A gallery for Sofia Pride is now online.
This was the country’s third Pride …
(Sofia Pride 2010)
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.
Here are some pictures from the week leading up to Sofia Pride.
Sign making time …
The Pride march will be tomorrow!
In just a few days Sofia will have its 3rd Pride march, which means both supporters and protesters of the Pride are getting ready. There has been a flurry of letter writing on both sides, which has been appearing in the local and international media. From those opposed, a joint declaration was issued by 25 Bulgarian organizations condemning the Pride, while letters of support and solidarity concerning Sofia Pride have arrived from several foreign Ambassadors and international LGBT groups.
This morning we joined Marko and another LGBT activist at the National Bulgarian radio station as one of the radio programs was going to focus on the upcoming Pride. A representative from a local family-values group (who looked to be in his early 20s) also arrived at the show to provide the opposing viewpoint.
This young man, who claimed not to be a homophobe, but instead a “concerned citizen”, came prepared with many “facts” concerning homosexuality, including that those in the LGBT community live 20 years less, 70% have AIDS, and that legalizing prostitution is core on the gay agenda. He therefore concluded that their choice to be gay was illogical (!) Again, what is admirable about Marko and his friend, as well as many of the activists we’ve met during this trip, instead of getting angry at this idiocy they instead tried to talk reasonably with him. It didn’t work as it concerned him, but they did present a reasonable counter-argument for the radio program.
When the organizers for the Pride are not being kept busy doing awareness and promotion within the community, they still have a mass of other activities to do to get ready for the Pride. While we left Marko after the radio show, we met up with more members of the Sofia organizing committee that afternoon as they prepared signs and had a security briefing.
Sitting around a laptop, the group of 12-15 volunteers watched footage of the 2008 Pride where Molotov cocktails had been thrown. Photos of some of the main aggressors against the Pride were passed around, and strategies discussed on how to deal with the opposition. To add insult to injury, not only do they have to deal with these hateful individuals that wish them harm, but they have to personally pay the city police to protect them from these guys. This is a serious problem as the cost for the needed police protection (caused by the aggressive protestors) runs in the thousands of Euros! Not easy for a small Pride. Already they have been forced to cut the length of the march and afterwards gathering by half, down from 4 hours to only 2 hours, because of the cost for police.
While only days before the main pride event, the group is still raising money to cover some of the necessities. (see here for more details)
On Sunday night we left Zagreb by train headed first to Belgrade, Serbia, and then by connecting train to Sofia, Bulgaria. Going by train was a change of pace from all the flying we’ve been doing recently, but fifteen hours on a train seemed rather grueling by the end. Anyway, now we’re in Sofia to document the project’s 11th Pride. Like most place in Eastern Europe it is not very easy to hold a Pride event here, which makes getting to know the people who do organize these events all the more interesting.
We didn’t have much time to settle into Sofia as about an hour after the train arrived we were due to attend a press briefing to officially start the week of Sofia Pride. One of the organizers of this year’s pride is Marko, who we’d had a chance to meet during Athens Pride (and the regional solidarity conference held beforehand). In addition to the press briefing, Marko informed us that they were also opening a photo exhibit that night showing images from past Sofia Prides.
The history of Sofia Pride is still relatively young. The first Pride took place in 2008 with about 150 participants, but also with strong opposition from local far-right wing groups. During the event Molotov cocktails were thrown, and 88 protestors were arrested. The second Pride, 2009, faired better with 300 pro-LGBT participants, support of dozen of foreign embassies, and no violence. This year will be the third Pride March, and it has the theme of “Love equality, embrace diversity”
Here’s some a video/pics of the past marches:
As you’ll notice in 2009 Pride participants were given hard hats to wear!
Sofia Pride 2009:
Sofia Pride 2008:
Bulgaria LGBT Rights:
Homosexual Acts Legal? Yes
◊In 1858 homosexual acts were first made legal by the Ottoman empire, but in 1878 following the liberation of Bulgaria homosexuality again became illegal. It wasn’t until 1968 that a revision of the penal code made it once again legal.
Same-sex Relationships Recognized? No
Same-sex Marriages Allowed? No
Same-sex Adoption Allowed? No
Can Gays Serve Openly in the Military? Yes
Anti-discrimination Laws? Yes, since 2003
Legislature Concerning Gender Identity? Some
◊ Right to legally change gender is allowed
Cultural Points of Interest:
In 2008 hate groups in Bulgaria held “Week of Intolerance” leading up to Sofia’s first pride march. Unfortunately, Bulgaria suffers from high levels of homophobia.
Gay.bg – Bulgayria (gay.bg) is a web site about the news on gay/lesbian/homosexual/queer life in Bulgaria. The gay guide includes the list of gay bar, disco and cruising in Sofia, Varna, Plovdiv, Rousse, Bourgas, map of Sofia (other maps will be added), listing of parties in Spartacus Disco. http://www.gay.bg/