“I will not be ashamed to murder a gay” – said my older brother, holding me out of the 8th floor window. I knew about his homophobia, so I was trying to keep it all secret. But once, when my brother got hold of my private correspondence, his fears were confirmed. Due to the never-ending threats and beatings, I left home on the verge of suicide. Were it not for the support of my loved one, this story would have died with me.”
This, and many other shocking stories, was shared with activist and photographer Carolina Dutca while she was researching her much-discussed photo project NO SILENCE. Trying to break the taboo that exists around the LGBT community in the unrecognised region of Transnistria, Carolina’s birth soil, she decided to interview and document Transnistrians with a ‘different’ sexual orientation, to expose what they are going through personally as well as how it affects their position in society.
When her project was completed and she was about to finalize the exhibition opening, the KGB got in touch with her and urged her to cancel the exhibition. Carolina refused, but eventually had to give in to the pressure being put on her and her family. However, NO SILENCE has to date been shown in Chisinau, Odessa and Prague, showing the world after all what it is like being LGBT in Transnistria.
We spoke to Carolina about fear of persecution, receiving that phone call from the KGB, and Transnistria’s omni-present post-Soviet mentality.
Was it easy to find LGBT people willing to participate in your project, or were they afraid of repercussions? Is there a widespread fear of persecution?
It was hard for me to find participants, because they have a lot of fears connected to governmental and societal persecution. I found 165 people from the LGBT community in Transnistria, but most of them were afraid to meet me for participation in this project. Finally, only 17 people agreed to participate.
How did people from within Transnistria, and outside of it, react to your project?
There were problems from one side with the government, and from another side with the society in Transnistria. The project was forbidden for public viewing, but outside of Transnistria I don’t have any problems. There were 3 exhibitions in Chisinau (Moldova), 2 ones in Odessa (Ukraine) and one in Prague (Czech Republic) – everything was okay.
What did the KGB tell you when they prohibited your exhibition, and what was your response to that?
Three days prior to the exhibition opening in Transnistria, I announced the event in the most popular group among residents of the Transistrian region on the social network VK. The announcement drew a lot of public attention and received about 700 comments, most of them calling on others to “put the exhibition on fire”, “exterminate gays”, and lynch me by hanging in public. The next day I received a phone call from the so-called Special Department of Tiraspol State University, where I studied, summoning me to a meeting at the indicated place.
When I came to the indicated place, I was met by a KGB employer who held an hour-long conversation with me. The KGB representative was trying to prove to me that there were no problems with homophobia in Transnistria, that the aforementioned exhibition would have no other effect but social destabilisation, and that it was of a destructive character. Then he tried to force me to sign a paper on non-disclosure of the state secret which, apparently, that conversation represented. When I refused to sign the paper, the KGB representative started to apply emotional pressure to me, still trying to have me sign it by any means. At one moment he said “You’re not sitting with a gun at your head yet, are you?”. Then he added that he strongly recommended cancelling the exhibition. After having received my refusal, he said that my security might be disrupted. He ‘warned’ me for threats to health and life, expulsion from university, dismissal of my parents from work, and that my brother might have problems in school.
Have you seen a lot of initiatives like yours in Transnistria lately? How do you think the silence, and the taboo, can be broken?
In Transnistria we don’t have any activism. My project was the first and only one which was dedicated to LGBT in this region. I hope that it was the beginning of a long work for LGBT tolerance in all levels.
Do you see a correlation between Transnistria’s administrative/political status and the fight for, or lack of, equal treatment?
I think that the roots of inequality and homophobia in Transnistria are our post-Soviet mentality, the big influence of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Russian policy in general.