EP candidate runs on anti-gay ticket
February 2013. It was supposed to be a pleasant night out for urbane movie-lovers.
Bucharest's ethnographic hub, the National Museum of the Peasant, was hosting Lisa Cholodenko's film 'The Kids Are All Right', starring Annette Benning and Julianne Moore as gay parents of troubled teens.
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This was part of a month-long festival dedicated to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights, and supported by the American embassy in Bucharest.
Close to 100 people had turned up to watch the film and sat silently as the credits rolled.
A minute later around 40 members of the audience, who were draped in the Romanian tricolor flag, jumped from their seats yelling and screaming, and brandishing religious icons over the lights from the projector.
Shouting "Die Faggots", "Get out of the country", "Filth" and "Get out prostitution", they sang the Romanian national anthem – "Desteapta-te romane!" (Wake-up Romanian!) – and declared the museum to be a "saintly place".
The protestors were from Christian and nationalistic groups. Many embraced the values of Romania's Fascist Legionnaire movement of the 1930s.
"I was shocked and scared and knew these guys could be aggressive," says Alex, one of the attendees.
One man who was present at the museum that night, and who promoted the protest, was Iulian Capsali, now an independent candidate for this weekend's European elections.
The event was filmed by ex-journalist Victor Roncea, who posted a video on his website. He used his blog as a channel for Capsali and organisations who staged the protests.
Online, Roncea bragged about the "successful protest against the homosexual mafia and [its] propaganda" at the Museum.
The deputy director of the Museum, Mihai Gheorghiu, was at the protest, telling everyone to leave the room.
Capsali refused to answer questions from EUobserver about his role in the protest.
Meanwhile, Gheorghiu was critical of the projection, but denied he helped the protestors.
However, later that evening Gheorghiu was captured on camera in the museum cafe with Capsali himself.
An NGO protecting LGBTI rights, Accept Association, complained to the police, but the authorities only began investigating one year later.
This year the NGO organising LGBTI week did not want to put its guests at risk so instead of organising events in public buildings, they used international cultural clubs, such as those of France and the Czech Republic.
"In some ways they succeeded to get us out of 'their' places – their institutions, schools and universities," says one of the event organisers. "The idea is to put us in our places – gay bars and foreign cultural institutions."
Now when Accept organises an event in a private location, it generally prefers to notify the police beforehand, to ensure the safety of its volunteers and supporters.
Every year it organises a Pride march through Bucharest which attracts hundreds of attendees. The march is heavily policed and a large number of people at the event tend to be there in solidarity with LGBTI rights.
Many homosexuals are afraid to come as the event is broadcast on major television stations and they fear exposure.
The rights of homosexuals are protected by law in Romania, but prejudice is widespread.
Only 12 percent of Romanians would vote for a member of the European Parliament with another sexual orientation, according to a survey by the National Centre for Discrimination (CNCD) in 2013.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of Romanians would not accept a person of another sexual orientation as a relative, according to the same survey.
"Romanian society is rather traditional and voters are attracted to populist political figures, who campaign on a number of issues that are easily acceptable to most individuals," says Florin Buhuceanu, director of Accept. "Homosexuality remains a highly controversial and emotional issue for many Romanians."
Iulian Capsali is running to become an independent MEP after gathering at least 100,000 signatures – a support base of concern to civil rights groups.
Capsali refused to comment or reply to EUobserver's questions as to his method for achieving such a momentous result in a short period of time, although it is thought he has the backing of members of the Romanian Orthodox church.
The only indication as to how he succeeded is found on his website, where he states that this was due to "help from God".
A key motivation for his European candidature is the "intense homosexual propaganda entering schools and high-schools of Romania", perceived as being imposed by the EU.
Capsali also implies a strong anti-ethnic slant, stating that a Hungarian minority official heading Romania's National Council for Combating Discrimination, CNCD, is endorsing homosexual propaganda, which threatens Romania.
Capsali represents a shift in Romanian politics. His campaign is based on wooing grass-roots followers attracted by his mix of religion, nationalism and conspiracy theory.
According to political scientist Laurentiu Stefan, such independent candidates for an MEP position are interesting to watch.
"The Romanian political system is too rigid and so there are cracks opening taking the form of new small parties or independent candidates," says Stefan. "We don't know how important these cracks are. That's why the result of independent candidates are very important, because a candidate without a party who manages to collect the needed signatures already has a large base of supporters."
While figures with a history of anti-homosexual discourse freely run as candidates for the European Parliament, gay people remain silent about their sexuality in Romania.
"LGBTI persons feel that they put themselves at risk [by being open]," says Buhuceanu. "Hate speech and hate crime being two issues they face. Moreover, the overall feeling of mute intolerance, though not as pungent as in the past, is still a sad reality."
No public figure in the entertainment, music or arts has come out in Romania, nor have any politicians.
Meanwhile political parties do not engage with progressive legislation on LGBTI rights. An attempt to recognise civil partnerships for same-sex couples foundered last year in the Romanian parliament.
During the European election, none of the major parties came out with obvious anti or pro-LGBTI statements.
Although one indication as to their sentiment came from former Social Democratic (PSD) MEP Rovana Plumb, a senior figure in her party.
In reaction to a question about same sex unions, she said in May that although there are "various visions, various points of view, sustaining other family models", she wanted to preserve a model of "traditional family values".
"On issues such as civil partnerships or how to define the concept of family, [Romanian politicians] are by and large either supportive of a traditional stance, or unwilling to publicly support an extension of LGBTI rights in Romania or in the European Parliament," adds Buhuceanu.