In the LGBTQ+ world the summer is the most special time of the year, offering the biggest LGBTQ+ event, the Pride. We tend to think of the Amsterdam Pride, Madrid or Berlin. Impressive as they are, we should not forget about the events closer to us. Earlier we wrote about the Ljubljana Pride, the Bratislava Pride, but somehow we never got to our Eastern neighbor.
At the end of June, Cluj hosted its second Pride to unite and celebrate the LGBTQ community of Transylvania. Ruth, who was co-organizer, is here to tell us how she ended up as an inspiring activist-artist for the Cluj lesbian* community after being closeted for 30 years.
Hello, Ruth, can you introduce yourself please?
Hey, everyone, my name is Ruth Borgfjord, 37. I'm a Romanian-Canadian artist and activist based in Cluj, Romania. I've lived 13 years in Canada where I worked as a child care inspector but I felt my soul was dying so I quit my job and became an artist. I moved to Cluj, the heart of Transylvania, 4 years ago and graduated with my second university degree in Fine Arts from the University of Art and Design Cluj. In my work, I always combine activism, and healing, with art, using installations, performance, video art, photography and short films to send a message.
At the same time, I started the first LGBTQ+ women's group called LES Sisterhood Cluj. The name comes from “lesbian sisterhood” but it includes women from the whole queer spectrum.
Can you say more about the organization?
Through LES Sisterhood Cluj, I want to give a voice, support, and encouragement to the local LGBT women. You know, when I came back to Romania, I found out that there were no events, hangouts or activities, for LGBT women. I decided there was no point in waiting for someone to take action, because I was capable of doing it myself. So I started it.
Together with the local LGBT women we started organizing events around coming out stories, parties, and social gatherings. For the last 3 years we've had special evenings called Queer Cooking where we gather and cook together, we've had creative workshops, like painting or creative writing. We also offered LGBT rights workshops or queer library gatherings where we each bring our queer books and loan them. We have game nights - probably the most popular of our events - where we play board games. We've organized speed dating events, Queer stories Pub Crawl, and self-care workshops with a psychologist. We also created the first collection of LGBT women's personal stories called Queer a la Cluj.
And we just finished the 2nd Cluj Pride, a few days filled with LGBT activism culminating with the Pride march. It's a project led by Pride Romania, and we were extremely happy to participate as co-organizers with workshops, exhibitions, and speeches.
That all sounds truly impressive. Generally, how is Cluj for an LGBTQ+ person to live in?
Cluj is one of the safest cities in Romania when it comes to being yourself on the street, at work, or at home. People move to Cluj as it is considered one of the more open communities. However, discrimination still exists. Based on a survey, some people still consider working with an LGBT person or living next to one as not desirable.
Politically speaking, the situation is mixed. Our mayor is a man who proclaims all over Europe that he supports and promotes diversity, yet the actions of the City Hall have not been very supportive of the local LGBT community. For example, last year 21 applications for the Cluj Pride March had been denied due to fictitious reasons before the march was finally approved, on a narrow alley away from the downtown.
And generally, what’s the situation in Romania?
The LGBT community in Romania is big, but many people are still in hiding as it is not a very accepting environment. The ruling party is trying to change the constitution to say "marriage is between a man and a woman." Right now it states that marriage is between spouses. Nevertheless, the civil code specifies that marriage is between a man and a woman, so effectively LGBT couples cannot marry, nor can they get a civil partnership in Romania.
As for adoption, ironically, a single person can do it even if they are LGBT, but a couple cannot.
Ironic indeed. Let us end with a happier topic though. Can I ask for a memorable coming-out story?
I was around 14 when the whole process started for me. My parents used to have a large collection of books, among which there were several art books. I used to look at the images of the Renaissance paintings with women and I thought women were the most beautiful beings in the world.
I also kissed a girl when I was 14, first week of high school. My classmates found out and they came to me saying that a girl told shameful lies about me, namely that I had kissed her and that I like girls. They were outraged and seemed very judgemental, just like my family at that time, so I said “No, I didn't kiss a girl.” From that point, I became the straightest person I knew: I blocked that part of me, pushing it way-way down, I ignored my instincts, my joys, becoming alienated and disconnected from myself. Simply because I wanted to be accepted and loved, and to belong, I denied my true self.
A few years after turning 30, I began looking at myself and trying to accept myself as I was, giving myself the space, love, and support I had never received as a teenager. I came out after the age of 30. Once I believed I deserved to be happy, I deserved love and authenticity, my life changed.
I've lived too many years in hiding. Now I live openly, freely, visibly.