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While Problems Remain, Moldova Makes Big Gains On LGBT Rights

Police escort participants during the LGBT Pride march in Chisinau in June 2022.
Police escort participants during the LGBT Pride march in Chisinau in June 2022.

A "rainbow map and index" ranking protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across Europe has credited Moldova with making the most progress to improve legal standards over the past year.

But while activists acknowledge some headway in the heavily Orthodox country, they say that the gains highlighted by a new ILGA-Europe report don't automatically translate into increased tolerance and that elected officials' political will remains a "key variable."

One of Moldova's most prominent LGBT-rights activists, GenderDoc-M information center director Angela Frolov, who contributed to the study by ILGA-Europe, the regional section of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex (LGBTI) Association, said she was pleased by the "leap." But she said the improvement merely "means we have a framework" for ongoing efforts at protection.

"We're talking exclusively about a legal basis, and not about society, not about the level of tolerance or intolerance in the society of the Republic of Moldova or any other country," Frolov told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service.

Moldova climbed further year-on-year than any of the 48 other countries evaluated in the study, which was published on May 11. But at 23rd, it is still far from the top of the table, which is led by Malta, followed by Belgium and Denmark

Its score of 39 percent on protections for the LGBT community put it above all other postcommunist countries outside the former Yugoslavia but below long-standing EU members except Italy. It is well above all former Soviet republics, including all three Baltic states.

Broadly speaking, the accompanying report cites a rise in hate speech in many places and calls education "a growing battleground" in resistance to LGBT rights and broader acceptance in European and Central Asian societies.

ILGA-Europe says its rankings are a gauge of "how laws and policies...impact the lives of LGBTI people" in each country. In Moldova, it cites "rising hate speech" targeting trans and other LGBTI people "by politicians and religious leaders."

But ILGA-Europe also argues that "public acceptance has increased" for LGBT people in Moldova.

It cites a poll commissioned by GenderDoc-M that showed a significant rise in the capital in "positive or neutral" attitudes toward LGBT people to around 55 percent, from 33 percent three years earlier.

However, a national survey on perceptions and attitudes toward equality presented to Moldova's Equality Council in June 2022 found that 64 percent of respondents would "exclude" LGBT people from the country.

And a widely cited sociological study funded in part by Switzerland and Sweden and published in January concluded that LGBT people were the most marginalized minority group in Moldova.

ILGA-Europe Advocacy Director Katrin Hugendubel stressed that attitudes of elected officials are crucial in the battle for broader social acceptance. "While there may be a correlation between greater social acceptance and progressive legislation, there is a key variable in that equation: political will," Hugendubel told RFE/RL. "Positive change happening in places where political representatives are willing to do the work they must do to protect LGBTI people."

Moldova passed a landmark Law on Ensuring Equal Opportunities in May 2012 despite opposition from conservatives and those associated with the Orthodox Church in Moldova, in part by playing down LGBT protections and playing up its necessity to get Moldovans an EU visa waiver.

Several times in the subsequent decade, Moldova's pro-Russian Communists and Socialists have sought to pass laws targeting homosexual "propaganda."

Setbacks followed, like the seemingly hushed passage in 2013 of a Russian-style ban on "public information" propagating "other [intimate] relations than those related to marriage or family."

The 2012 law on equal opportunities was amended by a pro-Western governing majority in 2022 with more explicit protections for LGBT people, alongside new measures against hate crimes and hate speech that contributed to the rise in the ILGA-Europe rankings.

The new ILGA-Europe report includes criticism of Moldova's opposition last year to a PACE resolution condemning violence against LGBT people, and anti-LGBT statements by Chisinau's mayor and other elected officials, as well as prominent religious leaders.

Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban suggested in June 2022 that public sites were no place for Pride marches. "Do what you like at home, not in public," he said amid mounting opposition from local officials to allowing the annual event there.

The metropolitan of Chisinau and all Moldova, Vladimir, urged the authorities to ban the Pride march. In November 2022, a bishop in Balti, Moldova's second-largest city, called the LGBT community "perverts."

Moldova was granted EU candidate status in June 2022, after accelerating its application following Russia's unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine four months earlier.

Hugendubel cites those EU aspirations as an incentive to protect vulnerable populations, adding that "If the credibility of the process is put into question, the backlash on human rights is a real danger."

The countries that fared worst in the ILGA-Europe rankings are familiar laggards on LGBT rights. Azerbaijan is in 49th place just behind Armenia (47) and Turkey (48).

Written by Andy Heil based on reporting by Mircea Ticudean

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