Yesterday two more former Eastern Bloc countries joined the European Union. Eighteen years after the fall of Communism, the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria celebrated becoming members of the exclusive Euro club.
For the LGBT communities in the two countries, it was also a day of celebration, though not in the way readers might think. Gay rights in Romania and Bulgaria have progressed rapidly in recent years, although acceptance is still confined to major cities.
The promise of membership of the EU has hastened the pace of social reform in the two nations, to the extent that gay and lesbian Romanians and Bulgarians have some of the most comprehensive rights in Europe.
In Romania, the last anti-gay laws were repealed in 2001. The age of consent is equal, at 15, and gays and lesbians are permitted to serve in the military. They also have protection in the provision of goods and services, unlike England Wales.
There are further protections for LBGT people in employment, housing, education, health care, the justice system and social security.
People undergoing gender reassignment surgery have been able to get new documents issued by the government for over ten years.
Right-wing attempts to ban the annual GayFest in 2005 and 2006 were defeated in court, and the pride event went ahead peacefully.
Perhaps most heartening of all, a recent Romania-wide survey of 15 – 25 year olds found only 15% thought gay people had too many rights, with 75% supporting protections for gay people.
In Bulgaria, considered a less cultured, more isolated country than its neighbour, similar anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2003, and homosexuality was decriminalised in the late 1960s, as in the UK. The age of consent was equalised in 2002 and all discrimination in law was abolished that year.
Adventurous Romanian and Bulgarian gays and lesbians are now able to travel freely throughout the EU, and can visit gay hotspots from Manchester to Mykonos.
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