CHISINAU -- Buoyed by recent successes in combating intolerance and discrimination, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists in Moldova have launched their 12th annual weeklong "Rainbow Over The Dniester" festival.
Festival organizer Anastasia Danilova, an activist with the Gender Doc information center, told a Chisinau press conference on May 14 that the festival is opening at a time of unprecedented tolerance in the conservative and predominantly Orthodox Christian country.
"We see that today Moldovan society is becoming more and more tolerant because people have more access to information, and access to information makes people more tolerant," Danilova said.
There is a palpable sense that the times are changing in Moldova. Earlier this year, the government adopted a progressive antidiscrimination law under the strong encouragement of the European Union and the United States. That measure was passed over the strong opposition of both the Communist Party and the Moldovan Orthodox Church.
Also, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last year ruled that a government ban on a gay march in 2005 was illegal and ordered the government to pay Gender Doc 11,000 euros ($14,180).
LGBT activists held something of a test march on Valentine’s Day, with a small group walking through the center of the capital with a police escort. There were no incidents reported.
That is a stark contrast from an attempt to hold a march in 2008, which was aborted after bystanders pelted the demonstrators with rocks as police looked on passively.
Danilova said a lot has changed in Moldova in the five years since then.
"We have noticed that the younger generation, the new generation, is more and more tolerant," she said. "And we aren't talking about gays and lesbians. We are talking about heterosexual youths, those who come to our seminars on sexual orientation and gender identity -- they are already completely different from the ones who came just five years ago."
'For Traditional Values'
Moldova’s festival is timed to coincide with the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.
"Rainbow Over The Dniester" this year features a full slate of programs from the offbeat to the educational -- everything from seminars on promoting tolerance and a moment of silence for victims of repression to an arm wrestling competition for women and a "safe-sex promotion party."
But it culminates on May 19 with a march in Chisinau with the provocative title "LGBTs for Traditional Values." Danilova said the event would be nothing like a stereotypical gay-pride event, seeking instead to convey a sense of the LGBT community’s normalcy.
"We want to conduct a march in which people will participate dressed in normal clothes, carrying signs and banners, and march through the center of the city," Danilova said. "That is, we have no intention of creating some sort of musical parade of the Carnival type or anything like a Brazilian festival."
Still A Minority
Even these limited ambitions, though, have provoked anger and anonymous threats of violence. Bishop Marchel, a priest from the conservative northern city of Balti, on May 14 called for believers to hold a counterdemonstration.
"I invite and encourage all priests and Christian believers to avoid remaining indifferent to these [LGBT] plans and to all that could harm common sense and proper behavior," Marchel said. "Come together to downtown Chisinau on that day, May 19, to resist them through prayer and through your very presence."
Organizers say they hope that some 50 people will take part in the march and have hinted that some Western ambassadors and "one member of the European Parliament" will participate.
They are keeping the exact route secret as a precaution to try to avoid confrontations.
Nonetheless, organizers insist that the social momentum is on their side. Danilova said she believes that as the LGBT community becomes more visible, more homosexuals and transgenders will come out publicly, creating a climate of more tolerance.
"Definitely, all of us have among our friends and families gays and lesbians," Danilova said. "It is just that we don't think about this and we don't know about it. If one day all the gays and lesbians came out together, then I think we would no longer even talk about any kind of intolerance."
RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson and RFE/RL Moldovan Service correspondent Mircea Ticudean contributed to this report from Prague