Somewhere in a street in the heart of Bucharest, there is a gay bar. The only gay bar in the capital of Romania. The terrace in front of the bar is decorated with rainbow flags. “Love is love,” it proclaims. The forty-nine-year-old Trond Brathen is the Norwegian owner of the gay bar.
He set it up a year and a half ago, and it is increasingly becoming a place for people from the LGBTQ+ community to feel at home.
It all started during a night out with one of his friends. One thing led to another. After a good conversation, and a few shots, they were convinced: there should be a gay bar in Bucharest. The next morning, they started walking through the city in search of locations. Two weeks later, the first gay bar in Bucharest was opened.
Trond is from Norway. He left, among other things, because he was fired for being gay. He started travelling and stayed in Romania after meeting his boyfriend there.
“Romania is still largely conservative. Only in 2011, the last lesbian - who was imprisoned during communism because of her sexuality - was released from prison. Progress is slow here. However, especially in the capital people are getting more open to the community.”
Yet there are many people within the community - especially Romanians - who would not dare to go to a gay bar because they can be seen by their colleagues and would therefore miss out on a promotion at work. There are also many who have not yet told their family that they are gay. They are afraid to come out.
The purpose of the gay bar that Trond has set up is to create acceptance. At first, his customers were mostly foreigners. Gradually, more and more Romanians mixed with them. Everyone said it would not be a success, but Trond nevertheless went against those prejudices.
According to him, the success of the bar is due to the fact that there are strict rules, including the ban on drugs and escorts. With this, he wants to show that people who come to his bar are normal people, who are just having a drink.
“Passers-by see people sitting on the terrace of my bar having a drink, just like normal people. Occasionally we get annoying responses, but no major problems have yet arisen. The police have sometimes threatened with fines. This is because of the drag queens who walked down the street after a show with me, but I don’t take too much notice of this.”
Trond and his Romanian boyfriend have known each other for three years now. They have travelled together and are happy together. Unfortunately, his boyfriend denies being gay. He tells his mother he is “experimenting.”
“If we had met in Norway and lived there, we would have been married for two years now. Unfortunately, we cannot get married here. Every year it is discussed by the government and every time the proposal is rejected.”
In the Netherlands, the Gay Pride has been celebrated for years. The Gay Pride in Bucharest will only be held for the second time this year. It is not comparable to that in Amsterdam, but for Romania it is a step in the right direction. Around 10,000 people attended the Bucharest Pride this year. Two of them shared their personal story.
Carmen, 21, came out as bisexual to her friends when she was fifteen. She only came out to her mother at the age of nineteen. She herself - except from one of her friends - only had positive reactions. However, she knows many people who have come out to get fewer positive responses. “I meet my friends from the community on Facebook. I don’t go to a gay bar, I’m too shy for that.”
Simona, 26, came out as lesbian to her friends at the age of sixteen. She told her parents only last year. Most people were positive, but unfortunately her parents were less positive. Simona is originally from Colombia. She says she feels accepted abroad, but not in Romania.
“Two years ago, people didn’t even talk about the LGBTQ+ community here. Because politicians were against it, the subject was featured in the news. Fortunately, that means that it is being talked about more and more now.”
Just after the first Gay Pride in Bucharest - which took place last year - young people started protesting for the acceptance of transgender people. Trond thinks they were too early with that. “Those young people do that because they want to fight for everything right away, but that way you don’t achieve much. First start by, for instance, encouraging the legalization of same-sex marriage. That would mean one step forward each time. I would like to see a lot of changes in Romania when it comes to acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, but it takes time.”
Text & photos Emmalie Ermstrang & Ruth van der Stouw