Victor Ciobotaru: “The More I Prayed, the More I Became Aware That I Am Gay and I Will Never Change”

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Victor Ciobotaru: “The More I Prayed, the More I Became Aware That I Am Gay and I Will Never Change”

A young Romanian pastor-to-be describes how LGBT Christians reach out to him even while their churches deny their existence 

Photos by
 

Ioana Moldovan

Nov 03, 2020

This blog is part of a series for the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum’s program on LGBT* and Faith. Read more here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/LGBT/blog

“Hi Victor, 
I want to introduce myself… I am a 42-year-old woman. I am a mother of a 14-year-old son. I currently live abroad with my partner. I knew I was different since I was very young. I used to go to church and to be very religious. Even if I felt that I do something against my true nature, I married a man. No surprise, things didn’t work. After a few years of intense struggle, I divorced. For another period, I continued to deny myself as a gay woman. In 2018, I met a special person who became my life partner. Little by little I started to accept myself and to come out to friends. I discovered your story on the internet and I have a few questions for you.”


“I follow your Facebook posts since you came out but I never dared to send you any message until now. I am a member of the Adventist church and I have a son who is like you. I mean he is gay. There is nobody in the church I could talk to about it. I promised my son I will tell you about him. It would be good for him to talk with you. I want the best for my child, no matter what others will say.” 


“I remember so clearly when I firstly read an article about your experience. It happened during the antigay referendum campaign in 2018. That came as a revelation. It was not only your experience but mine too. Recently I read it again. I think we have a lot in common. I graduated in Orthodox Theology. When I confessed to my priest about my sexual orientation, he was perplexed and told me this is unusual for a Romanian because homosexuality is rather specific to foreigners. Then he recommended me to marry a woman to overcome my homosexuality. Luckily, I embraced myself as a gay person before getting married, but I still have mixed feelings related to my spirituality and my gay identity. I would like to talk with somebody about it. Do you have time for a chat?”


“I am part of the same church as you are. I grew up hearing, again and again, the message that I am wrong and God hates me. When I realized that my attempts to change myself are in vain I tried to commit suicide several times, because I thought it would be better to be dead than being gay and alive. Falling in love saved me. I understood that is nothing wrong to love and to be loved. Only God can judge me. I still go to church, but not as an openly gay man. I am aware that once they find out, I will be expelled.”

Since I came out as a gay person of faith in a very homophobic context, during the antigay referendum campaign in Romania in 2018, people with different religious backgrounds have started to approach me privately through social media. I receive messages like the above almost on a weekly basis (not to mention the hate messages). There are moments when I feel emotionally overwhelmed, but in the satisfaction that comes with these blessed interactions I find the energy to continue the work.

Born in a small Romanian village in an Orthodox but not religious family, I was 14 when I decided to join the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Protestant Christian denomination that corresponds a lot to common evangelical Christian teachings, as a result of my spiritual quest. Knowing the church’s teachings on homosexuality, my sexual orientation would become my best-kept secret, my everyday obsession, my continual denial, the very cause of depression and insomnia. This worsened during my theological studies when I was preparing to become a pastor in order to serve God, church and people. For more than 10 years I was praying to God to change myself into a heterosexual. Fortunately, the miracle I asked for never happened. The more I prayed, the more I became aware that I am gay and I will never change.  

During one of the regular weekly classes at the Seventh Day Adventist Theological Institute somebody asked our teacher, who happened to be also a pastor, about his opinion on homosexuality. The answer was full of hate and disgust: “Homosexuals don’t even deserve a discussion. They are beasts who kill each other with passion.” 

I was there. I knew I was gay. I wanted to shout out loud: “This is not true and it is so unfair! I am gay, I am among you and I am not a criminal!” I found no strength to do it. I remained silent. 

Graduation meant a turning point. Grasping that there is nothing Christian about being a pastor permanently hiding myself but that this is a spiritual and human failure, I chose to accept my sexual orientation. This decision saved me from living a life in hypocrisy and denial. Depression and insomnia disappeared. For a while, I cut any connection with religion and church.

After I met Florin, my life partner, in 2015, I had the opportunity to interact with other LGBT* people of faith around the world. Getting in contact with the Metropolitan Community Church, an international Protestant Christian denomination with a strong outreach to LGBT communities, and the LGBT Christian Forum of Eastern Europe and Central Asia led to crucial meetings that helped me to reconcile my sexual orientation with my spiritual identity. 

Me (left) and my life partner Florin at the Bucharest Pride in July 2019 holding a poster with the message: “Sunt gay, Sunt Crestin, Iubesc.” – “I am gay. I am a Christian. I Love.” – Victor Ciobotaru
Photo Credit: Ioana Moldovan

My public coming out as a gay Christian in Romania was the result of a long pathway. The church I used to be a member of, however, quickly reacted and excluded me. Being gay in the Adventist church proved harder to accept for others than being Adventist in a predominantly Orthodox country. Faith in God and my personal relationship with divinity once again helped me look past the shortcomings of institutional religion. An open letter addressed to the Seventh Day Adventist Church as an attempt to start a discussion on the topic was considered not worthy of an answer. Luckily I am patient. I am still waiting.

Romania is one of the most religious countries in Eastern Europe, with 55% of adults stating that they are highly religious – the highest percentage in Europe according to a Pew Research Center survey. More than 85% of the population belongs to the Romanian Orthodox Church. 

Many LGBT persons are born and raised in a religious climate. None of the churches and denominations legally registered in Romania accept, welcome, or affirm LGBT members, neither address their spiritual needs. More than that, the previously mentioned homophobic referendum meant to ban gay marriages in our Constitution, came as a result of a citizenship initiative massively driven and supported by Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches who found a common fertile ground of collaboration in homophobia. For more than three years LGBT individuals and their families were portrayed by various religious and political leaders as enemies of the church, threat of the nation and thieves of children. A boycott strategy adopted by the civil society helped to defeat the referendum: just 20.4% of eligible voters cast ballots, well below the 30% threshold required. However, the constant wave of hate left deep wounds on the LGBT community and the recovery is still on the process. 

Given the denial of spiritual support for people like me in our country, I started to deliver online content on the intersection of religion and LGBT identities creating a blog and a Facebook page called “Crestini Pro LGBT Romania” (Pro LGBT Christians Romania), as an extention of the LGBT Christian group that I used to organize at ACCEPT Association, the national LGBT organization in Bucharest. These are the only islands that work as safe spaces for non-conforming religious and spiritual identities in our community. Beyond theologies and progressive arguments, we focus on personal experiences and authentic storytelling. Here, many voices denied by the church, are heard and cherished. 

LGBT people are not abstract concepts. LGBT people are the children we love, our close friends, our colleagues from camp or Sabbath school, the young people in choir. They are also those who abandon the church or leave the country in search for the acceptance they could not find back home. They are the children of some parents, members of some families. With their stigma and demonization through exclusion or marginalization (be it symbolic), their families are also affected. Some are still members of the church, others have been excluded, others have left it because they no longer saw themselves in its midst. 
What has the church done for these young people? What is it going to do?

 

PS: On August 13, 2020, a new citizenship initiative project was submitted in the Romanian Parliament to have a second referendum for redefining family in the Constitution as the marriage between a man and a woman.

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Victor Ciobotaru is a human rights activist and a member of ACCEPT Association, the national LGBT organization in Romania. He runs a local LGBT Christian Group in Bucharest and, together with his partner and 21 other couples, and is involved in the running case at the European Court of Human Rights in order to obtain legal protection for same-sex families in Romania.
 


As part of our program on LGBT* and Faith, we are inviting Fellows of the Salzburg Global LGBT* Forum of different sexual orientations and gender identities and of different faith communities to address the questions of what is needed for religious communities and leaders to be instrumental in promoting the wellbeing, equality and inclusion of LGBT people in faith communities and society and how do LGBT people, today and throughout history, enrich and change the religious communities of which they are a part? 

The articles and comments represent opinions of the authors and commenters, and do not necessarily represent the views of their organization or institutions, nor of Salzburg Global Seminar. We thank our blog contributors for their generosity in sharing their personal stories.

* LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is currently widely used in human rights conversations on sexual orientation and gender identity in many parts of the world, and we would wish it to be read as inclusive of other cultural concepts, contemporary or historical, to express sexuality and gender, intersex and gender non-conforming identities.