It’s amazing to think how Sofia Pride has grown since the first march in 2008. That first 2008 Pride faced fierce opposition from neo-Nazi protestors throwing Molotov cocktails, and 88 protestors being arrested by the police. Since then, the march has grown from a little over 100 participants to 2010’s march which had well over 700 supporters taking part.
The morning of the Pride we met with some of the volunteer organizers of Sofia Pride. Chad actually managed to give them quite a shock, as when we arrived outside their apartment and saw a rainbow flag, Chad pulled out his camera, and inside they just saw a guy in all black hanging around their window and pulling something out of a bag…yah, oops! One of the reasons they were on edge was from a news report they’d been looking at online about an ultra-nationalist protest march that had taken place that morning. About 100 nationalists had rallied in support of homophobia and intolerance. Again, this group had many crazy “facts” concerning homosexuality concerning how dangerous LGBT people are, yet I don’t think this morning they were the ones worried about their demonstration being attacked.
A few hours before the Pride we left for the old headquarters of Sofia Pride, which was in the office of Gemini. I’m not sure the complete story, but Gemini had been one of the main LGBT organizations in Bulgaria, before it had stopped operations last year. It didn’t take long for this place to fill up with people, balloons, and all things rainbow. Michael Cashmen, UK Labor MEP and co-president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup (and someone who we’d seen both at the Lithuanian and Romanian Prides), arrived to show his support for Sofia Pride. Mr. Cashmen had participated in last year’s march as well.
As the time for the Pride got closer, the police escorted the Pride volunteers in a large group to the start of the march. Entering the roped off perimeter, participants were greated by the media, with cameras and video cameras everywhere. While we waited to begin, more and more people arrived. The great turnout was helped by the weather, despite threatening to be rainy all week, surprisingly the rain held off. This helped the number in attendance to pass the 500-600 originally expected
Around 5pm the event started, with a huge mass of people walking from Lover’s bridge to Vassil Lovski Blvd. A large float led the he march, with dancers and a DJ playing music. The 300 police present provided security for the march, and prevented any disruptions. Taking part, I didn’t notice anyone protesting … the only thing was a lone egg thrown from an apartment that landed on the ground a little to close for comfort from my foot.
The Pride march ended at a nearby park several blocks away. There was much celebration, music, and waving of Pride flags. As well as strong hopes that next years’ Pride march would have double the amount of supporters.
The last Saturday in June has long been remembered as the start of the Stonewall riots, and a turning point for the Gay Rights movement. While it is great to think of how many Pride parades and marches have been able to take place since this event, including Sofia’s Pride, it also makes one consider all the places where public displays of pride are still illegal. I have to say it was distressing to return from Sofia Pride, only to read about the arrests in Saint Petersburg, Russia – where not only were five of the activists arrested, but so was a group of skin heads that had showed up with box cutters. Unfortunately, the world is still rife with homophobia, but at least I’d like to hope things are getting/will get better.