Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bucharest Farewell

It must have been late February when I first asked Daniela at the Romanian LGBT rights organization ACCEPT, “When will GayFest take place this year?”  In 2012 it was the last week of June.  I already knew that I would be departing Bucharest in mid-June, so I followed up by pleading, “Please have it in the first half of June so that I will still be here.”

I will never go so far as to say that my personal needs have any influence on the scheduling of significant public events, LGBT or otherwise, but I was more than simply pleased when the answer came that ACCEPT was trying to schedule GayFest for the first week of June.  It felt as though a party was being scheduled to ease my emotions as the day of my final departure from Romania approached.

It's no exaggeration to say that GayFest was bigger and better this year.  Our Embassy contingent from Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) had learned from last year's experience, and our Cultural Affairs office was fully engaged.  SC, newly arrived in Bucharest, took over from me as GLIFAA Post Representative on May 1, and LQ, FT, and SE jumped in actively.  TT and a number of other straight allies were there as well, as was our new human rights officer LQ. (By the way, I offer a complimentary Romanian covrig [pretzel] to anyone who can decipher the code I use for naming friends without actually naming them.)

Diplomatic Reception with Chargé Duane Butcher,
Buhuceanu from ACCEPT, Author Kevin Sessums, and
Finnish Ambassador Ulla Väistö
One big change for our GLIFAA contingent this year was that we reached out to other diplomatic missions.   (Big thanks to SE for that idea!)  We sat around the table with colleagues at a Bucharest restaurant in late March to talk it over.   As a result, the diplomatic reception on the eve of the June 8 Pride March was co-hosted.  The venue was the residence of the U.S. Ambassador, but the invitations were jointly sent out from the U.S., UK, Swedish, Finnish, Austrian, and Israeli embassies.  Since we are currently without a U.S. Ambassador, our Chargé d'Affaires Duane Butcher hosted, and Finnish Ambassador Ulla Väistö delivered remarks to over 100 guests from the community of Romanian LGBT advocates and allies.

We opened our own Pride celebration at the U.S. Embassy the week before GayFest by hosting a digital video conference with former Ambassador Michael Guest before an audience of LGBT community members, journalists, and representatives of non-governmental organizations.  The first openly gay ambassador to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Ambassador Guest is well remembered and highly regarded in Romania.  In a deeply personal hour and a half of give and take, Amb. Guest told about his family life, what it was like to serve in Romania accompanied by his spouse, and why it was that he left the Foreign Service in 2007.   His words left a mark, and they were cited by Sasha, a young transgender activist in our audience, when he was interviewed the following week in the newspaper Romania Libera (

Kevin Sessums with Bucharest LGBT Activists
This year we also had a special Embassy guest speaker.  I first met Kevin Sessums at the LGBT workshop in Tirana a year ago. (See Proudly from Tirana.)  Author and editor, he wrote in his memoir Mississippi Sissy what it was like to grow up gay in what at the time was the most conservative, segregationist state in the US.  It was not nice.  Kevin worked with the Embassy and with ACCEPT to inaugurate LGBT bookshelves, the first of their kind in Romania, at the Carturesti bookstores in Bucharest, Cluj, and Constantsa.  When he read from Mississippi Sissy before a standing room only gathering in Bucharest, he spoke with such passion and animation that at one point he slammed his fist down, in the process cracking a glass table top.

The week belonged not to us at the Embassy, however, but to our Romanian friends who worked so hard and so well to bring off a week of events that included movies, discussions, exhibits, and a bigger and better Pride march than had ever before taken place in Bucharest.  For the first time, the march took place in the city center on the street that is Bucharest's equivalent of embassy row in Washington, DC.  Upward of 400 people participated, noticeably more than last year, and the energy of those who marched was higher.   Everyone remembered the incident in February when protesters prevented the showing of an LGBT movie.  (See Home Sweet Home in Romania.)  The police were out in force, but the feeling was one of celebration.  The march route ended in Kiseleff Park just around the corner from my apartment, but rather than participants simply dispersing, there was an after-march Diversity Zone in the park with speeches and a party atmosphere.  GLIFAA had its own table in the zone, and SC officiated by distributing free water, soda, granola bars, and literature.

At the Pride March
It really did feel as though my Romanian friends had arranged the entire first week of June to keep my mind away from leaving.  When the movers came to pack me out on May 31, TJ, BD, PE, TH, and several other friends came to keep me company, to keep an eye on the movers, and to keep me in the moment.  They made fun what otherwise would have been a very sad day.

GLIFAA Table at the Pride March
Most happily, I found peace over those final weeks with my emotionally adopted adult child.  Our relationship continues.  If anything, what we both experienced together and individually has made the bond stronger.  My first post-transition relationship crisis has passed. 

GayFest over, my final week in Romania had arrived.  There was no holding back the emotions now.  The day after the Pride March, friends lured me to ACCEPT to watch a movie.  As the evening went on, more and more people came.  They had conspired to make this my farewell evening, a chance for last hugs and photos.  There were more than a few tears.

My last day at the Embassy was Wednesday the 12th.  My  checkout list complete, I made the rounds from office to office for goodbyes and goodbye hugs.  I took one final long look as I walked out the door for the last time.

Then my phone rang.  "We're waiting for you in the park!"  It was Sasha.  He and several others had gathered in Kiseleff Park and were waiting for me.  We sat and talked until the storm clouds came.  Then we adjourned to my apartment and ordered pizza.  It was the last party in a home that has seen many parties and evenings with friends.

Thursday, my last day, had come.  There was one last visit to Mirela, the magical electrologist of Bucharest, and one last shopping trip.  Ma Ni, a new friend, helped me with some hair products and eye makeup.  When the Embassy car came at 4:30 on Friday morning, she and my adopted daughter went with me to the airport.  My bags checked, we sat over coffee until the time had come. . . .  I won't describe the parting scene.  I'm certain you can see it without my words.  Already on the other side of security, I turned and looked back.  Tears flowing, we waved at each other one last time.  Then I turned and walked toward the future, a future that will be richer because of my life in Romania and the people I have known there.

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