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At World Class Romania parents cannot use locker rooms to help children of opposite genders get changed – instead, they must use the public toilet.

The first hearing at the National Council for Combating Discrimination (NCCD) was held today, September 8, 2014. Since April 2014, the World Class Wellness Club introduced an unusual rule for fitness centers in Romania and in Europe: parents can no longer use the locker room to help their opposite gender children get changed, regardless of the children’s age. Instead, World Class urged the parents to use the public toilet at the club. The rule was established following a homophobic incident.

 ACCEPT Association notified the National Council for Combating Discrimination in a case initiated by Lestat Monroe against the Romanian branch of the international fitness and franchise World Class, concerning gender, sexual orientation and family status discrimination regarding access to services. World Class Romania did not act to protect a family comprised of two fathers and their children from the aggression of two homophobic men – on the contrary, the wellness company established a new rule to limit Lestat Monroe and his family’s access to the services of the club. The first hearing was held today, while the second one was scheduled for October 6.

Lestat Monroe and his family were verbally assaulted by a group of unidentified individuals on March 29, 2014, in the locker room destined for clients of the pool at World Class Health Academy Downtown, hosted by Radisson Blu Hotel. The aggressors – two men – noticed the presence of a homoparental family – comprised of Lestat, his partner and their two tree year old twin children, a boy and a girl. The two aggressors vehemently contested the presence of a little girl in the men’s locker room; the parents explained to them that the overwhelmingly accepted rule applied across the whole of Europe is that children under seven should accompany the parent to his or her respective changing room, regardless of gender. The aggressors refused to engage in any form of dialogue and started bullying, taunting and insulting the two fathers in front of their two impressionable children by referring to their sexual orientation.

Dan Ciornei, the club manager, was notified that the incident occurred, and even witnessed part of the aggression. Despite this fact, he did not act to diffuse or remedy the situation. Soon after the incident, World Class Downtown established a new rule through which they are forbidding parents to access locker rooms when accompanied by opposite gender children. De facto, this new regulation means that Lestat and his family, as well as hundreds of others families who are already World Class members or potential clients, can no longer use the swimming facilities of the entire wellness chain. In light of this new rule, mothers or fathers who are part of a monoparental family cannot take their opposite gender children swimming, regardless of the World Class venue.

However, all parents, regardless of the particular type of family they are part of, should have the right to accompany and protect their own children when using locker rooms and other facilities at a wellness club. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption adopted an official position in this case:

“of paramount importance is the safety of the child, which is best ensured if children are companied by parents or tutors […] The only persons able to evaluate the impact of a situation such as this one are the parents, because they know best the level and the needs of their children concerning intimacy, personal space, as well as family views regarding nudity.” (Address no.1066/SJ/RP/28.05.2014 –)

Even more aggravating is the so-called option World Class offered parents accompanied by opposite gender children. Since the new rule was introduced, parents were asked to change the little ones in the public toilet of the club, which is used every day by hundreds of people – a clear danger for the children’s health.

Lestat Monroe asked the World Class management to annul the discriminatory rule, but they were refused. “I am shocked to find that a company run by an apparently educated Swede (Mikael Fredholm) and owned by foreign investors (Resource Partners) tried to sweep this incident under the rug and make us invisible as a homoparental family. It was also discouraging that someone like World Class Region Manager and former singer Marius Nedelcu has been so aggressive in supporting the locker room policy (which means supporting bullying and homophobic behavior). Marius has always been surprisingly gay-friendly over the 11 years I have known him, but as recently as last month he told me that World Class head office will not permit club manager Dan Ciornei (who witnessed the altercation) to go with me to the police in order to file a complaint against the people who threatened my family. Finally, CEO Mikael Fredholm has STILL not terminated the membership of these men, who are freely bullying his clients. Action could have been taken a long time ago when the same people refused to pay sums due to World Class, locked a World Class trainer and his boyfriend (also a member) in a closet at the World Class Downtown gym, sexually harassed multiple female members and illicitly recorded video footage of a VIP while she was in the swimming pool,” said Lestat Monroe.

ACCEPT decided to support Lestat in the case initiated at the National Council for Combating Discrimination. “A case such as this one is of paramount importance, considering that many members of the LGBT community avoid exposing their lives and problems to the public because of the generalized intolerance plaguing Romanian society.  The victims of discrimination need to take a stand and not let themselves be intimidated by the perpetrators of hate crime and hate speech, even when a large company is involved. We are encouraging the victims of discrimination, regardless of the criterion on which they were discriminated against, to fight for protecting their rights. Only by standing up for our rights we can prove no one is above the law!” said Flroin Buhuceanu, the Director of ACCEPT Association.

The LGBT community needs to be aware that there have been many legal precedents in Romania regarding instances of discrimination: employers, service providers, politicians and average people have been held responsible for their discriminatory actions against LGBT persons. Actually, ACCEPT brought some of these cases to the attention of authorities. Moreover, a case filed in a court of law or at NCCD can be examined behind closed doors, which ensures the protection of private life. Any retaliation following the submission of a complaint in a case of discrimination is, in turn, sanctioned by Romanian legislation,” said Iustina Ionescu, Human Rights Lawyer.

The first hearing was held today. World Class was represented by a lawyer who submitted a statement of defence and asked for a new hearing date in order to better prepare their defense. “ACCEPT submitted video evidence proving World Class is selectively applying the rule in question: men and women part of heterosexual couples are allowed by World Class staff to use the locker room to help children of opposite ganders get changed. This proves once more that the new rule is inappropriate and fosters new abuses,” said Iustina Ionescu.

The next hearing is scheduled for October 6th, when the facts of the case will be discussed.

For further information, please contact Iustina Ionescu, Attorney at Law 0722 253 789, iionescu@ecpi.ro, or Florin Buhuceanu, ACCEPT Director, at 0728 530 729, florin@acceptromania.ro.

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