressure to prevent HIV/AIDS—especially when voiced by international agencies—that provided important leverage for reforming the penal law.
- Some religious and political leaders continue to foment anti-gay prejudice and violence. With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the influence of religion has risen. This is particularly true in Romania, where the Orthodox Church has powerful influence over the drafting of “moral” legislation, including those laws relating to LGBT populations.
- Human Rights Watch and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania (1998). http://accept-romania.ro/images/stories/public_scandals.pdf.
- ACCEPT, About us. Sexual minorities in Romania (2003). http://accept-romania.ro/images/stories/despre_noi._minoritati_sexuale_in_romania.pdf [Avaliable in Romani language only].