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This Street is Taken:

Rhetorical Modes of National Identity, Belonging, and Sexuality in


Contemporary Romania and Georgia

Maria Osborne

Honors 384: Conflicting Currents: Romania and Georgia in a Turbulent Black Sea
Advisors: Dr. Mary Childs and Dr. Illeana Marin
November 21st, 2016

I. Introduction and Terminology


May 2013: a small group of demonstrators from the Georgian the Lesbian-Gay-BisexualTransgender (LGBT) rights group Identoba convenes on the streets of Tbilisi to mark the
International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT). Several activists are injured
by a counter-protest of thousands, led by priests of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Out of safety
concerns, in 2014 the group instead holds a silent protest by placing empty shoes around the city to
represent the invisibility of sexual minorities in Georgia. Meanwhile in Romania, giant rainbow flags
are paraded through the streets for the 10th annual Bucharest Pride celebration. Three years later,
Tbilisi hosts the 10th annual World Conference of Families, an Illinois-based organization
recognized as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their stance on traditional
marriage (The conference receives a letter of support from George W. Bush). Traditionalists
petition to constitutionally defining marriage as between a man and a woman during the 2016
election season. The Romanian Constitutional Court approves an initiative to replace the words
spouses with a man and a woman in Article 48 of the Constitution in July of the same year.
The landscape of rights for sexual minorities between Romania and Georgia is newly
emerged, constantly reshaping, and incredibly contentious. Between the two countries, there are
some striking differences (e.g., level of public visibility) as well as notable similarities (e.g., the
il/legality of alternative notions of sex, gender, and marriage). However, there is one overwhelmingly
common ideological framework by which people in these countries, as well as in Eastern European
in general, have reacted to the idea of sexuality beyond the norm of hetero-monogamy: religion.
Over 90% of the populations of both Romania and Georgia identify with a religious denomination,
typically Orthodox Christian. The respective patriarchs of the national orthodox churches are
trusted leaders of society, much more so than politicians. Almost without exception, opponents of
sexual minority rights evoke the rhetoric of sin when talking about people in that minority. But, I

argue, homophobic sentiment as a function of biblical interpretation only captures a part of the
vastly complicated cultural and social forces that inform discourses on sexuality. To discuss sexuality
in Eastern Europe is to discuss paradigms of westernization, cultural imperialism, tradition and
progress, secularization as modernization, human rights ideology, and sexual identity politics. The
rhetorical purpose of evoking sin is to not only an appeal to the morality systems contained in
Christianity, but to perceptions of religious, national, and cultural heritage. It is therefore my aim to
explore the ways that sexuality has been discursively defined along the lines of ethno-national and
cultural belonging and identity at the crossroads of the so-called Western and Eastern worlds.
At these crossroads, the experience of being a sexual minority has been politicized and
appropriated as a tool of cultural and national identity by those against their liberation. Sexual
minority identities become instruments of culture wars, which are less a social phenomenon where
opposing sides confront ideology [they] are instead a rhetorical result of these types of ideological
tensions vis--vis images of the other within the fabric of society.1 When I talk about nationalism,
I am not referring to patriotism or exceptionalism, but rather the various ways in which citizens of a
particular nation perceive themselves as being unified under particular normative memes and
ideologies that are distinct from those of other nations. The intersection of sexuality and nationalism
therefore begins at the level of identifying the self versus the other. Geopolitical boundaries are one
such way of defining such identifications: physical boundaries become symbolic of imagined or
invented communities.2 Members of that community who can be conceived of as other in some
way, whether by their ethnicity, race, religion, sexuality, etc., become a threat to the unity of that

1 Mihai Tarta, European Culture Wars: Sexual Nationalism between Euro-Christian and Euro-Secular Civil
Religion in Poland and Romania in Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe, ed. Srdjan Sremac and
R. Ruard Ganzevoot (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2015), 37.
2 Srdjan Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort. The Interplay of Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and
Eastern Europe in Religious and Sexual Nationalisms in Central and Eastern Europe: Gods, Gays, and Governments, ed. Srdjan
Sremac and R. Ruard Ganzevoort, (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill, 2015), 1.

community.3 This paper will examine the ways in which discussing sexuality is matter of
asserting/abandoning forms of belonging to ethno-national entities. My discussion of Georgia will
primarily focus on such paradigms as reactions against LGBT rights movements, while the situation
in Romania allows for the additional opportunity to explore them from within those movements
themselves, and from the perspective of people who fall outside of sexuality norms.
Given the complexity of the situation in Eastern Europe, I will mainly refer to what may be
called the LGQT or queer community in Western Europe and North America by those
identifiers, as well as by the umbrella term of sexual minorities. My aim in doing so is to both
recognize the diversity of sexual expression that is oversimplified by terms like gay rights and to
avoid imposing the identity politics of Western queer theory upon people to whom they may be
unfamiliar. There are many organizations and people in Eastern Europe that use terminology akin to
LGBT, but the consensus on the validity of such terms is far from universal. For example, in
interviews with men who have sex with men (MSM) in Tbilisi conducted in 2010, subjects
communicated the belief that very few Georgian men would understand and identify with the terms
homo/heterosexual, gay, bisexual, etc.4 Among that group, there was tendency to not
categorize sexuality by orientation (emotional/romantic/sexual attraction), but rather by type of
sexual behavior, demographic characteristics, or gender presentation. I will rely on terminology
familiar to American readers in part for the sake of readability, but I must also emphasize that the
choice to adopt or reject Western identity politics is a complex and significant part of this
conversation where normative sexuality is defined in geopolitical terms.

Ibid.

William Meyer et. al., We are ordinary men: MSM identity categories in Tbilisi, Georgia, Culture, Health &
Sexuality 12, no. 4 (2010): 959, accessed October 23, 2016, doi: 10.1080/13691058.2012.516370.
4

II. Background: Ideologies of Sexuality in the former USSR


While it is precisely my aim to argue against purely theological explanations of homophobia,
understanding attitudes towards queerness in Eastern Europe must necessarily begin with addressing
its connection to Orthodoxy. Christian attitudes towards sex in general have historically ranged from
accepting to highly condemnatory. Orthodox Christianity does not see sex as inherently impure, if
done in the proper context: marriage. In Orthodox belief, condemnation of homosexual acts comes
in part from the view that sex is only acceptable within wedlock. Sex within marriage is an act of
love between spouses as well as a procreative act; nevertheless procreation remains an essential
purpose of marriage. 5 As such, it must be monogamous and heterosexual: the term gay marriage
is either an oxymoron or reduces the concept of marriage to a legal rather than spiritual contract.
This perspective relies on a naturalized view of gender: male and female are determined by birth,
mutually exclusive, immutable, and complementary to each other. Arguments against homosexuality
can therefore be founded on the basis of its unnaturalness.6
Despite the ancientness of the bible verses from which they are based, these arguments are
all relatively young, as the church contends with definitions of sexual orientation that have only
emerged over the last century. The term homosexuality was so foreign and ill defined to
Romanian lawmakers that it was deliberated excluded from the final draft of the 1936 penal code,
which legally defined sexual transgressions including rape and polygamy.7 But that it was a matter of
legal debate indicates that Eastern Europes recent political history is also crucial to understanding
contemporary views of sexuality. More often that not, this is a history of sodomy laws. Such laws

5 Oswin Craton, Orthodoxy and Sexuality (speech, Bloomington, IN, March 18 2015),
http://www.craton.net/writings/religious/sex.htm.

6
William Basil Zion, Eros and Transformation: Sexuality and Marriage, An Eastern Orthodox Perspective (Lanham:
University Press of America, 1992), 304.
7

Public Scandals: Sexual Orientation and Criminal Law in Romania, New York: Human Rights Watch, (1998), 7,
accessed November 4, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/r/romania/romsx981.pdf.

that had existed before or in the early 20th century in many states (for instance, those enacted by
Tsar Nicholas in 1832 within the Russian empire, which included present-day Georgia) were
abolished after the 1918 revolutions, but reenacted beginning in the Stalin era. While it is a mistake
to think that Christian morality disappeared from Russia after 1918, more secular explanations for
these reinstatements include that homosexuality was perceived as dangerous to state-regulated social
structures. Sexuality outside the norm of monogamous heterosexuality was a threat to the state
ideology because it was an assertion of a personal role outside the purview of socialist society.8
Even when homosexuality was decriminalized in the early years of the USSR, socialists generally saw
it as an unfavorable capitalist decadence.9 After the fall of the iron curtain, official decriminalization
of homosexual acts occurred on a by-country basis, and not until as late as the 21st century in some
cases (including 2000 in Georgia and 2002 in Romania).
People in Post-Soviet states continue to memorialize, interpret, and react to their history of
occupation in ways that shape cultural and political ideology. It is unsurprising that nationalistic
sentiment would resonate within states that so recently struggled against oppressive foreign
occupation and now face the task of defining independent national identities. Religious nationalism
in particular is so sharply apparent in Eastern Europe not only because of the overwhelming
homogeneity of religious identity, but because of the suppression of that religious identity during
Soviet occupation. Affirmation of faith is tool through which people distance themselves from that
past and assert national independence. (It is also worth mentioning that the organization of the
Orthodox faith is that of national churches, which contextualizes religious identity by means on
geopolitical boundaries to some extent.) I will explore these ideas in more specific terms later, but

8

Michael Jose Torra, Gay Rights After the Iron Curtain, The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 22 (1998), 74.

9 Laura Engelstein,Soviet Policy Toward Male Homosexuality: Its Origins and Historical Roots, Journal of
Sexuality no. 29 (1995), accessed November 5, 2016, doi:10.1300/J082v29n02_06.

the guiding concept is such: how does a societys collective memory of its cultural and political past
inform its present construction of sexual minorities as outsiders?

III. Nationalism and Sexuality in Georgia


In the spring of 2016, Georgia made international news for a bizarre incident in which
meat-wielding members of a radical nationalist youth group attacked and harassed the patrons and
staff of a vegan caf in Tbilisis old town. To many analysts this represented a boiling-over moment
in a climate of a growing culture wars between Georgian and nebulously-defined Western social
paradigms. The Kiwi Caf is not only known for its meatless fare, but for attracting a foreign and
counterculture clientele. Its owners reported being interrogated about LGBT patrons (as well as
foreigners and punks) a month earlier by members of the same group.10 Coming just three days on
the heels of a Georgians for Georgia march to commemorate independence from the Soviet
Union, current events in Georgia emphasize that nationalism is alive and well, and some of its more
extreme factions have reached the point of threatening the physical safety of those seen as posing a
threat to national spirit, including sexual minorities.
Indeed, the statistics show that from a Western perspective of human rights, the situation for
sexual minorities in Georgia is dire. In theory, this is perhaps not entirely so: homosexual acts and
sodomy are allowed, the age of consent for hetero- and homosexual acts is the same (as of 2000),
and legal prohibition of employment discrimination is in place (as of 2006). According to a metric by
the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association (ILGA), in 2015


10 Dan Bilefsky, Patrons of Vegan Cafe Are Pelted With Meat in Tbilisi, Georgia, New York Times, May 31,
2016, accessed October 27, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/01/world/europe/patrons-of-vegan-cafe-arepelted-with-meat-in-tbilisi-georgia.html.

Georgia ranked relatively well in terms of LGBT equality: 23rd out of 49 European countries. 11 In
practice, however, there are few enforced protections for sexual minorities and according to NGOs,
homophobic sentiment has increased in recent years.12 This has been particularly evident is in the
movements to constitutionally define marriage as being between a man a women, which came
prominently into the spotlight leading up to the October 2016 parliamentary elections. The
discursive characteristics of these reactionary movements against growing LGBT visibility are
fraught with arguments over what it means to be Georgian.
The attackers of the Kiwi caf told the owners to leave their street and country, and this is
a good starting point for understanding how national belonging is conceptualized in spacial/physical
terms. This rhetoric assumes that dominant cultural ideology translates into whom is allowed
ownership of public space: thus the Kiwi Caf is a physical encroachment on metaphysical
territory. It seems obvious to point out that a national ideology can be conceived of in geographic
terms, but it is important on both sides of the conversation: pro-LGBT protesters, for IDAHOT
2015, used the slogan this street is taken, a similar assertion of their right to occupy physical space.
This and other demonstrations are also assertions that sexuality can and should be discussed in
public settings. Within a society that sees anything relating to sex as an intensely private matter, this
is an upsetting concept. In 2013 Georgian newspaper (Kviris Palitra) published an
open letter addressed to EU Representative Thomas Hammarberg with title translated as Respect
our Traditions!. It is a diatribe against sodomites and sinners, but also interestingly implies that
homosexual acts are, while immoral, a private choice and therefore not controllable. What is truly

11 "Georgia Ranked 23rdin Europe for LGBT Rights Legislation," Democracy & Freedom Watch, February 12,
2016, accessed October 30, 2016, http://dfwatch.net/pm-vows-to-tighten-constitutions-marriage-definition-afterelection-44845.
12 Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe. (Brussels:
ILGA Europe, 2015), accessed October 30, 2016.
http://www.ilgaeurope.org/sites/default/files/01_full_annual_review_updated.pdf.

deplorable is rather the propaganda of depravity: that is, to dare to bring up sexuality by way of
demonstrations, marches, and rallies, is to commit an act of exhibitionism.13
But the main point of this letter lies in its title. Georgian tradition is put into direct
contrast (and fundamentally incompatibility) with Western tolerance of non-normative sexualities.
The religious tone of the letter is completely unsurprising (according to 2011 data around 88% of
Georgians agree with the statement homosexuality can never be tolerated, and level of acceptance
for homosexuality was correlated negatively with level of religiosity).14 But it must be understood
that Georgia is not only an overwhelming Christian country, but also one that has a very longestablished relationship to Christianity. The history of Christianity in Georgia goes back around 17
centuries, and that history of faith is central to the religious identity of many people. Whether
Georgia has been uniformly Christian over those centuries is more a matter of belief than fact;
nevertheless, this history is a matter of great national and personal pride to the Christian
population.15 (The Godlessness of communism is especially insulting in this context. Interestingly
enough, the Kviris Palitra letter argues Georgians should not trust western discourses of sexuality
because Marxism also came to Georgia from the West. It therefore blames Western Europe for the
political failings of Eastern Europe to justify some Eastern cultural superiority.) So it is significant
that the Kviris Palitra letter emphasizes the importance of tradition as much as it emphasizes the
importance of faith itself. It allows for the assentation of a uniquely Georgian relationship to faith
that makes it distinguishable from the cultural West.

13

Respect Our Traditions!, Letter, Kviris Palitra, October 11, 2013. OthoChristian.com, accessed October 29,

2016.
14 Natia Mestvirishvili and Maia Mestvirishvili, "Emancipative Values in Georgia: An Individual Level
Analysis," Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47, no. 1 (2014): 77. Accessed November 12, 2016, doi:
0.1016/j.postcomstud.2014.01.005


15 Barbara A West, Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, Facts on File Library of World History. (New
York: Facts On File, 2009), 239.

The letter is also significant in how it argues that homophobia in Georgia is not only an issue
of religious morality. To further go beyond religion, we must first examine Georgian ideals of gender
and the family in the popular imagination, since normative modes of masculinity and femininity are
deeply intertwined with assumptions of heterosexuality. One the side of masculine national identity,
we can study the perception and propagation of romantic ethnic stereotypes. Paul Manning has
demonstrated how the meme of the macho Khevsur man (i.e., the Georgian mountain man
stereotype) is commonly used in marketing in the post-Soviet era. To convince Georgians to buy
beer, advertisers drew on this mythology to present beer as an authentically Georgian product,
much in the way that wine is perceived as an authentic Georgian product. 16 This image is, of course,
a fantasy. But it allows Georgian people, who overwhelming hold conservative views on matters like
premarital sex, to entertain the idea of an eroticized other and reveals much about perceptions of
machismo in Georgian society. In general, Khevsur stereotypes are indicative of Georgian nostalgia
for a romantic, and very distinctly Georgian past. In the late Soviet period especially, images of
Khervur women in national dress became prominent within artistic movements that emphasized
representations of traditionalism and priminivism.17 National identity is therefore closely tied to
archetypal gender representations within a paradigm of archaic ruralism.
The importance of male machismo takes on particular importance in relation to queerness
in Georgia. In 2013, following the violence of the Tbilisi protests and counter protests, Tbilisi-born
opera singer Tamar Iveri wrote an open letter to then-president Sakaashvili on her Facebook page in
which she called sexual minorities fecal masses and for which the Australian Opera subsequently
terminated her employment. It is a perfect example of the conflation of male homosexuality and

16 Paul Manning, Love Stories: Language, Private Love, and Public Romance in Georgia. (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 2015), xxi
17

Ibid., 125.

10

gender presentation that is present in popular thought. She asks: what do you want to achieve?
Instead of Irakli, George, Zurab should we, in the future, hand Tbilisi over to the guys with Louis
Vuitton bags? Dolce&Gabana shoes? Christian Audigier shirts? Nail-polished Ikakos, Gikakos and
Zukakos with LOreal gel-styled hair?18 Iveris letter is therefore notable not only because it relies
on caricatural images of effeminate homosexual men, but because of how it frames feminization as
threat to the public integrity. When she equates homosexuality with stereotypes of femininity, she is
also suggesting the emasculation of Georgia as a political entity. And as with the Kviris Palitra letter,
she also characterizes legal recognition and rights for sexual minorities as something that is forced
on Georgia from the West, even taking the masculine imagery as far as personifying the nation of
Georgia as the victim of homosexual rape.
The way that gender is sexualized in heteronormative ways should be examined from the
feminine perspective as well. While the idea of a nation as masculine is true in the context of the
public sphere, womens roles are just as important in the private sphere. Pro-family rhetoric that is
used euphemistically to decry homosexuality is effective because of the cultural importance of
family, and therefore motherhood, as the basis for a functional state. Currently, Georgia retains a
reputation for patriarchal culture and for a virginity institute that places marriage as the foremost
goal for women to aspire to (however, it should be noted that along with attitudes towards
homosexuality, attitudes towards gender roles have liberalized among some groups, notably younger,
less strictly religious Georgians).19 The cult of motherhood that exists in this part of the world
should be placed in historical context: in the former Soviet Union, prescription of womens roles as
nurturing and motherly is in part a reaction against the rhetoric of working women and gender

Tamar Iveri, Letter of Ms. Iveri to the president of Georgia, trans. Identoba (May 18, 2013), accessed
October 29, 2016, https://identoba.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/letter-of-ms-iveri-to-president-ofgeorgia_english.pdf.
18

Giorgi Lomsadze, The Virginity Institute: Sex and the Georgian Woman, EurasiaNet, May 12, 2010,
Accessed October 25, 2016. http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61048.
19

11

equality enforced under socialism.20 The over-emancipation of the Soviet woman was connected
to defeminization of women and effeminization of men. Practically speaking, the privatization of
education, health, etc., after communism fell more heavily upon womens shoulders, as they
struggled to return to these caregiving roles while retaining employment. In Georgia, the number of
economically active/employed women fell by hundreds of thousands from the late Soviet period to
the Sakaashvili era.21 Female-specific discourses of queerness are rare in Georgia, but in general
women who do not take a husband or raise children for any reason face social stigma.
Homophobic rhetoric that takes the form of pro-family values also holds a certain
practical, demographic significance in post-Soviet contexts. It is therefore less purely euphemistic in
the sense that influential Georgians (including the Patriarch) consistently promote the idea of the
nuclear family as a reproductive unit on economic as well as moral grounds. The resurgence in this
rhetoric has been fueled in part by Georgias demographic crisis. Low birth rates and emigration due
to unemployment have led to a shrinking population, and nontraditional sexual relationships are
seen as yet another threat to the population. (One talk at the 2016 World Conference of Families
was on the demographic winter in the former USSR, which is generally experiencing a significant
decline in population. The far right traces this decline to factors including homosexuality and birth
control.22) So part of the reason why non-normative sexualities are uncomfortable to Georgians is
that they represent a shift from seeing marriage and sex as an element of social and religious duty to
one of personal preference. As the Kviris Palitra letter asserts: Our society is built not upon mans

20 Gillian Pascall and Nick Manning, Gender and social policy: comparing welfare states in Central and
Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Journal of European Policy 10, no. 3 (2000): 217, accessed November 10,
2016, http://esp.sagepub.com/content/10/3/240.full.pdf+html.
21 Nino Kharistvalashvili, Womens Role in Developing Economies: Case of Georgia, European Journal of
Sustainable Development 5, no. 1 (2016): 49, accessed November 12, 2016, doi: 10.14207/ejsd.2016.v5n1p47


22 "Hate Group World Congress of Families Co-Sponsors Conference in Nairobi," Southern Poverty Law
Center, September 22, 2016, accessed November 18, 2016, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/09/22/hategroup-world-congress-families-co-sponsors-conference-nairobi.

12

rights, but upon his responsibility.23 The collective good of the nation, however that is defined, is
privileged over the autonomy of the individual. This is indicative of a culture where dating is not
so universal a practice and, as Tbilisi State University gender studies professor Nino Javakhishvili
puts it, there is a difference between someone you are really attracted to and someone you want to
grow old with.24
And it should be noted that the nation is not defined in an ethnically inclusive way. The
translators of the Kviris Palitra letter, administrators of an Orthodox Christian website, emphasize
that the letters cosigners include people of various faiths and ethnicities, and that multicultural
tolerance is a cornerstone of Georgian culture. And that may be true on some levelaccording to
2015 Caucasus Barometer data, the majority of Georgian approve of doing business with Ossetians,
Kurds, Jews, Armenians, Iranians, etc. Yet the majority of people do not approve of Georgian
women marrying members of these populations (Russians and Ukrainians were the only other nonGeorgian group deemed acceptable by most survey respondents).25 Thus attitudes towards
multiculturalism clearly take on a very different form within the private context of marriage, family,
and sexuality, than they do within the public sphere. In its most extreme, the fact that the number of
ethnically Georgian people within Georgia is decreasing is a question of the life or death of our
nation.26 That the Kviris Palita letter bothers to bring this ethnic decline up at all in a piece of
literature on sexuality draws parallels between sexual and ethnic minorities as a threat to the
Georgian family and therefore to the future of the Georgian nation. So while this rhetoric may seem
dramatic (indeed, I am intentionally analyzing some of the most polarized voices in this debate), it

23

Respect our Traditions!

24

Lomsadze, The Virginity Institute.

25 "Caucasus Barometer 2015 Georgia Dataset," Caucasus Research Resource Centers (2015), accessed
November 10, 2016, retrieved through ODA- http://caucasusbarometer.org/en/cb2015ge/codebook/.
26

Respect Our Traditions!

13

must be understood that the appeals it is making are to commonly held beliefs. Fully half of
Georgians surveyed in Tbilisi do not believe members of sexual minorities have the right to be
Georgian citizens.27 So while those actively instigating violence against queer Georgians are
something of an anomaly, the basic assumptions of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality that inform
perceptions of Georgian-ness run very deep.
IV. Nationalism and Sexuality in Romania
The legal and political landscape of equality for sexual minorities in Romania is, like in
Georgia, ambivalent. While homosexual acts have only been legal since 2002, Romanias policies
towards sexual minorities needed to be deemed acceptable by the European Commission in order to
be admitted to the EU and thus there are some legal protections. The laws remain conservative
when it comes to issues like marriage. However, it is easy to see Romania as relatively liberal in terms
of social tolerance of alternative forms of sexuality. In this case, the situation is very different than
the one across the Black Sea: the sexual minority community enjoys much greater visibility, with
pride events in Bucharest (initially known as Gay Fest; now called Bucharest Pride) held annually
since 2004. Indeed, Pictures of rainbow-themed parades that come out of Bucharest evoke the
atmosphere of pride events held across North America and Western Europe. This is not by
coincidence: the organization of public events aimed as asserting visibility and identity of sexual
minorities in Romania has largely been orchestrated and funded by Western NGOs.
These images should not disguise the unique cultural and political context that distinguishes
discussions of sexuality in Romania from the West: like Georgia, Romania is a deeply Orthodox
country that continues to memorialize and react to its Soviet history. Orthodoxy never came close to
dying in Soviet Romania; the Church and state were strange bedfellows particularly under Ceausescu.

27 Natia Gvianishvili, The privilege of coming out, TED video, 16:07, filmed June 2015, posted September
2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9fqDKoxBro.

14

The Romanian Orthodox Church was used as a tool of nationalism when Romania tried to distance
itself from Moscow and the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but was under tight political control.28 After
the fall of communism, participation in religion (e.g, church attendance) saw a comparatively larger
resurgence in Romania than other former Soviet states.29 Sex and sexuality also became increasingly
private subjects after the fall of Ceausescu and his intensely invasive public policies on
reproduction.30 These reclamations of unrestricted religious faith and of a privatized view of sex in
the Post-Communist world have made the concept of public discourse on LGBT rights and
politics distinctly uncomfortable to most Romanians. This has led to a somewhat ironic situation in
which a number of Romaniansand not only the most conservativeare once again in favor of
legally regulating matters of sexuality and family life, as evidenced by changes to the Romanian Civil
Code in 2010 that explicitly defined marriage as between a man and women.
It is therefore apparent that a widespread opposition to sexual minorities exists, with the
most vocally homophobic groups including the Church or nationalist political organizations.31 It
should not come as a surprise that it was the far-right Greater Romania Party that initially pushed
for changing the Civil Code in 2008, with great parliamentary support. Like in Georgia, issues like
marriage equality are where many conservatives draw the line at Europeanization, with queer
issues still characterized in geopolitical terms as inherently foreign. The intersections of nationalism
and religion are clearly defined in the way that such issues have created a dichotomy of antichurch with pro-European. Indeed, it is difficult to separate nationalism from religion in

28

Tarta, European Culture Wars, 35.

29

Ibid., 33.

30 Shannon Woodcock, A Short History of the Queer Time of Post Socialist Romania, or Are We There Yet?
Lets ask Madonna! in De-Centering Western Sexualities: Central and Eastern European Perspectives, ed. Robert Kulpa and
Joanna Mizielinska (New York: Routledge, 2011), 73, accessed November 8, 2016, ProQuest ebrary.

31

Denise Roman, Fragmented Identities: Popular Culture, Sex, and Everyday Life in Postcommunist Romania, (Lanham:
Lexington Books, 2003), 127.

15

Romanian context, since the Church is not a politically neutral entity but one that has inserted itself
as the arbiter of national identity after the fall of communism, promoting the concept of the nation
as represented by the Orthodox Church based on the assumption of common roots, religion and
tradition.32 Sexual deviancy therefore not only connotes a betrayal of Christen morality, but of a
nation monolithically characterized by that definition of morality. Every year, Bucharest Pride events
have seen counterdemonstrations and marches from conservative groups, including the Noua
Dreapta (New Right). While the first Gay Fest events were characterized under the banner of
diversity celebrations, the rhetorical response of the New Right has been normality.33 They have
run slogans that not only behoove sexual minorities to respect divine law, but also frame them as
a disease to society, and assert, Romania is not Sodom.34 Again, these groups employ rhetoric
that emphasizes the intersection of religious and social identity: non-hetero sexuality is characterized
as not only a personal moral detriment, but a threat to the dominant norms of a society as it exists
within certain geopolitical boundaries. A threat to normality is a threat to a host of intersecting
normative Romanian identities: ethnically Romanian, Orthodox Christian, heterosexual.
I have focused thus far on the way that national identity has been invoked in the reaction
against rights for sexual minorities. However, the distinctly more visible and established LGBT
community that exists in Romania as compared to Georgia presents the opportunity to discuss the
importance of national identity within those communities. In the study of Georgian MSM I discussed
in the introduction, researchers there noted how a subject described himself as an everyday man.
He saw relationships with other men not as indicative inherently othering identity, but simply a facet

32

Voichita Nachescu, Hierarchies of Difference: National Identity, Gay and Lesbian Rights, and the Church
in Postcommunist Romania, in Sexuality and Gender in Postcommunist Eastern Europe and Russia, ed. Aleksandar tulhofer
and Theo Sandfort, (Binghamton: The Hayworth Press, 2005), 71.


33 Ariana Bancu, "Redefining Identity: A Case Study of the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT)
Community in Romania," In Language under Controls: Policies and Practices Affecting Freedom of Speech (East Rockaway, NY:
Cummings & Hathaway, 2012), 67.
34

Ibid.

16

of his personal behavior. Shannon Woodcock has also focused on the idea of everyday people in
Romanian sexual minority groups. Her example is a Romanian gay man suggesting that LGBT
people wear normal clothes as to not be taken for transvestites.35 This is the rhetoric of
respectability politics, which asserts that that oppressed group is not so different from, and belongs
with, the dominant group. That appeal to common belonging rests on some kind of shared ideology:
in this case, the taboo of breaking the gender binary or being flamboyant/feminine in appearance.
The basic assumptions of a unified national culture and society are not challenged: respectability
rhetoric appeals to, but does not seek to redefine, the basis of what is considered normal. The
discourse of normality is therefore not limited to homophobic voices. Here, it also manifests as an
argument against trans-identifying individuals or those within the queer community that more
blatantly reject dominant gender paradigms. These attitudes create damaging hierarchies of social
acceptance within queer communities, but I would point out that they are not unsurprising within a
culture that is not overly inclined to see sexuality as something defined by identity categories.
Another facet of this is the conflation of ethnic and national identity, and thus ways in which
ethnic minorities have been excluded from dialogues on sexual rights. Like transgender people, they
are victims of nationalistic respectability politics but on racialized grounds: non-Orthodox ethnic
Romanians, or, for that matter, members of other ethnicities fail to comply with the requisite
standard of Romanianness.36 Notably, participants in Gay Fest/Pricde have tended to be middle
class and white, with little to no representation of ethnic minorities including Roma communities.
Some gay-identifying activists have explicitly rejected comparisons between the sexual and ethnic
oppression, and argued that sexual minorities are more deserving of respect than Romani peoples.37

35

Woodcock, A Short History of the Queer Time of Post Socialist Romania, 79.

36

Nachescu, Hierarchies of Difference, 67.

37

Woodcock, A Short History of the Queer Time of Post Socialist Romania, 69.

17

In short, the assertion that LGBT people are normal has historically been based in part on an
assumption of common ethnic foundation. And yet, it is probably a mistake to view the Romanian
LGBT rights movements as inherently distanced from racial and ethnic diversity. ACCEPT
Romania, an NGO whose members were directly involved in efforts to decriminalize homosexuality
in the early 2000s, promoted the idea of the Romanianness of sexual minorities by affirming their
status as legal citizens of the nation, rather than as members of an essentialist, ethnically unified
national population as the Church tends to promote.38 Thus the queer community has also been an
advocate for redefining nationality in a way that is more open to multiculturalism.
Ethnicity also interacts with sexuality is various ways. Like the men of Khevsureti, Roma in
the popular Romania imagination are a population that is often stereotyped in ways that reflect
various taboos vs. acceptable notions of sex and sexuality. It is a group to which alternative modes
of sexuality can be projected without requiring personal moral compromise. See, for example, the
sensual emphasis on the female body in visual representations of Roma people in Romanian and
European art (Grigorescus iganca de la Ghergani, for instance). Yet due to various double standards
that inform acceptable male vs. female sexuality, such as tropes that paint sexual women as
dangerous seductresses, the idea of a Roma woman as a sexual being makes her much less socially
acceptable than a macho, romantic mountain hero figure who possesses sexual agency. As the flip
side of the eroticized Gypsy women of popular imagination, the archetypical Romanian peasant
woman remains a representation of chaste, morally ideal femininity. The Romanian peasant woman
is domestic, submissive to both men and her country.39 Ariana Bancu notes that people at the
routine anti-LGBT marches that accompany Bucharest pride every year, protesters tend to wear

38


39

Nachescu, Hierarchies of Difference, 74.


Roman, Fragmented Identities, 97.

18

conservative dress, including women dressing in ways to evoke images of Romanian peasant women
(though it is whether or not this is done specifically for such demonstrations in unclear).40
There has been much scholarship on the ideal Christian women as an emulation of Mary,
and as such a paradoxical expectation of both virginity and motherhood. In either case, female
sexuality is not conceived of in terms of attraction or sexual pleasure. But this should be taken in
context that is broader than faith: in Romania as in Georgia, ideal femininity is connected to a brand
of ruralism that is colored by nostalgia for pre-communist patriarchal social structures. This is
intimately connected to the pro-family rhetoric that I have discussed and that is popular in
Georgia, but the cult of motherhood in Romanian culture is a particularly tricky issue because of the
memory of communist pro-natalist policy. Abortion is legal in both countries, but while in Georgia
pro-lifers tend to see abortion rights as a leftover of godless communism, Romanians right to
choose abortion is valued precisely because it was not allowed under Ceausescus regime. Not all
Romanians value choice, howeverthe Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, and New Right have all
engaged in pro-life campaigns founded on fears of a decreasing population. While these campaigns
have used the typical anti-abortion rhetoric of fetal murder and genocide (though the latter is
certainly not without nationalistic overtones, given fears over the demographic winter and
shrinking ethnic majorities) they also have taken very overtly nationalistic forms. The Orthodox
Church has invoked these ideas of proper femininity, calling abortion the maiming of Romanian
womanhood, while the New Right has picketed abortion clinics under the slogan: abortion, a
crime against the Romanian nation.41
Within the LGBT community, these various gender norms have caused issues in the
visibility of queer men vs. queer women. The rhetoric of LGBT rights in Romania has excluded

40

Bancu, "Redefining Identity,"68.

41

Tarta, European Culture Wars, 44.

19

women to some degree, because of the cultural context of a patriarchal society and thus similar
issues of normality and respectability politics.42 The popular use of the word homosexual to
describe queer men, as well as an umbrella term for both queer men and women, tends to paint
sexuality as a masculine problem (we might liken it to the use of gay as an umbrella term in the
United States).43 And like Georgias virginity institute, there is little recognition of female sexuality
beyond reproduction within marriage. (On the other side, the discursive characterization of men
attracted to other men as sodomists is not so easily applied to women, so homophobic rhetoric
rarely targets women specifically.) With feminism perceived as a relic of communism or a Western
import, female voices in queer discourses are often silenced. Queer women who advocate for gender
equality within the LGBT community risk alienating themselves from that community by being
accused of feminism, while women who claim themselves as feminist risk being accused of
lesbianism. Thus so-called lesbian feminism therefore faces patriarchal structures in both the
dominant culture and sexual minority communities.44 Denise Roman phrases the intersection of
gender and queerness such: No matter how marginal a national (e.g. Hungarian, Roma, or Jewish)
or cultural (e.g., sexual preference) minority, womens claims as relations of power still remain
peripheral within that very minority, mainly because the leadership is generally male45 Overall,
nationalistic ideals create a lack of what American scholars might call intersectionality within the
LGBT community in Romania, where light-skinned gay men are seen as more representative of that
community than women, ethnic minorities, trans-identifying persons, etc.

42 Mona Nicoara, "Silenced and Silent: Lesbians in Romania," Canadian Woman Studies 16, no. 1 (Winter, 1995),
accessed November 12, 2016. http://search.proquest.com/docview/217458709?accountid=14784.
43

Nachescu, Hierarchies of Difference, 70.

44

Roman, Fragmented Identities, 110.


45

Ibid., 109.

20

V. Conclusions
The future of religiosity, nationalism, and status of sexual minorities remains contentious. As
younger generations that are less politically and religiously conservative come of age, there is
potential for substantial shifts in social attitudes towards non-normative sexualities. But with
nationalist, populist, and conservative religious movements gaining in momentum all over Eurasia
and North America, from the U.S.A. to France to Russia, it is hard to say whether stances on sexual
minorities will liberalize. It is not a coincidence that nationalist political parties are those most likely
to endorse homophobic policy and speech. As I have tried to point out, it is not simply scripture but
a complex interaction of theology with religious, national, ethnic, and cultural identity that lurks
behind such speech. These interactions are also critical in understanding how members of sexual
minority groups contextualize their own identities and struggles for social acceptance.
I mentioned in the introduction the importance of not imposing the identity politics of
Western queer theory on Eastern European culture. The reasons for doing so are hopefully now
clear: sexuality in these contexts is not always conceived of in terms of identity categories based on
the concept of attraction. This is important on two levels: first, it allows members of sexual
minorities to ally themselves with the dominant culture, and therefore to estrange themselves from
identity categories that are seen as inherently other, i.e., a betrayal of national traditions by way of
Western philosophy. It also allows conservative voices to frame the issue not as one of human
rights, but of conscious acts that threaten the strength of their countrys traditional faith, gender, and
family structures. At the same time, I must acknowledge that that are many people who identify as a
label contained the LGBT acronym, and their identities must not be erased. In an ironic way, it is
these people who are most actively spurring conservative reactions against the LGBT movement by
making that movement more visible and more perceivedly Western in appearance. For instance, the
movements to constitutionally define marriage as heterosexual are of a distinctly modern character;

21

few would have thought marriage could be anything else until rights activism put it is the spotlight.
(The rhetorical purpose of such movements should not be glossed over: constitutional changes are
not purely issues of law, but of symbolic gesture. Both countries civil codes already define marriage
as between one man and one woman, and a constitutional amendment is not necessary to enforce
these laws. The cultural pedigree of the constitution as a legal and moral arbiter of a nation means
that this is as much about asserting social hegemony as it is the substance of the law.) Such is the
paradox of LGBT rights activism in this part of the world.
The differences in general attitudes towards queerness between Romania (relative
ambivalence) and Georgia (frequent violent opposition) are difficult to account for. It is doubtful
that different levels of religiosity can account for it, so perhaps differing geopolitics and views on
what westernization means can help explain part of the gap. As Mihai Tarta suggests, the
conservative appeal to Romanian Christian heritage and the idea of non-normative sexuality as a
threat to the nation has largely failed to resonate with the majority of citizens. As an EU country that
combines Romance language and Orthodox faith, the ideological boundaries between East and West
are less well defined. On the other side, Giorgi Gogia of Human Rights Watch attributes part of the
growing resentment to queer populations in Georgia to Russian influence.46 And yet, Georgia is not
a nation that exists in opposition to Europe, the EU, or supposedly Western values. The rhetoric I
have discussed is often totalizing in nature as it draws on archetypal representations of nationality.
But it should not be taken as evidence that the actual populations it attempts to appeal to are
monolithic in nature, or the West is equally monolithic in the eyes of those populations. Ultimately,
sexuality is a mode of personal understanding, not a representation of ideology. So perhaps the last
point I should emphasize is this: behind all the broad rhetoric, there are infinite personal stories and
perspectives. There is, above all else, humanityin all its diversity, complexity, and nuance.

46

Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People in Europe.

22

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