Our identity, Our coming out as an NGO

Our coming out as an NGO was a journey of resilience.

Identity.Education was born out the need of a formal representation of the LGBTQI+ community in Timisoara, and out of the wish to create artistic and cultural events about the community and for the community and allies. We came to life out for the wish to create awareness campaigns and educational projects for anyone and everyone on LGBTQI+ topics and which affect the larger community of the city. Therefore, Andre Radulescu, together with their parents, founded Identity.Education in 2018, which is currently the only active LGBTQI+ NGO in the Western part of Romania.

The favourable location of Timisoara, close to European capital cities such as Budapest and Viena, easy access to western cities which are safer, with bigger and more opportunities to be out, to take part in public queer events, could be one of the reasons for the lack of local LGBTQI+ activists and NGOs, which could create platforms and events to bring the community closer.

The formal story of Identity.Education starts in 2017 when we confirmed the name, and in August 2018 we created our social media page and hosted our first event, it was our coming out. The event was a daytime party, a meeting with the local community where we had the chance to chat, to meet up with old friends and make new ones, everything as an informal gathering, with good music and rainbow coloured homemade hummus.

We started as an informal group, but to have a real impact and to be able to create and host as many events as possible, we started with the paperwork to register Identity.Education as an NGO. To be able to found an NGO in Romania, you need 3 founding members who are willing to take responsibility for all the legal and financial matters of the NGOs, and in our case, these people are Andre Radulescu, and their parents, Jeni and Horia.

Andre felt for years that the city lacks any kind of events for the community. They felt this from personal experience but also when it comes to representing the community in any area, be it cultural, artistic, institutional. With experience in production and event organising, Andre set the groundwork for Identity.Education, and Jeni and Horia were by their side from the beginning, helping with whatever was needed, from administrative to logistical tasks.

The paperwork was submitted in November 2018 and we were eagerly waiting for the answer from the court of Timisoara because we already had big plans for 2019. Just before Christmas we got the answer: our documents were rejected because promoting human rights and LGBTQI+ rights means, in their eyes, that we want to offer legal counseling, and this can be done only by lawyers and legal counsellors, and Andre and their parents do not have such expertise.

We were expecting challenges on the way, as we start to organise events and bring LGBTQI+ related topics into the public eye, but this situation, from the very beginning, surprised us a little and we realised just how much work there is to be done.

In that moment we could have rewritten and changed our paperwork and submit it again in January, but we chose to appeal this in court, because promoting community rights is not equal to legal counseling. We prefer to believe it was a textual misunderstanding and not institutionalised discrimination. We appealed the court and hoped for a fast resolution as we wanted to apply for grants in 2019 and find partners to create and host as many events as we can.

The appeal took longer than expected, we asked for a speeding hearing and when our request to change the date of the appeal from June to an earlier month was denied, we realised that we have to find creative solutions to support our events, to pay the queer artists and accommodation and transport of the guests, to pay the service providers and for supplies of all kinds.

A large part of the financial support came from donations from the founding members, a small grant and the best moment was when people from the community, who knew Andre, contacted us to give us donations. The solutions also included collaborators who accepted to be paid in installments or a couple of months after the events.

The first PrideTM events in Timisoara took place in June 2019. We hosted an art expo with works of local artists, both from the community and allies, a conference which brought together NGOs from other cities, a publishing house book launch, an info bio show which is focused on the issues of undertaking one’s body/ sexuality / genre identity and of the confrontation between the intimate narration of the body and public perception, a storytelling evening which brought us closer to the local community through coming out stories, and a performance which ended with a party.

It was a week full of pride, strong emotions and colors for the LGBTQI+ community in Timisoara and for the Identity.Education volunteers. The strongest moment, Andre told us, was not the excitement of the logistics or the financial and legal challenges that followed, but the storytelling evening – because it was so personal, with many beautiful strong stories, stories which resonated with all of us, in one way or another. We felt that, regardless of age, when and if we came out, however many movies and LGBTQI+ friendly campaigns we see, the need for community, for personal meetings and stories, for cultural events, to have someone to represent us, is felt by everyone.

June went by, our appeal was accepted, we were about to become a legally founded NGO and we already had projects and grants in mind. But until we actually got all the papers, 3 more months passed by, which landed us very close to the events we had planned for the LGBTQI+ History Month in October, which was celebrated nationally by the community.

In Timisoara, the 2019 LGBTQI+ History Month was celebrated through a theatre play about the history of 3 queer people and their very personal stories while homosexuality was still criminalised in Romania, a small art expo with LGBTQI+ works from the communist times and stories told by Florin Buhuceanu and Dominic Brezianu about being gay during the Ceausescu regime. We managed to receive funding for these events in October and, by December, we paid off our debts towards the service providers from PRIDE TM.

We also organised 3 more events by the end of the year: an event with the tango community, where, besides the first tango lesson, we talked about gender and roles in society and in tango, a community brunch (Identity.Education brought the food and we made cookies together) and an end of the year party.

The first year was full of challenges, financial, but also the ones that came to life once our presence was more visible in Timisoara, at the events which sparked a lot of hate speech from the extremist and/or religious conservative groups and insulting messages on our Facebook page. Besides the online bullying, some actions were even more abusing: our art expo was vandalised and we received complaints regarding the art works. The first situation was not resolved as the perpetuator could not be identified, but a local artist came up with a perfect response and turned the act of vandalism into a rainbow. The police complaint was solved by Andre and one of the curators of the art expo. We were even pleasantly surprised by the openness of the police officer who investigated the case, but we know that it is not always like this and more awareness and education and collaboration is needed with public institutions.

We know that as we organise more cultural and artistic events, as we become more visible through our awareness and educational campaigns, the challenges will also increase, in all areas – from online bullying targeted at us and at community members, financial challenges because we want all events to be accessible to everyone and we want to pay queer artists fairly for their work.

Even with the challenges we had in this first year, we grew the community around us, with more volunteers who are involved in the NGO and with more participants at our events, and this is just the beginning of our story, together with you, who are here, now, reading this.

As Andre says, „If you build it, they will come”. Where „it” is the organisation but also the events we host for everyone – art expos and theatre, music and dance, conferences and educational projects and awareness campaigns. And „they” means all of us, LGBTQI+ people, friends and allies.

Vision: Inclusion and acknowledgement of the LGBTQI+ community as an active part of larger communities.

Mission: Promoting mutual respect and overcoming discrimination and gender stereotypes that marginalize the LGBTQI+ community.

Objective: Supporting, encouraging and promoting diversity by offering opportunities for development to LGBTQI+ people in the production and creation of educational, cultural and artistic events.