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Poll Finds LGBT People Still Not Welcome In Moldova

LGBT activists march at a solidarity march in Chisinau in May 2019.
LGBT activists march at a solidarity march in Chisinau in May 2019.

Ten years after passing landmark legislation to protect minorities, including the much-persecuted LGBT community, a recent survey has revealed that most people in Moldova still hold negative attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

A national survey in the small, impoverished Eastern European country of some 2.6 million people found that 64 percent of respondents would "exclude" LGBT people from Moldova.

The results from the survey on perceptions and attitudes toward equality were unveiled at a meeting of the country's Equality Council in Chisinau on June 9.

Public acceptance of LGBT people in Moldova ranked just above other marginalized groups, including HIV-positive people, Roma, those with disabilities, and religious minorities.

In 2022, advocacy group ILGA-Europe ranked Moldova 37th out of 49 European countries on its respect for LGBT rights.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu, elected in November 2020, has chartered a pro-Western course, promising democratic reforms. In March, Sandu signed a formal application for her country to join the EU, a campaign hastened by Russia's invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

The landmark Law on Ensuring Equal Opportunities was passed in May 2012 despite much opposition from conservatives and those associated with the Orthodox Church in Moldova, which has long been against an expansion of rights for LGBT people.

At the time, Moldovan lawmakers with more tolerant and pro-European views were able to secure the needed votes, explaining, in large part, that the legislation did not only protect LGBT people but that its adoption was a prerequisite for the EU instituting a visa-waiver program for Moldova, something that occurred two years later, after the law was passed.

However, not only does the survey suggest much work still needs to be done, but that attitudes toward the LGBT community in Moldova may actually be getting worse.

Police provide security as LGBT activist march in Chisinau in May 2019.
Police provide security as LGBT activist march in Chisinau in May 2019.

Similar research conducted in Moldova in 2018 found public perceptions of the LGBT community were more positive then, explains Doru Petruti, the head of IMAS, the Moldovan-based research firm that carried out the survey.

The nationwide results were a bit of a shock to LGBT activists in Moldova, who recently presented polling data conducted in the capital that suggested rising acceptance of LGBT people. That survey found that the percentage of people who do not feel comfortable in the presence of LGBT people had decreased to 36 percent. In 2019, that figure was 54 percent.

Those results had raised spirits among LGBT activists ahead of the Pride march in Chisinau, scheduled for June 19, the first such demonstration in two years due to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the planned Pride march has already stirred much controversy and opposition among conservative circles in Moldova.

The Russian Orthodox Church in Moldova, the largest faith community in the country, urged authorities in March to block the march and other LGBT-linked events planned between June 16 and 19, claiming the LGBT community had no support in Moldova and only received backing from "agents abroad."

Ion Ceban, the mayor of Chisinau and a member of the pro-Russian Socialist Party, has also spoken out against the march. Writing on his Facebook page, Ceban told the LGBT community, "Do what you want at home, not in public."

Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban (file photo)
Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban (file photo)

The post was later taken down by Facebook for inciting hatred. But such inflammatory speech in Moldova directed at the LGBT community seems more the rule than the exception, explains Yan Feldman, chairman of the Equality Council.

According to Feldman, 2021, an election year, was marked by much hate speech, thanks to all the preelection campaigning, although 2022 has been marked by several homophobic verbal attacks by politicians as well.

In April, after years of languishing in parliament, the legislature finally passed a bill to punish hate speech. Activists say it was finally adopted mainly because Moldova is eager to fulfill conditions in an EU questionnaire it received shortly after applying for membership, as a first step toward gaining candidate-country status.

The mixed results in Moldova come amid what experts say was a slide in LGBT rights across Europe, especially in former communist states. From physical attacks to online abuse and legislative setbacks, the LBGT community in Central and Eastern Europe had little to cheer about in 2021.

Populist governments in Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere were able to exploit frustrations and fears, some stoked by church leaders, some by the grinding COVID-19 pandemic, to push through anti-LGBT legislation.

However, ILGA-Europe notes it may be unfair to paint Eastern and Central Europe with a broad brush.

In 2021, there was "positive legislative movement in Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia, countering the narrative that there is an East/West divide on LGBTI rights in Europe."

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