Coming out to conservative Gagauz society

Born and raised in Kopchak, a village of almost 10,000 people in the southern region of Moldova, Gagauzia, Andrey Kolioglo came out as gay in 2018. Four years later, he was granted asylum in France due to the danger he faced at home.

“Hello. I’M GAY!…Yes I love boys and always have. God made me like this, there’s nothing we can do about it,” he wrote. on March 11, 2018 at a publication on VKontakte, a social media and messaging platform widely used in Russia and by Russian speakers. “[I came out] maybe because my life has been poisoned by your homophobia, maybe because I wouldn’t want that kind of [fearful] life to another guy… Please don’t treat other gay people as badly as you treated me.

Insults and threats poured in, warning that there was no place in the world for people like him. Not all of the responses were negative – “the messages of support comforted me and gave me hope”, he said – but the harassment even extended to Kolioglo’s family . Friends and relatives broke off relations with her parents, who eventually moved to another village.

“They suffered the same abuse [there]if not worse, Kolioglo continued. “Finding work has become difficult; my father was also attacked, even though he is a veteran of Afghanistan. My sister had a nervous breakdown after being fired because of me; she also decided to leave Moldova. Despite the social pressure, I have a good relationship with my parents, we communicate regularly, I help them as best I can.

Moldovan society is conservative. In 2012, the government approved an anti-discrimination law that protects people from discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation, but positive attitudes towards the LGBTI community remain weak.

The harassment a young conscript faced when his sexual orientation was discovered sets off debate in society and in political circles as he did suicide of a transgender teenager who had been bullied by classmates.

As the country of 2.6 million moves closer to the EU, however, acceptance is slowly growing. In June 2022, Moldova tenuous its biggest Pride march ever, with a heavy police presence but despite threats and misinformation from conservative groups. The turnout sent a rare signal of support to the LGBTI community.

In Gagauzia, the atmosphere is different. Comrat, the administrative center of 20,000 people, lies about 100 kilometers south of the capital Chisinau, but the cultural gap between the towns seems enormous.

“Our people will not accept these anti-Christian values.”

Sergey, a gay man in his 30s who asked to remain anonymous, said he dared not come out for fear of backlash, including against his family.

“I am sure that after coming out in Gagauzia, I will lose equal access to many things, including non-discriminatory protection from local law enforcement,” he told the IWPR.

“To live, dissatisfied, a life with a constant feeling of fear; that’s what you have to get used to here if you’re gay.

In May 2022, the assembly adopted a resolution banning LGBTIQ “non-traditional relationship propaganda”. The new bill states that the “traditional family” is the basis of Gagauz society, prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional relationships” and prohibits local media from publishing anything positive about same-sex couples.

“We realized that the central authorities of Moldova would try to organize an LGBT march in the autonomous region, so we took this decision to ban such marches [here]said Ivan Dimitroglo, a deputy in the assembly of Gagauzia, told IWPR.

No Pride marches were planned in Gagauzia, activists noted.

“They referred to the events planned in Chisinau. It looks like propaganda and manipulation,” Angelika Frolova, an activist with GenderDoc-M, an LGBTI community advocacy center, told IWPR.

As the Gagauzia resolution was contrary to the constitution of Moldova, it was taken to court by the Coalition for Inclusion and Non-Discrimination, a grouping of human rights organizations across the Moldova.

“It has no legal value, it is simply declarative, so it will not bring any changes. Gagauzia cannot have laws that contradict the constitution of Moldova,” Frolova noted. has not been returned.

The bill mirrors similar ones passed in the Russian Federation, with which the region has close ties. The lack of job opportunities many Gagauz migrate to Russia and three buses connect Comrat to Moscow. Russian is by far the most spoken language.

“Homophobia is deeply rooted in Russia’s authoritarian regime, which has used it successfully in the territories it influences, including parts of Moldova,” Kolioglo said. “People in Gagauzia are struggling and going back to the survival mechanism, rejecting all that is different and encouraging homogeneity. In other words, “anyone who is not like me is a traitor”.

Kolioglo decided to leave Moldova following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I feared that Russia would commit acts of aggression against Moldova and I was afraid of the growing aggressive pro-war and xenophobic sentiments in Gagauzia and Transnistria. [Moldova’s breakaway region supported by Moscow]artificially created by the Russian propaganda machine,” he said.

The Gagauz authorities maintain that the resolution does not violate the constitutional right of assembly.

“We don’t forbid talking about it [LGBTI], what we prohibit is that they must not be seen. Our people will not accept these anti-Christian values,” Dimitroglo told IWPR.

In June, GenderDoc-M reward regional elected officials with the Plastic Basin, a fake symbolic trophy awarded each year to the most homophobic individuals and organizations.

Observers argue that the LGBTI issue is manipulated to divert public attention from issues affecting the region, including poverty and unemployment.

Frolova stressed that such an approach does not bring any benefits.

“Countries hostile to their citizens are doomed to poverty and underdevelopment,” she said. “Changing this country and making it a place where everyone feels happy and safe must be our common aspiration; otherwise we will continue to lose people and hope for the future,” Frolova continued, referring to Moldova’s high migration rate.

Although Andrey and Sergey are not optimistic about the short-term changes in Gagauzia, they believe it is important to keep fighting.

The pride march was an important statement of the community’s search for rights and freedom, Sergey said, adding: “We want to be heard, we want to show that we are members of our society and not outcasts or sick people. , as politicians sometimes call us.”

In Paris, Kolioglo is safe, but has not given up on advocacy for his community.

“When I say I’m gay, I’m standing up for my civil rights, I’m making a political statement,” he said. “Discrimination remains a daily food, it is impossible to escape it, but you can fight it.”

This publication has been prepared under the “Anti-disinformation project in Moldova”implemented with the support of the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

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