Thousands march in Romania to defend LGBTQ rights

Bucharest, Romania: Thousands of people marched through the Romanian capital on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to demand equal rights for gender and sexual minorities as fears grow over a bill banning discussing homosexuality and gender transition in schools.

Among the crowd, Catalin Enescu, 37, came with his wife and two young daughters, both dressed in rainbow-colored dresses.

“It’s the first time I’ve taken part in a march like this, but it’s important to be there because the rights of LGBTQ people are no longer respected,” he said.

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, but same-sex couples are not allowed to marry or enter into civil partnerships.

Activists are concerned about a bill, introduced by lawmakers from Romania’s Hungarian minority, to ban teaching materials dealing with homosexuality and gender transition in schools.

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Earlier this year, the Senate passed the bill, although it still has to be voted on by the lower house.

The proposal is similar to legislation that came into effect last year in neighboring Hungary.

Organizers said 15,000 people turned out to demand equality during Bucharest Pride, under heavy police surveillance.

It came after around 200 people, including several waving Orthodox Christian icons, responded earlier in the day to a call by the far-right Noua Dreapta party for a counter-protest.

“The fact that Pride celebrations are getting bigger while right-wing groups are getting smaller is a positive sign,” said Tor-Hugne Olsen of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

“But it’s hard to see many proposals in parliament that curtail LGBT rights and other sexual health issues.”

Oana Baluta, another protester and professor at the University of Bucharest, said she feared what would happen if the bill passed in the EU country.

“If passed, this bill – which is contrary to European Union standards – would be a serious blow to freedom of expression and the rights of LGBTQ people,” she said.

“It would set a dangerous precedent, because then we would risk also being barred from the right to discuss abortion and sex education,” she said.

Romania has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe. Abortions are legal, but access to them has become increasingly difficult.

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