Trans rights, sex work, and electoralism w/ Antonella [EN]
In which we talk with Antonella Lercă, the first Roma trans woman, sex worker to run for public office in Romania. The audio is Romanian only, but scroll down for the English translation of the transcript.
In today’s episode with talk with Antonella Lercă, a Roma trans woman and sex worker, human rights activist, founder of the Sex Work Call (SWC) organization and candidate for the Local Council of the 2nd District of Bucharest. Antonella will tell us about her experience as a transgender woman in Romania, about sex work and the activity of SWC, and about her motivation to run for offce and the main points on her political agenda. Unforunately the episode audio is only in Romanian, but bellow you have a (rough) English translation of the transcript.
- Sex Work Call
- Lerca for local council
- Fundraiser for Antonella's campaign:
- Artwork by Vlad Cucu
- Sloth metal riffs by Zomfy
- Intro/Outro song: "The Government as an Abusive Boyfriend" by Sofia Zadar
** This is a fairly rough transcript, and we will be improving it over time.
[00: 00: 09.33] Ioni: Hi and welcome to a new episode of Leneșx Radio. Today we’re taking a break because Leneșx is no longer dealing with direct action but with electoral action, so we will be talking to Antonela. Before that, however, with us today are Adina – Hello – and Robi – hello, hello – and, as I mentioned, our guest today is Antonela – Hello everyone.
[00: 00: 38.85] Adina: We will discuss today with Antonella, the first sex worker Roma trans woman who has ever run for public office in Romanian politics. We will talk to Antonella about her experience as a trans person in Romania and about her political work [00: 01: 00.00] as a sex worker, work done with the organization Sex Work Call, as well as about her candidacy for the Local Council of the 2nd District of Bucharest.
[00: 01: 39.00] Ioni: First of all, can you tell us a few things about yourself and your background, please?
Antonella: Hey. Hello everyone. I'm Antonela Lercă. I am 30 years old and I am from Iași. Born in Iasi, I am currently in Bucharest. I lived in Italy for 11 years where I also practiced human rights activism. I've been back in the country for over [00: 02: 00.00] five years. Five years in which I put together all the experience of human rights activism and decided to attempt to enter the place where important decisions are made and I thought I would take it in small steps and start with a position of counselor in the Local Council of the 2nd District, so that later I can run for other more important positions, to be able to change something for the better in Romania.
Robi: Should we start [00: 02: 30.00] the discussion with a part about your experience with the discovery of your gender identity? This discrepancy, this difference, compared to the gender assigned at birth, [00: 02: 39.87] was that something you could identify as a child, or did it come later in life? And how was your transition received by the family, by society?
[00: 02: 51.00] Antonella: I was born into a traditional Roma family. And then, like any good boy in the family, I had to be forced by the family [00: 03: 00.00] to get married from the age of 14. Of course, nothing happened on the evening of the wedding, although our Roma tradition said that the next morning we should show the sheet full of blood. Basically proving that the girl was a virgin and that the sexual act took place and that she conceived a child. It didn't happen, of course. Because on the night of the wedding, when the girl and I were married, we didn't touch each other. Rather, I put on the wedding dress to see [00: 03: 30.00] who it would look better on, me or her. Obviously, the next day nothing showed up at the window and then the families rushed over to us in the room to ask what the problems were.
[00: 03: 40.32] A whole scandal erupted between my family and her family. Both families are quite well seen in the Roma community there. Then my mother had to find an excuse for me for not touching the girl and then I started going to different [00: 04: 00.00] doctors, psychologists, endocrinologists, lawyers, police, everywhere. I needed proof, some piece of paper, to show the girl's family that the boy is sick and can't satisfy the girl's carnal pleasures. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with… At that time I was diagnosed with - let me remember - behavioral disorder or something like that. It wasn't an okay diagnosis [00: 04: 30.00] , obviously. It wasn't the real one.
[00: 04: 33.90] In the meantime I was interned to a psychiatric institution – a terrible experience, I really do not want to detail now all the experiences I had in the Psychiatric Hospital among screaming people, dirt and feces everywhere, and locked up. It was a traumatic experience. While I was hospitalized there, there were various students from abroad who were studying medicine at Alexandru Ioan Cuza in Iași. And [00: 05: 00.00] it was a tradition of the doctors to take their students to hospitals to do a kind of practice, a kind of internship.
[00: 05: 12.88] When it came to my case, when they came to me. They, the students, saw that I was okay. And at that moment a student coming from Morocco said that “no, I have encountered such cases in my country before. They are normal people. In fact I do not have any behavioral disorders, [00: 05: 30.00] there's actually a diagnosis called gender dysphoria. This boy is actually a girl and we in Casablanca operate such cases and give them female genitalia”. The doctor was baffled because he didn't know about it. Or, well, he didn't bother to find out what my case was and discharged me with this diagnosis.
[00: 05: 56.83] What was very important to my family was to have a document proving that [00: 06: 00.00] Antonela is crazy. When I arrived in the community and my mother showed them, look, my boy is crazy, that's why nothing could happen between her and the girl. Peace was reached between the families, all the wedding gifts were given back and so on. And that's where my marginalization began. Because that's where the things went south. I was no longer considered an ok person, I was considered a crazy person. I was not included in family discussions either. Let's get over the personal part, [00: 06: 30.00] it’s quite sensitive. Let's talk only vaguely and in broad strokes. Because it's hard to relive what I went through.
[00: 06: 40.53] Robi: Yes, of course. Only what you feel comfortable with. You can also listen to more about how authoritarian and violent the psychiatric system is in our episode 4. I think. Which we recorded with Oana and Ioana from Mad Pride. And about how much [00: 07: 00.00] all sorts of conditions that are actually differences, not diseases, are medicalized. Because it's not a disease to be transgender. But this is how it is cataloged in… [no. DSM, ICD].
[00: 07: 09.87] Antonella: Sure, but at that time – I'm talking about the 90s, early 2000s – people didn't know. And anyway in those years the WHO [n.r. World Health Organization] still had the diagnosis of gender dysphoria for transgender people. It seems to me that the WHO has only recently declassified it as a disorder.
[00: 07: 28.00] Robi: I think it's worth mentioning that [00: 07: 30.00] the intersection between trans and class identity is a very important one. They intersect in several ways, from access to jobs on the one hand, and the other hand, financial access to a transition as complete as possible, to say.
[00: 07: 44.96] Antonella: Of course, after I was released, with this diagnosis of gender dysphoria I was able to publicly assume my gender identity. Because I identified with the transgender gender identity from childhood, but only now could I assume it publicly.
[00: 07: 58.04] Now being considered a crazy person by the family, I [00: 08: 00.00] was able to take advantage of this freedom, so to speak, and access hormone treatment. It's just that it wasn't exactly the exact diagnostic treatment. I took contraceptives – the ones girls used to avoid getting pregnant – instead of hormone replacements that are needed to treat gender dysphoria. And basically I started taking this so-called hormonal treatment. But it was very important [00: 08: 30.00] for me because it led me to a transgender adolescence which not many trans people have the opportunity to experience.
[00: 08: 39.26] Of course I still went to school, even though I was on hormone treatment. The first signs of transphobia in society, bullying and so on began to appear at school. There I first encountered transphobic episodes from both teachers and classmates. Of course my classmates were encouraged by teachers. Ultra-orthodox [00: 09: 00.00] and ultra-religious teachers. This whole education system was very awful and impossible for me because I couldn't go to the boys' bathroom because I didn't feel like a boy.
[00: 09: 12.23] I had to wait for the bell to ring after the break so I could go to the girls' bathroom to relieve myself. I was five minutes late every time because I had to go to the bathroom. Among other things, teachers had already remarked the first changes, [00: 09: 30.00] breast augmentation, hair growth. I was reproached for having my hair too long, questioned whether I am a girl or boy and the other children. My classmates caught me one day behind our school and cut my hair. I don't know if they were put up to it by the teacher or if it was their initiative.
[00: 09: 52.07] Of course I didn't have the courage to go to school the next day. And my mother asked me what was going on. Somehow [00: 10: 00.00] my mother had begun to accept the idea that I wanted to be a woman and supported me as much as possible, because my father was against it. And when he saw me with my hair cut, my father was very happy that my colleagues had cut my hair, because he couldn't wait for someone to cut it. The gypsy women went to school with me the next day and caused a great scandal and a great ruckus. So, access to the education system, to the health system [00: 10: 30.00] to a psychologist, to public institutions, is very difficult for a trans person in 2020 as well.
[00: 10: 37.07] For example, we don't have hormone treatment now, it's illegal. We have to buy it from the black market, from Turkey and so on. To not even talk about accessing the job market because from the moment you show up for an interview and show the ID with opposite sex compared to the one you identify with, people start laughing, and laughing at you. I mean, he doesn't even refuse you [00: 11: 00.00] elegantly. He tells you practically in your face that you are abnormal.
[00: 11: 04.76] And of course public institutions, access to public services, social protection, are very difficult to access because the ID is always a problem. And then to change your ID is almost impossible. Because you need a human rights lawyer, you need a lot of money. Because it exceeds 1,000 euros [00: 11: 30.00] to sue the state, to be able to change your ID. It's awful. Especially for a transgender person who is a teenager, at the beginning of the road in life, you can't say "give a thousand euros". It's absolutely aberrant. And we don't have human rights lawyers working for free. Because it seems ok to me, they have to take some money too, because they do work.
[00: 11: 54.82] Robi: It's worth mentioning here that the types of barriers you've faced are very [00: 12: 00.00] similar to the experiences of other trans people in Romania and around the world. In your case they were also obviously heightened by your Roma ethnicity.
[00: 12: 06.46] Antonella: Yes, it's very difficult for people, especially teenagers, because you don't know what's going on with your body, you don't know why it doesn't conform to your biological sex. And then, there are anti-trans laws such as the senator's, it practically only aggravates the situation, invalidating gender identities. And then you can come to situations like [00: 12: 30.00] even suicide, cases of suicide of teenagers.
[00: 12: 35.77] Robi: Do you know what percentage of the country's population or the world's population identifies as trans? I think it's somewhere at 1-2%. Somewhere around there, right? For Romania, this means 300-400.000 people, who face the same types of barriers that you told us about.
[00: 12: 56.41] Antonella: Yes, in Romania it is somewhere over two hundred thousand trans people. Of course, we only considered publicly out trans persons [00: 13: 00.00]. But if we take into consideration the rural areas and adolescents and so on, we easily exceed 200-300 thousand cases in Romania.
[00: 13: 12.12] Adina: I would like us to talk a little about your experience as a sex worker and the political work done in this field. And if you can say a few words about what goes under the umbrella of sex work and how you position yourself on this subject.
[00: 13: 34.38] Antonella: At the age of 17, after all the assaults, violence and transphobic episodes, I decided to flee Romania as soon as possible. And I arrived in Italy thanks to a person who didn't really have good things in mind for me. I passed customs and arrived in [00: 14: 00.00] Italy. It was pretty hard at first to start as a sex worker because I didn't know what it was about. I was lucky that this boy who took me there, there were two other girls who practiced sex work and explained to me, step by step, what it was about.
[00: 14: 15.30] Sex work has many branches, from videochat, pornography, street work and escorting inside the apartment, to websites like onlyfans, [00: 14: 30.00] and so on. Sex work in Romania is convicted according to article 91 of 1991, in the sense that fines are given every night. Stinging fines from 5,000 RON to one hundred thousand RON every night. Which makes it impossible for people who practice street sex work to access any form of public service or institution. In Romania we easily exceed the number of 20,000 [00: 15: 00.00] sex workers. When I came to Romania, I came with the idea of fighting for the intersectional rights of people. To have equal human rights for all. And then with other comrades with whom we met online, we had this initiative to set up the first organization that fights for the rights of sex workers in Romania and we decided to set up the organization Sex Work Call. [00: 15: 30.00] At first as a [support] group for sex workers. After that, a year ago, we formalized the documents and now we are an official organization with projects and so on. We at SWC have ... our goal is to help the community as much as possible and demand the total decriminalization of sex work. Which means we're going to work on a bill, and if we find a person in the political sphere to take it up, to [00: 16: 00.00] pass it, it would be great.
[00: 16: 02.31] But at the moment we are just thinking in a utopian way, because it is not so possible in Romania to decriminalize sex work very quickly.
Adina: I just wanted to make a remark, namely that in addition to the fact that you are the first transgender woman to run for office in Romania, you are also doing this pioneering work on decriminalizing sex work and in general everything that happens under the umbrella [00:16 : 30.00] of SWC.
Antonella: The situation is that not very many people who practice sex work are public about it, because they risk a lot, they expose themselves. Which can bring acts of violence and so on.
[00: 16: 46.17] I wish I wasn't the first to start a sex work organization in Romania, I wish I already had an association to listen to my wishes and help me. Unfortunately I didn't find one. We at SWC work quite hard [00:17:00.00], just last year we had the first street protest of sex workers in front of the Parliament. We do reach-out. Which means we go out on the street every day to meet the girls and give them food, condoms, napkins and all the essentials for sex work under as good conditions as possible. We have ongoing projects with international organizations that fight for the rights of sex workers. We have [00: 17: 30.00] cases and cases of community members who during the COVID-19 pandemic faced extreme poverty, hunger and even the risk of being evicted.
[00: 17: 43.71] Some have even lost the battle with various diseases, from HIV to diabetes. We have a case of a person who was left with an amputated leg due to diabetes. We have trans people who have not accessed [00:18:00.00] to date HIV treatment services and then we tried to help them take them to public institutions and make IDs for them. So that they can take the treatment. We are really proud of that because if it wasn't for us, I don't think they would have been able to access Romania's medical services. Most cases are daily messages of help, requests for help. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources [00: 18: 30.00] to help everyone. And here I mean the financial resources, because we psychic sources, only you can't do anything with psychic resources if you don't have financial resources.
[00: 18: 41.58] Ioni: So far you have had some kind of support or do you have any kind of contact with any of the big unions in Romania and do you think that they would help you or what would be the relations with them?
Antonella: I don't understand what you mean by the big traditional unions.
Ioni: Cartel Alfa [00: 19: 00.00] for example. The established ones, that have people in the territory, that are active on labor issues in general. Is there any willingness to integrate sex work or to work with you from their part, or have they completely ignored the subject so far?
[00: 19: 16.23] Antonella: Unfortunately in Romania the subject of sex work is still a taboo subject. What does taboo subject mean? That they don't even talk about it because they are ashamed. Social morality and so on. We did not have collaborations [00: 19: 30.00], we were not even sent notifications that they would want to collaborate. Of course we also held an event in which we invited various non-governmental organizations from Romanian society and we had on our side LGBT organizations, Roma organizations and so on who showed their public support for sex work as work. The problem is that in Romania sex work is not yet considered work, and then i suspect that is part of the reason the unions do not approach us. And [00: 20: 00.00] no, we didn't have any collaboration.
[00: 20: 02.73] Robi: You said that your personal position and your collective position with SWC is the total decriminalization of sex work, right? Because that is the only legislative framework that actually empowers sex workers. You want to go into a little more detail about exactly what total decriminalization means and if you know maybe put it in antithesis or parallel with Swedish system that is talked about a lot, but which in fact still leaves sex workers vulnerable.
[00: 20: 29.43] Antonella: Unfortunately [00: 20: 30.00] at the European level we have a lot of liberal feminists in Woman European Lobbies and these feminists, without consulting with the sex worker community, have managed to obtain millions and million of euros in European public funds to create this law, this Swedish model of criminalization of the client, which does nothing but make the sex work community more vulnerable. The victims of the Swedish model have doubled from year to year [00: 21: 00.00]. It has also been publicly proven that this Swedish model does not work and has not been elaborated in consultations with the community. I believe that it is very important to consult the community before making laws and so on.
[00: 21: 16.50] We at SWC have decriminalization at heart and work for the total decriminalization of sex work. What does this mean? It means first of all that women will no longer receive fines on the streets every night and will no longer be victims [00: 21: 30.00] of the authorities. It means that each person is free to do with their body what they want, whatever they want. If I want to sell my body it is strictly my problem. Whether I like to sell my body is strictly my problem. The state must not intervene to forbid me to do with my body whatever I want. And then we would like to push for something closer to the New Zealand model which is a pretty ok model. Not a perfect model, but at least it goes a long [00: 22: 00.00] way to improve the protection of sex work.
[00: 22: 04.31] Adina: I propose to transition here to the topic of your candidacy for the Local Council. I would ask you what determined you, how did you take the step towards the decision to enter the electoral system? And what are the personal and political stakes for which you decided this?
[00: 22: 22.32] Antonella: I decided to get into politics because I was fed up with these rich people [00: 22: 30.00] who give laws only for personal gain. As I said earlier, I want more self-representation in any institution and in any area of society. And then I said that I will enter the ring to fight these corrupt lizards because first of all I live in the 2nd District and I am not at all satisfied with the services. I’ve been living here for over four years. I am [00: 23: 00.00] tired of being dissatisfied with the administration of the district all the time and then we decided that my team and I would fight for different intersectional topics, more different from the traditional ones, to try to implement them.
[00: 23: 17.10] Adina: Can you tell us a little bit about the main points of the political agenda that you can fight for when and if you get in the local council?
[00: 23: 26.88] Antonella: Of course. I propose some topics that matter to me [00: 23: 30.00] and that matter a lot to the most vulnerable communities. From social protection and public services, to women's rights and the fight against discrimination and for a greener city.
[00: 23: 41.32] What does that mean? From social protection and public services; I would like funds and investments in social housing and a rent cap; community centers for socialization between the elderly and children; sports bases with free access; hot meal programs in schools - we know very well that [00: 24: 00.00] many children do not even have anything to eat before going to school or after school. So a social canteen and a school after school program would be very important. And as another social protection and public service measure, we considered the fight against unemployment through investments in local infrastructure and training and education programs.
[00: 24: 19.09] This involves some training, some educational solutions for people who have not been able to access schools, such as trans people who face [00: 24: 30.00] transphobia and bullying and then can not continue their studies or get hired or have the necessary studies to hold a pretty ok job.
[00: 24: 45.16] On women's rights and the fight against discrimination. We would like a safer street, by investing in programs and measures to combat harassment and sexual assault. I have seen that often even the police harass women on the street, women who have a shorter skirt or a boob hanging out. The local police is very important because it is controlled by the Local Council. And then we could train with them to fight misogynism and so on.
[00: 25: 15.88] Some training programs in local government on discrimination. I would do some training programs with people from all vulnerable areas, from Roma women, LGBT people and so on, to come there and give training sessions with the local administration.
[00: 25: 33.28] Specialized day and night emergency shelters. Here I was attacked publicly, telling me that these already exist. No, my dears! They do not exist in the whole of Bucharest. In all of Romania we do not even have an emergency number for girls who are victims of violence. We had a case at SWC of a girl who was raped and we had nowhere to call because if you call the police, it's always the girl's fault, because she dressed too ostentatiously. So, it is necessary to have specialized centers with qualified staff [00: 26: 00.00] who know how to act in different situations and psychologists and so on. We also thought of fixed and mobile centers that distribute menstrual pads and cups, and personal hygiene products for women and girls in need. Here again I was publicly attacked, that these fixed and mobile centers exist and are called stores. No, my dears! I don't want them to buy from stores. I want every girl, woman to have access to free hygiene products.
[00: 26: 28.30] Those girls don't decide to have [00: 26: 30.00] menstruation. Menstruation is a biological and natural thing. We could take examples from the European Union where girls get free pads from everywhere. Yes, even from stores. Okay. But for free, not to have to pay money because it is not as if it is a choice, so you should not be obliged to pay. You should be able to access them for free.
[00: 26: 50.02] A greener city. We noticed that in the 2nd District we need more green spaces, community gardens and responsible grooming of urban vegetation. Why don't we have more green spaces? Because the rich people decided [00: 27: 00.00] to cut down trees, make malls, build shops and so on.
[00: 27: 09.88] Municipalization of the sanitation services by the City Hall of the 2nd District. Why? Because here in the 2nd District we have a garbage collection company that is ultra-orthodox and ultra-religious. As a symbol, as a logo, they have Nihil sine Deo. So when you see Nihil sine Deo on the trashcans, you feel like vomiting. Yeah. The problem is as follows. This contract is illegal. It signed through nepotism, cronyism [00: 27: 30.00] and so on. There is still a trial pending, if I am not mistaken, in which the whole matter is analyzed.
Continuation of the thermal rehabilitation of the buildings in the 2nd District that will benefit all social categories. Many people here, including myself, did not have hot water and heat in the winter. Why? Because you have to go to the town hall to ask for financial support for heating and so on. Which is very difficult and until you are granted aid for heating, winter passes. So let's move these things a little bit faster [00: 28: 00.00]. Collaboration with the General City Hall for the adoption of a new Urban Mobility Plan. We have some buses that break down every 5 minutes, every five seconds, and so I think it's really called for to take care of these things and to stop buying them from the Turks, instead buy some new buses.
The problem is as follows. As a local councilor, I will not go there and immediately be able to implement these programs. It's not like I'm ready, I got there and I implemented them instantly. It's very hard because I [00: 28: 30.00] will be there alone. I will have one vote in the Local Council. But that vote is very important, because that vote can stop certain decisions for the benefit of corrupt politicians, my vote can stop their enrichment.
[00: 28: 44.86] My vote is very important in the City Council. And in addition to the vote, it is important that I can have civic initiatives supporting me. And then it doesn't matter that there are 7 votes against me, I can come with the mandate from the citizens' initiative and I guarantee you that your local council decision to buy [00: 29: 00.00] more villas will not pass. And, it is very important to create bridges of solidarity with other members of the Local Council, maybe even from political parties. I am not a person to say that I would not make an alliance with a person if they are from PSD or PMP or from whichever party. If the person resonates with me in my ideas and topics, I can convince them to become independent to come with me. Obviously, it all depends on getting there.
[00: 29: 24.88] Adina: From the interactions you've had so far [00: 29: 30.00] online or when you're on the terrain collecting signatures, how would you say people react to your agenda? Do you feel that there is some openness on their part?
[00: 29: 42.49] Antonella: Well, people, as always, are happy if they hear something that is for their benefit and that is good for them. It's just that people are a little tired of promises. People are fed up with promises and nothing done. I did public canvassing in January-February and consulted in person [00: 30: 00.00] hundreds of residents of the 2nd District about their local problems and how we could solve them together.
[00: 30: 07.30] I met a lot of people who didn't have faith anymore, who were just exhausted and said, "I'm not interested, because nothing will ever change anyway." And this denial of the people who, no matter how much you insist that if we do nothing, it is clear that nothing will happen, we as citizens must take the initiative to run for office in the end because it is not so difficult to go into politics. [00: 30: 30.00] There are a lot of people who have responded positively to my topics. There are many people who have responded positively to my gender identity. There are also people who attacked me on the basis of my gender identity.
[00: 30: 41.23] Opinions are divided, but 80-90 percent are positive because my agenda is pretty ok and it's in favor of the people, and especially of vulnerable people. I am only attacked by the rich who, logically, are scared by these topics and are afraid because they know that they are strong [00: 31: 00.00] topics, strong programs that if were to be implemented, would put their wealth and financial power, potency in danger.
[00: 31: 18.91] Robi: Let me just add a comment here on one of the topics you talked about, namely about social centers - night centers, which should also be day centers. I am part of the Right to the City group, together with Lori and a few people. We work with different families and people who live precariously. I just wanted to add here that it's not [00: 31: 30.00] important only that there are centers. The problem is, on one hand, that there are not enough centers to cover all the needs, so to speak, the number of places that are needed. But beyond that, there is a knowledge that comes only from… that you only know if you are part of the community or if you have worked with people who are in this situation. The moment you go to the center, the family will be separated. Mothers with children are taken to one center - at least that's the way it is here in Timisoara - and partners, or fathers or husbands are sent to another center. [00: 32: 00.00] And often people… So we were in this situation with several people we worked with. They said they choose to sleep informally rather than have their families separated. And that's a kind of knowledge that you only have if you have a connection with the people who are really facing such situations.
[00: 32: 16.48] Antonella: Of course that is the case. There are also vulnerable people in the sex work community. There are a lot of people who practice sex work and live in abandoned houses, in ghettos and so on. And then I had direct contact with people who [00: 32: 30.00] are from the vulnerable categories and I was also told that they do not want to have their families separated, to have their children taken to orphanages and so on.
[00: 32: 38.74] The Romanian system is very bad, especially in this area. In addition to the fact that the centers have poor hygiene - there are centers where we find lice, bedbugs and so on, all kinds of harmful critters. The Social Assistance Department which is within the Town Hall and is in collaboration with the Local Council - there is no communication between them, there are not enough social workers, there are no solutions, there are no proposals. And then they stick to the same proposals they had from Ceausescu's time until today. These things also need to be modernized a bit.
[00: 33: 11.29] Ioni: I saw that practically your approach to electoralism and local elections is quite pragmatic. You explained this to us. Let's talk a little briefly about this attitude which is – unfortunately – the tradition in Romanian politics. Everywhere we have the idea that [00: 33: 30.00] you vote once, then a UFO comes, takes the politician for 4 years, and you only see him in four years. You have no contact with him. At most, mayors or councilors in big cities come on the eve of elections and write down an agenda, they are interested in local issues. There are still a few citizens – senior citizens most often –, romantics, who write petitions to the mayor's office or politicians and are proud to receive a response back. And nothing is solved.
[00: 33: 58.86] Antonella: It's awful, because [00: 34: 00.00] what you are talking about is the gap, the barrier between classes. Because it's the political class and the class of ordinary people. My God, if you get an answer from the mayor, it's wow, that's something to frame and keep for show. No. Collaboration between people and public institutions needs to be more easily accessible. As a counselor, I have in my agenda to have weekly, monthly consultations with people. Because a councilor actually has to do that, [00: 34: 30.00] consult with the people, take people's proposals to the Town Hall. Having worked in the area of NGOs, I know that consulting with the community is very important. And of course, having their support, collaborating with them, I will not be an ordinary politician who, if she was put in place there, you would not hear from her for four years. No. Because I'm an intersectional person and then I have to fight beyond just being a local councilor. I need support, [00: 35: 00.00] because I'm a trans woman who doesn't have hormone treatment, who can't change her ID. For example, I am obliged to apply with a man's ID, an ID that does not represent me and is not mine. But I have to use it because the Romanian state obliges me to do so. Again, I have to fight for Roma rights and tot this end I work with intersectional roma feminist NGOs. I must fight for the decriminalization of sex work and for the rights [00: 35: 30.00] of sex workers. So it doesn't mean that if I become a counselor, I will do nothing else. Because I still have to work with NGOs etc. . The activist life goes on, only the workload doubles.
[00: 35: 44.79] Ioni That was meant to be the follow-up question, but you responded very well to this issue of intersectionality. Because - and you mentioned earlier - a lot of people are either disillusioned, in the case of the younger part from the middle class, or totally marginalized and not at all active in political life. Strictly [00: 36: 00.00] in the area where you live, in the district there, which do you think would be the marginalized communities or the disillusioned people who could be brought into political life? Because the rich have the money and as such can mobilize the standard electorate in the elections, but who do you think is the mass of voters that can be brought to counteract? Because very few people actually vote.
[00: 36: 22.75] Antonella: Yes, I know, I know. First and foremost there are the disadvantaged elderly. And the Roma community. There is also the [00: 36: 30.00] LGBT community. I mean, last year there were over 10,000 at the Pride March. Out of 10,000, if 1,000 sign for me, that's still very good.
[00:36:37.62] La comunitatea romă, sunt peste 20.000 de oameni aparținând comunității. Și atunci te poți folosi asta pentru a-I introduce în politică și a aduce oameni noi în politică din zonele astea vulnerabile care pot fi trainuite, pot fi învățate și le trebuie explicat că politica nu este atât de grea. Pentru că oamenii se feresc de politică. Într-adevăr, multă lume [00:37:00.00] nu vrea să ia aceste inițiative. Că le este frică, ba că n-au terminat studii, ba că nu sunt nu știu ce academician.
[00: 36: 37.62] In the case of the Roma community, there are over 20,000 people belonging to the community. And then you can use that to introduce them to politics and bring new people into politics from these vulnerable areas that can be trained, and educated and it can be explained to them that politics is not that hard. Because people avoid politics. Indeed, many people [00: 37: 00.00] do not want to take such an initiative. They are afraid, that they have not finished their studies, that they are not some fancy academicians.
[00: 37: 41.46] It's just that we're in 2020 and people have gained so much courage even though they don’t have any university degrees. They can come with me and I will teach them what to do and how to run for office. That's why I said that it would be very interesting to implement these topics of fighting unemployment and build community socialization centers where [00: 38: 00.00] we can find real leaders, who can even run for office.
[00: 38: 05.94] Robi: I read on Facebook all sorts of recent comments about your candidacy. On the one hand that you would not have the qualifications for the job and on the other hand ones that are racist or transphobic, or sexist, related to your Roma identity, sex worker, your identity as a transgender woman. How do you respond to your haters?
[00: 38: 24.42] Antonella: All these bad comments and hatred coming from people [00: 38: 30.00], they are there for a purpose. They are initiated by people who feel in danger and feel threatened by my presence on the Local Council. These are conservative people who are part of conservatory parties, and they are basically afraid of me. And then they try by all means to demonize me, to make look like ... oh God!, look, the whore came to the Town Hall. The problem is this - they can't carry as much as I can. Throughout my life experience, [00: 39: 00.00] I've experienced enough things that I no longer feel affected by the public comments that attack me. I knew they would attack me and they would continue to attack me.
[00: 39: 10.34] I said it and I repeat it. It doesn't matter what my gender identity or sexual orientation is. What is important is the topic that I take there with me. How should I answer them? Rest assured that you do not know who you are dealing with. I can carry a lot and I don't feel threatened by some [00: 39: 30.00] haters. It's normal when you feel in danger of losing your counselor position to get people to attack me publicly.
[00: 39: 36.68] But the point is, yes, okay. I have no education. I really do not care. There are others who write clocks [n.r. “cias”, written erroneously] instead of clocks [n.r. “ceas”].
Robi: Yes. And in that case we are talking about the Parliament.
Antonella: Romanian politics is full of illiteracy. So let's not talk about illiteracy, let's find solutions for illiteracy. Let's find solutions and fight illiteracy.
[00: 39: 58.76] Academic degrees [00: 40: 00.00] and so on, they would just distance myself from the common people and I would be considered a regular corrupt politician. So it is in my favor that I am not an academic, because I am an ordinary woman who knows what the needs of the citizens are and I do not have to go there to speak in an academic language that no voter can understand, and give out a bucket of rice and a kilogram of sugar. [n.r. frequent electoral practice]
[00: 40: 25.73] No. Better to be illiterate as I am. I feel very [00: 40: 30.00] ok they are giving me advertising [n.r. the haters]. I always said that negative, positive, advertising is advertising. I really don't mind. As long as the people around me support me and I have the support of the people - mine and the communities I represent - I'm not really affected by the hate.
Robi: Yes, and besides this, the representatives don't have to be experts. People who represent other groups need to be people who have a close connection to or… It’s not as if you had no contact with [00: 41: 00.00] activists, with advisors, with members of the community. What I mean is that it's more important for a representative to know how to listen.
Antonella: I have over 10 years of experience in human rights activism. And when I say human rights, I mean intersectional rights, not necessarily just for LGBT people. I repeat, it is not my identity that is important. If you want to attack me, attack my programs. I'll explain to you, I can argue against you. But I am attacked [00: 41: 30.00] without arguments and then for me it’s: Sit down, you get a 4! [n.r. failing grade in the RO education system]
[00: 41: 36.01] Antonella: But anyway, the Romanian press is very conservative. For example, the international press - when I announced my candidacy - was buzzing. There are articles in German, French, English, Greek, Spanish, in all possible languages on Earth. The Romanian press is silent. Well, why is it silent? Because it's the interests [00: 42: 00.00] of conservatives that are in the middle. Now, if you think about it, we are making history in Romania. So think that in two hundred years people will say that the first transgender woman was, in fact,-- a kind of Romanian Stonewall -- in 2020 when a stupid gipsy who did not have high school degree, ran for office. She took the Local Council by force. She ran for office. I mean, regardless of whether she won or not, she ran. What will be, will be. Either at the ball or at the hospital [n.r. Romanian saying]. But people don't understand this. Because people do not want us to [00: 42: 30.00] go towards a progressive and tolerant future, and with equal rights. No. People want to keep the population under fear, under an authoritarian system, under a system as dictatorial as possible. But look, it is these small revolts on the part of the minorities that bring them down and say to them “Dear ones. We are here. We exist. We have always existed, we will exist in the future ". And then: Sit down, you get 4!
[00:43: 02.96] Adina: Yes. And this expression is quite classic, the one saying [00: 43: 00.00] that the minority wants a majority. Which actually shows you this conservative worldview, of the ones who are afraid and feel threatened, not to lose their privileges or to be asked to be held accountable for the way they treat other people.
[00: 43: 21.20] Antonella: Basically in one word: a classist attitude.
Adina: Yeah. As we approach the end, is there any other topic you feel [00: 43: 30.00] that we should include? Or if not, can you tell us how people can continue to support you?
[00: 43: 37.88] Antonella: Give me money! :) As we know for a trans Roma sex worker, it is quite difficult to have financial resources behind you. Because you can't access any public institution, take out bank loans and so on. And then all you do is appeal to the kindness [00: 44: 00.00] of people, to do crowdfunding, to raise funds for the candidacy. What does it mean to raise funds for the candidacy? It doesn't mean money for me personally, but for leaflets, for posters. Especially now with the COVID period the expenses have multiplied because we have to buy disinfectants for people who collect signatures, visors, masks, alcohol in the form of spray to disinfect the pens. Signature list tables [00: 44: 30.00] should be scanned twice as many times as needed, even triple.
[00: 44: 34.49] For example, if I needed 200 forms for 1700 signatures before, now I need 2,000 forms because I can get only one signature on the list [n.r. on one page]. To reduce the risk of coronavirus. And then another expenditure, another ‘joy'. And, of course, all kinds of videos that you have to make, promotions on Facebook. This is money that I, as a sex worker, [00: 45: 00.00] and as someone that has no help from the state… it's hard. But, we receive some more clients and we can put some money aside.
Adina: Are you considering doing a crowdfunding campaign, or something like that?
Antonella: There is a crowdfunding campaign. You can also find it on my facebook address and on Instagram, whichever you wish…. There are 8 days left. There are eight days left in the whole campaign. You are not allowed to receive money during the [00: 45: 30.00] election campaign. I am only allowed to receive money now during the signature collection period.
[00: 45: 34.17] Robi: Yes, well, even if we're not big fans of the electoral approach, you have our full support. I don't think it's an exaggeration [n.r. to say that] it's a historic moment.
[00: 45: 50.33] Antonella: It's not an exaggeration. I was talking to Reuters, I think, or who they were. Well, they called me from the several international presses and I told them that yes, it is a small step in Romanian history, but it is a very important step from a global perspective. Because Romania [00: 46: 00.00] comes from a communist country, Romania is a country next to Russia and then my candidacy comes as a counterattack to the anti-trans law, a counterattack to the law in Russia with the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
[00: 46: 16.70] It is also very important for Romania because it gives visibility to the trans community, it gives visibility to intersectional communities. And then we have to give it as much visibility and importance as possible. It's just that, I repeat, [00: 46: 30.00] the mainstream press is conservative, it's controlled by political forces and then there are dirty games in the middle. I have people on my side which is very important, because, in the end, it’s the people that put you there in that chair, not the political organizations.
[00: 46: 45.60] Adina: Good luck. Fingers crossed.
Antonella Thank you! Thank you. Of course yes, and with great pleasure.
[00: 46: 54.35] Robi: Thank you so much for your willingness to tell your story and personal experience and for offering us your time, because I realize it's a great [00: 47: 00.00] expense of energy, and physical and emotional work.
[00: 47: 04.64] Antonella: No problem! I am a very open, very sociable person. I like to talk to people, to explain to them, because people have certain preconceptions. And when someone like me shows up and tells them, people change their minds, they change their minds. As the lady from the fruit shop told me. I went to one and she said "well, if you turned from a man into and a woman, do you realize how you will turn that Town Hall upside down?".
[00: 47: 25.90] And I told her of how much strength I have in me, for battling and… Well, I don't know whether to even call it battle. Those on the right have accused me of wanting to go into office to battle and to do I don't know what wars. Honey, I'm not going there to go to war. I'm going there to modernize. To train. To emancipate. We are tired of the same stereotypes, with the lady at the counter and completing 1000 forms so I can go talk to a counselor. And to have that [00: 48: 00.00] seem very important. No, dear. Representatives must be available to the people, because the people put them there. So you can't be unavailable to the people who elected you.
[00: 48: 19.15] Robi:That’s it for today. Before concluding, let's do a shoutout for all the people who contributed in one way or another to this episode. The intro/outro song [00: 48: 30.00] is the song The Government as an Abusive Boyfriend by Sofia Zadar. Search her on social media if you like her music. If you don't like it, you are canceled and we are not interested in your opinion. The art of the episode is by Vlad Cucu. We use various sound clips from Kevin Mcleod's website. And occasionally you find inserted sloth metal riffs by Zomfy [00: 49: 00.00]. You can find us in bookstores and newsstands. Ah, shit. Wrong decade. You can find us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts. I think there was something else, I don't know. And on Soundcloud, only that we are currently banned on Facebook because we are spam. Thanks Zucc for the appreciation. Generally you can find us on facebook, twitter, Instagram. Lori keeps promising us Tik-Tok soon, [00: 49: 30.00] but not yet. Until next time, print out a form and collect some signatures for Antonella and send them to her address. Keep close. See’ya.