Kevin Sessums is dot429’s new editorial director, and is blogging about his experiences while traveling in Eastern Europe on behalf of the US State Department this month as part of an LGBT human rights/cultural exchange mission. _______________________________________________
By Kevin Sessums
I got up quite early to catch a morning flight from Bucharest to Cluj where I conducted a panel on LGBT issues at the American Corner of the library here. It became rather heated at times. I realized that these issues really aren’t spoken about openly much in this part of the world.
I was also reminded of how controversial my visit here regarding LGBT rights is becoming when on the ride in the cab back to my hotel in Cluj we got a phone call that my two media interviews this afternoon had been suddenly cancelled because of protests from religious and right-wing Romanian radio networks. Sounds a lot like America.
I am scheduled to inaugurate another LGBT section of the branch of the Carturesti book store here in Cluj this evening and do another reading and book signing. It will be interesting to see if any protests occur. The push back we are beginning to get is from religious right-wingers here in Romania who are questioning why the US government is spending money to sponsor such a trip and why I am being welcomed by a local institution like Carturesti. The religious right is the same worldwide.
After I take a much needed nap I might wander back into Unirii Square around St. Michael’s Church if the rain slacks off and photograph some of the ancient architecture. The city, which is the home of the country’s largest university – Babes-Bolyai – is the unofficial capital of Transylvania and many parts of it around St. Michael’s look exactly like I always imagined Transylvania would look.
The Transylvania International Film Festival is taking place right now as well here. There are signs all over town heralding it and a big banner about it in my hotel lobby. How often does one get the opportunity to be photographed beside a banner for the Transylvania Film Festival? So I did just that before going up to take my nap.
The book signing and ribbon-cutting tonight to dedicate another LGBT section at the Carturesti book store in Cluj, Romania, went off without a hitch. No protestors. Although I am of two minds about walling off LGBT books on shelves within a bookstore in a kind of literary ghetto, I am also aware of the importance of a Romanian book store recognizing the category on other levels.
Indeed, the bookstore has taken a lot of flak from its customers for doing this and I salute them for sticking by their decision to honor LGBT citizens in their country. I was told tonight by the young man who heads up the store’s marketing that it was the first time he had ever sent out a press release and announcement about an upcoming event in the store that the mainstream media refused to run.
“Not only in print publications but even online,” he said. “Every one of my contacts in the media refused to run it because of the LGBT context.”
So I was proud to cut the ribbon tonight in Cluj, and then to put down the scissors and raise my fist in solidarity with my LGBT brothers and sisters in Romania. And, let’s face it, it’s pretty cool to be on the same shelf with Marcel Proust and Paul Bowles.
It turned into transgender night here in Transylvania. A kind of trans-in-Trans theme emerged when I met three young buddies – Mike and Andi and Steve – who came to my reading and book signing. We had a contest at the end of the reading to see who could win copies of Mississippi Sissy and they each won one.
I was so taken by their charm and smarts I invited them all to dinner afterward and they brought along their trans female friend Alexandra. It was fascinating to get to know about their lives as young trans people in Romania. Enlightening. And moving.
Now it’s back to Bucharest for a screening I’m hosting tomorrow night of the Oscar nominated ACT UP documentary “How to Survive a Plague” for the LGBT community there.
Read more from Kevin’s trip in Eastern Europe: