There have been several cases of homophobia-related crimes in recent years – and no political party has openly expressed support for equality for the LGBT community – although 37 politicians running for the 2021 election supported Sofia Pride, three of which now sit in Parliament.
Last year’s Pride was lighthearted, but the weeks leading up to it were full of excitement. This spring, when an election was held in Bulgaria in which turnout for far-right parties fell, Several attacks were allegedly organized by factions close to nationalist fringe groups.
In November, a presidential candidate, well-known far-right Boyan Rassate, demolished an LGBT community center, the Rainbow Hub, in Sofia. It was later reopened elsewhere.
Simeon Vassilev says the 2021 attacks were a by-product of the tense atmosphere created by the political deadlock; Bulgaria had three elections in one year while the far-right attracted as much media attention as possible.
“The center’s new location is doing very well and the billboards are promoting it [Pride] Events were not destroyed like in previous years,” he said.
“This is a clear example of how tension is artificially created to create publicity when one wants to get into politics and hold on to power.”
This year the organizers are working in a quieter atmosphere. On the whole, the situation has also improved.
“More and more LGBT people in Bulgaria live openly, come out to their relatives, friends, colleagues and continue to live with their partners in Bulgaria, start families, raise children,” says Limberova, a long-time member of the Sofia Pride team and the Organization Deystvie, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and mainly provides legal aid and advice for LGBT people, BIRN said.
For Vasilev, the general increase in openness in Bulgaria is the greatest victory of the cause. “This year we even have a bisexual police officer who has started a campaign against discrimination at the Home Office,” he noted.
“Society is now used to Pride, looks forward to it all year round and accepts it as something to be cherished. Of course we have not been able to push through the desired changes in the law in these 15 years, but for this we also need a responsible and sensitive government for these issues – and that is still missing,” he commented.
Homophobia still not recognized as an aggregation factor in law
“There is also a growing number of people in society as a whole who are aware of what discrimination actually is and understand how to base an attack on a homophobic or transphobic motive,” Limberova noted.
“More cases are being reported to the authorities, more cases are being represented, and this has the potential to change legal and institutional things so that homophobia can be recognized as an aggregating factor,” she added.
On June 14th The European Court of Human Rights asked Bulgaria to change its law. In the Stoyanova v Bulgaria case, the court ordered Bulgaria to compensate the mother of a young man killed by homophobic attackers in 2008, pointing to flaws in the country’s penal code, which still does not list homophobia as an aggregating factor .
Domestic courts treat such crimes as hooliganism. “The argument put forward by both the public prosecutor’s office and the complainant, who had joined the proceedings as a private prosecutor, to qualify these motives as hooligan motives, which were a statutory aggravating factor under the Criminal Code, was rejected by the court on the grounds that they were homophobic and hooligan motives differed,” says the ECHR report.
In early June, the Sofia City Council refused to grant her citizenship “Honey Sarah” the daughter of a same-sex couple, a Bulgarian and a British citizen, who had married in Gibraltar.
Her daughter has been stateless since birth and the city refused after the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the child should be issued a Bulgarian passport.
In the last two years there have been several high-profile attacks: in October 2020, Queer teenagers have been attacked by football hooligans in the city of Plovdiv, while the resort of Burgas in 2021, when it held its first Pride event, was surrounded by people who opposed it.
However, Limberova says that in recent years, vulnerable groups in Bulgaria have managed to find ways to communicate and collaborate, with events sometimes involving organizations working together on LGBT+, feminist and Roma rights.
“It’s great that more members of the community are sharing their stories publicly and supporting the demonstrations and marches,” she said.