June 2000 – Bad Subjects
Cross-Dressing in Bulgaria: Gay-Identity, Post-Communist Fear, and Magical Love
by Robin S. Brooks
A Chicago journalist once wrote that "Gay culture is absolutely uniform across the world. A gay bar in Ulan Bator is no different from one in Chicago or Berlin or Buenos Aires. You’ll hear the same vapid dance music, smell the same cologne, hear the rustle of the same neatly pressed Polo shirts, and touch the same tanned, well-moisturized skin." Buying into this idea, I expected no surprises from Spartakus, Sofia, Bulgaria’s oldest Private Mix Club.
When I first visited the disco, which friends billed as a gay establishment, in the summer of 1997, it was new and fashionable. Entry was restricted to people with exclusive membership cards. The music was indeed vapid, but it was not like any dance music popular in the United States at the time (or ever, for that matter). Scatman John, Era, and other European export bands sang in strangely accented, non-native English over the club’s incredibly loud speakers, and the DJ occasionally announced singles by home-grown pop stars in rapid-fire Bulgarian.
Though the club’s patrons may have been wearing familiar colognes, my nose could not detect them through the thick clouds of smoke from cigarette brands called "Victory" and "Stewardess." I did not see a single Polo, but it is true that tanned skin peeked out from under every tight muscle shirt and microscopic mini-skirt. But it was only as much skin as was necessary to cover the lean bodies of a population whose government had plundered their wheat that winter, leaving them poor and without reliable sources of food, in an economy characterized by 1000% annual inflation and 20% unemployment.
A quick scan of the room revealed that Spartakus was by no means an entirely gay club. Although couples of carefully clad young women on the dance floor moved together to the music, the thick-necked men lining the walls kept a careful eye out to ensure that no one messed with their two girls. Later, threesomes left together in the dark BMWs that the men had somehow managed to park in the highway underpass where the disco is located. In the meantime, throngs inside the exclusive establishment blushed and looked away from the stage when the DJ introduced the male erotic dancers.
Within a few minutes, however, secret peeks at the stage yielded to enthusiastic applause, and no one in the hall failed to watch the drag queen who came out to lip synch "I Will Survive" in fishnet stockings and a feather wig. Who were these people? I asked myself. And what did the audience have in common with the transvestite on stage? Was this really a gay club? And weren’t people afraid of a police raid? I had read in the Rough Guide to Bulgaria that "while homosexual acts between men over the age of 21 are not officially illegal, there are heavy restrictions on vague things like scandalous homosexuality or homosexual acts leading to perversions," which basically means that the authorities have the right to arrest you for any homosexual act.
I feared that simulated fellatio and cross-dressing might be considered scandalous, especially in an Orthodox country, and I had heard rumors of a bar raid in Sofia in 1996. I was nervous all night, and I didn’t understand why nobody else was as worried as I was. Mostly, though, I never understood whether the ubiquitous pairs of girls dancing close were really just pairs of platonic friends, both of whom happened to be dating the same Olympic wrestler. And I never understood why the club bothered to hire transvestite dancers if the whole crowd was as straight as it looked.
Two years later, I returned to Spartakus naïvely expecting time to have transformed the club into something approaching an ideal-typical gay disco with a new Western face. After all, ten years had elapsed since the fall of the totalitarian communist regime, and Bulgaria had experienced two years of relative success with economic and political reforms following the crisis of January 1997.
Indeed, this time I found more standard European music, fewer bodyguards, and more youth in the disco, which has abandoned its members-only policy and is now open to any members of the public who can pass the "face control" and afford the cover charge of $1.50 (the average Bulgarian monthly salary is $111.) I also found an unusual underground culture and a loosely consolidated community of people simultaneously drawn together and atomized by a set of fears and hopes that is unique to the post-communist situation, and perhaps even to the particular social setting of fin-de-siécle Bulgaria. Bulgaria has historically been one of Europe’s most tolerant countries. In the early 1900s, Bulgaria accepted waves of Armenian refugees from Turkey whom no one else would take. During World War II, Bulgaria refused to send its Jews to Nazi concentration camps. In the mid-1980s, Bulgarian citizens demonstrated against anti-Turkish communist policies, and began a process that toppled the totalitarian regime and ushered in a transition to democracy by writing a constitution more liberal than any other in Eastern European.
Despite what is written in the Rough Guide, homosexuality is legal in Bulgaria and has been since 1968. Moreover, law forbids discrimination based on sex or on HIV-positive status in employment or education. It is expected that the Parliament will soon ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. At the same time, though, Bulgarian society as a whole is atomized as a legacy of its totalitarian past, which fostered distrust and destroyed all but the closest individual ties in favor of corporate identities and loyalty to the regime. Consequently, the gay community has also remained unconsolidated.
Traditional social values, especially among older generations, and a dire economic situation make public heterosexuality almost compulsory for young people who often continue to live with their parents until they are married. Indeed, one informant told me that his greatest fear as a gay man in Bulgaria is that his boyfriend will eventually break up with him in order to get married, even though they will still be in love. Despite de facto conservatism, however, Bulgaria is de jure one of the most tolerant and inclusive societies in Europe. Gay people there enjoy more liberties and protections than do their counterparts in Britain or France, so there is no pressing reason to unite politically.
Finally, widespread poverty means that only a small segment of the gay population has access to the expensive clubs and private bars where people can meet and consolidate their community. The lack of economic resources also prevents the community from producing any printed literature that might bind its members together. As the Bulgarian government is busy trying to meet the strict criteria for NATO and European Union membership, the country’s populace is also doing its best to upgrade Bulgaria’s image to meet what they think of as European standards. Although most Bulgarians cannot afford large or elaborate wardrobes, the self-styled aesthetic elite at clubs like Spartakus is trying to raise the bar on local fashion. Although it has cast aside its membership requirements, Spartakus still has a strict dress code.
Other than sneakers and athletic shoes, which are explicitly forbidden in the club, it is not clear exactly what the busty, tattooed transvestite at the entrance is looking for. Whatever her criteria may be, everyone hoping to get inside the club has to pass her scrutiny before being allowed entrance. In a way, this test unites the successful patrons in the knowledge that they are the best-dressed, most stylish Sofians. At the same time, though, it atomizes the gay community by alienating would-be clients who cannot afford or do not feel like wearing the required fashions.
Monika, one of Bulgaria’s few out lesbians, told me that she and a few female friends were once turned away from Spartakus for wearing jeans. "This is a gay club," the face controller told her. "That is why we’re here!" my friend responded. The bouncer refused to let the women in, explaining that they were not appropriately dressed. After telling me the story, Monika sighed and said, "They can’t expect lesbians to look as good as transvestites." Bulgaria is the only country I have ever visited where transvestites are at the top of the hierarchy in the gay community. They decide who can get into the exclusive discos, they get reserved tables in private clubs, and everyone else wants to dance with them or be noticed by them.
The founders of Spartakus envisioned their creation not as a gay disco, perhaps because almost no gay Bulgarians are willing to be out, even in specifically gay establishments. Instead they wanted to found a Bulgarian version of Studio 54, a club for the aesthetic elite, which by definition includes actors, pop stars, artists, and designers, as well as ultra-hipster youth with avant-garde style. Just to be sure, the club’s management hires predominantly transvestites to run the club and to set the visual tone. Aside from the face controller, at least five transvestites mill about Spartakus on any given night.
Most of them are on the official payroll and make around $10 a night, hardly enough to cover the cost of their makeup, let alone their elaborate costumes. To earn their wages, some of the transvestites tend bar. Others put on the stage show, dancing and lip-synching to one or two songs apiece every night. All of the performances are well-rehearsed, although they have no paid rehearsal time, and the crowds cheer them enthusiastically, but cannot afford to tip them. Indeed, the audience can barely afford to dress themselves in the style required for entrance to the club. Krâstina, a prominent Bulgarian fashion designer, explains, "It is interesting to try to make beautiful clothes in a country that doesn’t really need fashion or designers, only clothes to wear."
Indeed, the utilitarian clothing sold from tables on street corners is certainly more affordable to the average Bulgarian than is the haute couture produced by Krâstina, her partner Konstantin, and their estimated eight to ten colleagues working in the genre. But inside Spartakus, it is the high fashion transvestites who set an example that everyone else must follow. Twenty year-old Persephone, Bulgaria’s Miss Transvestite 2000, is lucky that her father runs a successful business and gives her a large allowance without asking her what she spends it on. Persephone competed against 15 other cross-dressers in the Miss Transvestite pageant this March completely on a whim. She had never cross-dressed before, and didn’t expect to do so again.
But after she won, the other transvestites pressured her into continuing, at least for the duration of her reign as queen. The 700 Deutschmark honorarium that she won helps a little, but it will be difficult to build an entire new wardrobe from scratch, especially considering the high standards within the community. Bulgaria’s most famous transvestite, Ursula, has it much easier. Krâstina and Konstantin, her adopted parents, are not only financially better off than the average Bulgarian, but are also supportive of Ursula’s cross-dressing and capable of producing fabulously extravagant costumes for her in their own design studio.
While Persephone designs her own costumes from inexpensive materials and has her mother sew them in secret when her father is not home, a typical costume for Ursula costs $200-300, is designed specifically for her, and is handmade by Kr‰stina from imported fabrics. It is no wonder that Ursula won the Miss Transvestite pageant two years in a row. Her proud parents want to raise the level of fashion at Spartakus to complement Ursula’s beauty, but they cannot do it alone. Konstantin and Krâstina are the only designers who work specifically for transvestites, but they can not afford to absorb the costs for all of them. "We would like to have more than one transvestite," explains Konstantin. "But it is very expensive, and one family simply can’t afford it. So we only have one. We put everything into Ursula. She is our only transvestite. The others have to dress themselves."
With such support, it is not surprising that Ursula is the most famous of the Bulgarian transvestites. What is surprising, however, is the fame that transvestites have even in mainstream Bulgarian society. Krâstina is among Bulgaria’s best-received designers, and her transvestite models are accepted as vanguards of fashion for the entire country. At the after-party for the Miss Bulgaria pageant in April 2000 it was transvestite dancers, not the girls who had competed in the pageant, who performed on stage. In a club full of heterosexual businessmen and wealthy, middle-aged Bulgarian glitterati, no one seemed to question the choice of entertainment. And no one complained when Ursula whipped Miss Plovdiv, Miss Shumen, and even the new Miss Bulgaria herself away from the edge of the stage with her cat-o-nine-tails.
Transvestites can take over a Bulgarian stage even without whips, chains, and other sado-masochistic props, though. In fact, the average Bulgarian cross-dresser wants to be recognized for her beauty, tenderness, and intelligence. Before becoming Miss Transvestite, Persephone, who prefers to identify herself as a drag queen because she never intends to change her physical sex, got attention in public for wearing sado-masochistic costumes that she described as "avant-garde, abnormal, powerful, and new." But once she established a place for herself in the community, she began to design costumes for herself that presented what she thinks of as her true nature. "In private," she says, "I am just a gentle, tender guy."
It was the open manifestation of this private identity that helped Persephone win her title. Konstantin, one of four judges at the pageant, explained that the panel was looking for a combination of "cosmopolitanism, mysticism, femininity, philosophy, and magical love," in the winning contestant. Persephone’s white minidress, feather boa, and softly curled platinum wig projected exactly that image, and her graceful, stylized dance to Sonique’s "Feels So Good," in 9-inch platform shoes added an edge of sex appeal that drew both the audience and the judges in. Not all of the pageant’s contestants came close to the ideal that Konstantin described. The oldest contestant, the 35 year-old Countess, gave a performance that was more like a beer-bellied, Balkan version of Flight of the Bumblebee to the wild laughter and cheers of the audience.
Is this what gentle, tender young guys like Persephone and Ursula can expect from their future? That is not the worst of their fears. Aside from the ordinary financial worries that every Bulgarian harbors, Persephone is also nervous that her father might find out she cross-dresses and throw her out of the house. When she is walking down the street in her unusual platform boots, she fears that she will attract negative attention or even be attacked. Ursula and her parents worry that Bulgarian privatization will never be completed and their fashion designs will never reach the world market. Still, Ursula dreams of becoming a fashion designer like Kr‰stina and Konstantin, and of having a career as a model.
Persephone would like to go abroad to study. She is currently taking a year off from Sofia University, where she studied biology and genetics. If she can get a visa to study in the U.S. she would like to go back to school. If not, she says she is ready to embrace a career as a performer. Though Persephone does not see a sex-change operation in her future, Ursula does, and is saving money for breast implants. Though the Bulgarian transvestite community is as diverse as any other community in the world, its members are tied together at the top of Bulgaria’s aesthetic hierarchy. Most of them do not have many straight friends, and they are marginalized within the gay community as well.
Still, somehow, it is transvestites, not gays, who can afford to be out in Bulgarian society. They support each other inside the community, and they are famous, well-liked, and respected by people outside of it. Bulgarians follow the trends that they set and conform to their aesthetic taste in order to gain entrance into their unique world of underground clubs and cafes. As a result, Bulgarian gay culture, and indeed Bulgarian culture in general, truly is a bit different from the universal stereotype.
Robin S. Brooks is a graduate student in Political Science at UC-Berkeley. She is currently living in Bulgaria and enjoying the nightlife while supposedly writing a dissertation. Maja Munk is a documentary photographer living in Bulgaria. Copyright © 2000 by Robin S. Brooks . Photos © 2000 by Maja Munk. All rights reserved. Permission to link to this site is granted.
July 8, 2003 – Balkan LGBT Network
Bulgarian Gay Organization GEMINI Meets with EU Officials
by Bogdan Stefan, Project Assistant – BGO Gemini
At the beginning of November 2001, the Bulgarian Gay Organization Gemini initiated a series of meetings with European officials to discuss the situation of sexual minorities in Bulgaria. These meetings are part of Gemini’s campaign, which started this year in June.
The campaign focuses on the repeal of Article 157 of the Bulgarian Penal Code and other legislative provisions that discriminate against the sexual minorities, as well as on the introduction of sexual orientation among the non-discrimination criteria in the Bulgarian legislation, especially the labour code.
The first meeting took place on October 26, 2002, when MEP Michael Cashman and a delegation of the European Union in Bulgaria, made up of Mr Christof Stock, deputy secretary, and Ms. Elisabet Roos-Ljunberg, pre-accesion reporting issues counselor, visited Gemini.
The discussion focused on changes to article 157 recently adopted by the Bulgarian Parliament. BGO Gemini informed Mr. Cashman that, despite those changes, article 157 remains discriminatrory to sexual minorities because it simply exists as a legislative provision regulating particularly offences committed by persons of homosexual orientation – offences that are, in fact, already specified in other articles of the Penal Code.
Moreover, this article still includes different (therefore discriminatory) sanctions for the same offence, depending on the sexual orientation of the offender (see paragraphs 1 and 5 of article 157).
During the meeting we also discussed the anti-discrimination law that specifies the non-discrimination criteria, which will be debated and voted in the Parliament. Our organisation is concerned about the highly ambiguous and interpretable wording of this draft law. For instance, its text mentions that some institutions "reserve" the right to discriminate against some minorities – but there is no further specification about which institutions can discriminate, against which minorities, under what circumstances and to what extent.
All the European officials attending the meeting stated once more that they would support BGO Gemini’s lobby activities aimed at changing all the discriminatory legislative provisions and introducing sexual orientation among the non-discrimination criteria. The EU delegation will bring up these issues in future talks with the Bulgarian authorities.
Ms. Elisabet Roos-Ljunberg declared that, if the Bulgarian authorities do not adopt the EU provisions regarding sexual minorities earlier than next year, the failure will be reflected in the next country report of the European Commission.
Balkan Triangle (March 2001 – March 2003): A Midway Perspective
by Ilinca Stroe, projects assistant
With September 2002, 18 months have passed since the Balkan Triangle Project was initiated. Of this, ACCEPT manages two subprojects: LGBT Community Voice and Cross-Cultural Communication, the former aiming to support the local LGBT initiatives in Romania, the latter strengthening the organisational capacity of Gemini (Bulgarian Gay Organisation).
Here are the achievements so far and a few future opportunities within the two subprojects:
Subproject LGBT Community Voice
Since March 2001, ACCEPT’s team has sent informative materials to contact persons, local groups and to Attitude, the Cluj-based association, has made site trips all the groups and organized three important events: a training for the aforementioned (in June, 2001), a Seminar in Busteni (July, 2001) and the Internship of the local groups and Attitude at ACCEPT (in May, 2002).
At present, two local groups (PROTECT GLBT – Sibiu and EQUAL – the Jiu Valley) have just started their process of legal registration as non-governmental organisations, benefiting from the opportunity to cover most of the expenses related to their registration by using Balkan Triangle funds, according to the funding offer launched by ACCEPT at the beginning of September this year.
In the next semester, it is vital that the subproject ensure continuity in the effective working of the new organisations. To this goal, ACCEPT has committed itself support the new organisations by:
1. providing them funding for small projects/activities, using an open fund which, thanks to COC Nederland, collects small donations made by Dutch local LGBT organisations. The first round of this funding offer will be launched in mid-December, by which a maximum of 200 EURO will be granted.
2. internships of the Balkan Triangle team at the new organisations, during which we will work with them to produce draft projects or organise activities, according to the organisations’ specific demands. The internship will focus on accomplishing a specific task and they are meant to stimulate the creation of work teams within the new organisations.
Subproject Cross-Cultural Communication
Our cooperation with Gemini has included, so far, consultations on legislation issues, exchange of informative materials and transfer of organisational management expertise. The main activities were: the Seminar in Busteni (July, 2001); Gemini Staff’s Internship at ACCEPT (January, 2002); consultation by Adrian Coman, former Executive Director of ACCEPT (Sofia, February 2002) and the internship of ACCEPT’s Balkan Triangle team at Gemini (May, 2002).
During the last semester, Gemini went through a period of internal reorganization. This also involved the re-structuring of the five subprojects managed by Gemini within the Balkan Triangle Project, which resulted into increased focus on two subprojects regarding the development of local groups and the newsletter, respectively.
On September 14, the General Assembly (GA) of Gemini convened only for setting a clear agenda and discussing the nominations for positions within the Board. It is in November that the GA will convene again, in order to vote for changes in the Statute of Gemini and to elect a new Board.
In the semester, COC will assist Gemini in preparing the GA in November, while ACCEPT’s team will work with Gemini staff to prepare the seminar (similar to the one in Busteni) that Gemini will organise next year. Moreover, the two teams will participate in a training scheduled in December 2002, in Sofia.
Introduction to the legal situation of gay men in Bulgaria
by Trayko Stoilov (webmaster of BGO Gemini)
1. Introduction to the legal situation of gay men in Bulgaria
In the last year, following the recommendations, directives and negotiations with the EU for accession, Bulgaria has made tremendous efforts to align its legislation regarding sexual minorities to the European norms and standards.
The first step in this juridical ‘emancipation’ of the Bulgarian legislation was to change discriminatory provisions with regard to sexual minorities, under quite a strong pressure coming from BGO Gemini and European institutions, such as the European Commission and the European Parliament.
In September 2002 the Bulgarian Parliament repealed several provisions, including one prohibiting homosexual acts committed "in public or in a scandalous way or in such a manner as to induce others along the road to perversion" . Initial reports indicated Bulgaria’s September law reforms had resulted in the repeal of all significant discriminatory aspects of the criminal law, a position which the European Commission endorsed in the its Bulgaria report.
"The 2001 Regular Report commented on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the Bulgarian Penal Code. Amendments to the Penal Code adopted in September 2002 eliminate these discriminatory provisions. They equalize the age of consent, the legal situation for homosexual and heterosexual prostitution, and the penalties for rape and decriminalize provisions on homosexual actions in public.
The recent changes to the Penal Code are an important step in removing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation towards LGBT people."
Article 157 of the Penal Code (Chapter II "Crimes against the person", section "Debauchery") provides that:
Changes in the Penal Code of the Republic of Bulgaria
(Published in the STATE GAZETTE on September, 27, 2002)
(Adopted by the Parliament on September 13, 2002)
(1) (As amended – SG, No. 28/1982) A person who performs sexual intercourse or acts of sexual satisfaction with a person of the same sex, by using for that purpose force or threat, or by taking advantage of a position of dependency or supervision, as well as with a person deprived of the possibility of self-defense, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty for one to five years, as well as with public censure.
The penalty "one to five" has been changed to "2 to 8 years".
(2) The same punishment shall be imposed on a person who performs such homosexual acts with regard to a person who has not completed 16 years of age.
"16 years" has been changed to "14 years of age".The age of consent for homosexual acts (as it is for heterosexual acts) is now 14 years.
(3) (New – SG, No. 89/1986) The punishment under paragraph (1) shall be imposed also on a person of full age, who performs such homosexual acts with respect to a minor or to a person who could not understand the essence and meaning of the act.
Paragraph 4 is completely repealed.
(4) A person who performs homosexual acts in public or in a scandalous way or in such a manner as to induce others along the road to perversion, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty for up to two years or by corrective labour, as well as by public censure.)
(5) (As amended – SG, No. 28/1982; former paragraph (4) – SG 89/1986; as amended – 10/1993) A person who performs homosexual acts for the purpose of procuring for himself material benefit, or acts for this purpose as procurer or procuress with regard to another for such acts, as well as a person who, by giving or promising benefit abets others to homosexual acts, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty for up to three years and by a fine of up to six Bulgarian leva, where as the court may rule compulsory domicile.
The fine has been changed from "six Bulgarian leva" to "1000 Bulgarian leva)
"the court may rule compulsory domicile" has been changed to "the court may rule probation of certain period not to visit a certain place, region or public place".
It is still possible for a person who benefits from a homosexual prostitution to be prosecuted by law (Article 157, Para 4 "a person who, by giving or promising benefit abets others to homosexual acts, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty for up to three years and by a fine of up to 1000 Bulgarian leva, where as the court may rule probation of certain period not to visit a certain place, region or public place"). This act is not a crime if in case of heterosexual intercourse.
There are still different penalties for the same crimes, committed by homosexual and heterosexual persons. There are still different penalties for crimes of homosexual and heterosexual nature. For a homosexual act where consent is absent the sanction is imprisonment and a public censure (Article 157, Para 1, A person who performs sexual intercourse or acts of sexual satisfaction with a person of the same sex, by using for that purpose force or threat, or by taking advantage of a position of dependency or supervision, as well as with a person deprived of the possibility of self-defense, shall be punished by deprivation of liberty from two up to eight years, as well as with public censure). Public censure is not applied for perpetrators of heterosexual rape.
Even after the changes and the numerous critics from the European Institutions, Article 157 remains discriminatory by its simple existence, since it regulates crimes which are already regulated under other articles.
Moreover, this article still contains some discriminatory penalties for the same crime, but on the basis of sexual orientation (Article 157, Para 1 & 4). The different approaches to seeking criminal responsibility from heterosexual and homosexual persons for sex crimes should be removed, in accordance with the requirement of the European Union in its Resolution on Equal Rights for Homosexual Men and Lesbians.
Presentation of homosexuality in Sofia–Report on Commercial Male Sex Workers (CSW)
by Trayko Stoilov (webmaster of BGO Gemini)
Bulgaria’s capital city, Sofia, continues to attract people from the gay community, not only because it is the biggest city, offering anonymity and distance from relatives, but also because of the strong commercial gay scene (bars, clubs, discos, cruising areas).
People are more ‘out of the closet’ and it is easier to find a partner. For the commercial sex workers, this is the place for a flourishing business, because of the number of clients requesting their services.
There were some attempts to estimate the number of LGBT people in Sofia, especially gay men, but for several reasons, but mainly because of the various self-categorizations (gay, bisexuals, men having sex with men (on a regular basis) – they identify themselves as gay to a certain extent, men having sex with men (sporadically) – also called ‘curious’, and thus not identifying themselves as homosexuals), these attempts failed to produce any actual results.
3. Practical experiences from the contacts with male Commercial Sex Workers on the Internet
The internet area has become one of the best places for male prostitution for several reasons:
– very easy and cheap access, regardless one’s living place
– guarantees full privacy
– many possibilities to choose and negotiate with a client/provider
– real time communication
– lack of censure from outside
– no protection needed (from ‘pimps’ or police officers)
– work on his own account (‘tax-free’)
These are the main reasons for a rapid development of dating sites in general, and inside those sites, the development of ‘men-only’ areas (men looking for men, no other reference made) with very exhaustive options to create profiles or to search according to personal criteria.
Below, you can find a short description of some sites that have a special page for ‘men looking for men’. It is also worth mentioning that these are the most visited/popular sites in Bulgaria. The numbers mentioned below refer only to ‘men looking for men’.
Another important issue is that there are also a considerable numbers of users looking for ‘doesn’t matter’ (in terms of gender), and therefore we can interpret their appearance in any of the pages.
= gay.bg – gay site (8254)
= mIrc – through more than 8 gay channels (it is actually difficult to track how many people enter the channels per day, number of regular users and also the number of commercial sex workers using this chat programme. It is also worth mentioning that, as opposed to the regular sites, a user can change here his nickname/identity at any time.
= bgdate.com – mix site (965)
= elmaz.com – mix (462)
= dir.bg – mix (40)
= bglove.com – mix (34)
= love.bg – mix= friendship.triada.bg mix – 62 adds
= meet-direct.com mix (808)
= priatel.com (there is no information on the number of men looking for men) – mix
= sladur.com (there is no information on the number of men looking for men) – mix
4. Profile of the CSW workers
4.1. Age – the average age is between 24 and 25 years, the youngest being aged of 16 and the oldest of 30.
There is an obvious preference from the paid-sex providers for young clients. There is a growing request from clients for boys/teenagers, mostly under 18, not only for ‘one-night-standings’, but mainly for long-term commitments. It is important to note in this case that the persons requesting the services of teenagers are over 38 and usually married, of a good social standing. We assume that they are looking for a life-style alternative, since most of them describe themselves as from ‘generous’ to ‘VERY generous’ and of a good professional and social status.
4.2. Location – most of them are located in Sofia, but they don’t have any special preference as regards the clients’ location.
4.3. Sexual orientation – most of the male prostitutes are gay (as they stated). But there is also an important number of ads from bisexuals providing services, both to male and female clients. There is also a large number of the posting where sexual orientation is not mentioned, but only stating the services they provide to men.
If we are to interpret these two groups, we could conclude that most of the male sex workers are not homosexual, but only providing services to men.
4.4. Education – mostly, according to their descriptions, they have a high-school education, or even higher.
4.5. Social status – there are no real samples, but since the average age is between 24 and 25 years, and according to their own words, they are mostly students and unemployed.
4.6. Services provided – here, the internet pages are not very generous in information. There is no reference to whether people have safe-sex or not. But most of the adds posted by commercial sex workers actually state that they would provide anything (anal sex, oral sex, group sex, masturbation etc)
4.7. service advertisement
ß ‘have sex for money’
ß ‘for solvent only, provide escort/services to gentlemen from all over the country’
ß ‘I don’t turn down sponsors’
ß ‘an attractive gay is looking for sponsors’
ß ‘to be financially independent’
There are only a few postings stating a certain price per service. Usually these prices are according to the type of sexual intercourse they could engage in.
Like the street/bar male sex workers, the price tends to go up (although not considerably) for unsafe-sex or other dangerous sex practices. As an example, if for a protected anal sex, one could charge with 20 leva (around 10 €), for unprotected sex, it’s only 25 leva (12.5 €).
But these are only some cases, most of the sex workers having actually strict rules for protected sex only. Also, in terms of price, only some of them are very clear on how much they charge. Our experience shows that most of them actually prefer to meet first the client and to ‘quote the price’ afterwards, depending on the look, age, visible social status.
There is also a certain category of ‘workers’ who look mostly for ‘financially independent men’, for ‘solvent only’ or for sponsors for support. This actually indicates that they would like a regular contact with that person, perhaps a longer-term relationship with a man who could financially support them.
Tne Internet is a very important place where to reach the male commercial sex workers
It provides the possibility to easily reach them, but in an interactive site we might always loose contact with them
Non-personal communication (online) is difficult to maintain for out-reach purposes
6. Targeted recommendations
– To create special website(s) for them to place their ads
– to study the growth of CSW on the internet and its impact
– to raise awareness
– to make detailed surveys on the risks the CSWs expose themselves
– to provide them consultations on legislation
– to educate and provide them correct information about HIV/AIDS and STD/I
– to build support group
– to develop services answering and tailored to their real need
– to develop and practice new methods to reach them in collaboration with other experienced organisations
b) government / authorities
– to abolish all discriminatory legislation
– to adopt anti-discrimination legislation
– to legally regulate these activities, so CSWs enjoy protection from the state and other benefits
– to work / train police officers and other state authorities
c) international level
– to exchange experiences and practices regarding internet outreach
– to create sites meeting their needs
d) stakeholders / funders
– to have more funds available for this work
Gay Bashing in Romania: A Personal Story
by Ms. Desislava Petrova aka ‘Soldier’, President, Bulgarian Gay Organization "GEMINI"
I participated in a seminar organized by Association for European Integration QUIZ in Craiova, Romania “Theatre and tradition at north and south of the Danube” which took place from 1 till 14th of May, 2003. The project involved 10 Bulgarian and 10 Romanian students at Theatre and amateurs in a common project to communicate, integrate, make connections; the main theme was theatre improvisation and was financed by European Union and MTS through DTSJ Dolj.
After spending a great time together during all these 14 days and did our work, I came back with great impressions from the country, with more knowledge about the Romanian traditions, the theatre and people.
Unfortunately nothing passed without incidents and I will always remember the last evening that I spend in Craiova. We went all for the last dinner together in a nice traditional Romanian restaurant situated in Craiova. I was sitting at a table with my new friends I spent almost all of the time with a couple that will marry in august. We were planning how I will come to their marriage and them to come in Bulgaria after the wedding. We were trying to seize every minute and every moment to say all the things that we wanted to say to each other before my leaving.
Everything went well before we (me and the girl) decided to go for a walk outside, because she didn’t feel good and had a pain in the stomach. We went outside on the street and took an unknown direction in the dark; we were talking and enjoying our time together, laughing about all the things that happened during this seminar. After walking not more than five minutes she wanted to sit somewhere because her stomach-ache started to be more and more painful, there were no benches around and the street was dark, so we just sated on the pavement to wait until the pain to stop. I held her in my arms to relax and no longer than one or two minutes behind us I saw a light coming from a minibus.
The car stopped in front of us and I recognized that this is not a usual car but a police patrol minibus. We stand up and a police officer came from inside talking something in Romanian language, I couldn’t understand anything but I was sure that they were just checking whether everything is alright. The girl went to them and after speaking something with the officer she went inside of the car and called me to enter also. They started talking about something, but I understood nothing and she explained him that I’m Bulgarian and the purpose of my visit to Romania in their language.
The police officer asked us for our documents, but explicably why they were not with us but in the restaurant. They took us on another street, which was very dark with the car and started asking what were we doing there and why we were sitting on the pavement. Almost all the time the officer was speaking in Romanian language and all that I understood was that the problem is that we don’t have any documents with us. He told me to open all my pockets and to show what I had there. The restaurant was near by so we decided that somebody should go there and bring our passports, I wanted to go but he they didn’t allowed me and let the other girl to go.
Before she left the car she said to me “don’t talk anything with him” then I understood that the situation is much more complicated than I was thinking before. After she left the policeman started to talk with me in English asking me questions about my relation with that woman. He asked me many times in different ways whether we are lesbians, am I in love with her, where I’m sleeping and what I’m doing in Romania. I didn’t tell him anything and didn’t answer to the private questions explaining that this is something personal and he is not allowed to ask me such questions. He answered to me that he is asking this just because of his curiosity and continued trying to gain more information.
After he saw that I would not answer he said to me that I did something illegal and that before three days in Romania exists a new law that forbids and punish homosexual relations. He told me that I should pay an “amenda” and after I asked what does this means he explained me briefly that I did something against the law and now I have to pay. I was afraid, I didn’t have any documents with me and I was in a car with two police officers (the driver and the one that made the inquiry) on a place that I didn’t know, in a foreign country, so everything was possible.
I had my mobile phone with me and I started looking for a telephone number that I wanted to call, the number of a person that works in the Romanian LGBT organization ACCEPT in order to gain some information about the laws but he told me that I’m not allowed to call nobody. I understood from his face and insinuations that he is playing with me and laughing. He explained that in Romania the homosexuals are very rare and that they are prosecuted by the law. I was scared and at the same time very confused, because I knew that in Romania there is legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and I couldn’t realize why I was arrested.
At the same time I was very angry because even if it exist such law that prosecutes homosexuals I did nothing to be arrested, nothing more than hugging a person that I like and which needed me because she didn’t felt well. Everything was clear, we were there for nothing, we were arrested just because somebody needed to have fun with us or maybe get some more money and I wanted to escape from their hands as soon as possible. They were looking at me like I was an animal from the zoo, they tried to get private information about my personality and the purpose was that they just wanted to spend their time with somebody interesting and new for them, laughing and offending me. When the girl came back with the documents I wanted to say to her what they told me but the one asking questions stopped me saying “Don’t talk with her”.
He took our passports and read carefully all the information, he asked some more questions about her, where and with who she lives in Romanian and after that he wrote on a paper the names and numbers of the passports and some other notes which I couldn’t see. When he took my passport he saw the rainbow sticker on it and smiled. Because the girl took all my bag from the restaurant he asked me to open it and to show one by one everything that I had inside, asking me about everything on what purpose I’m wearing it.
All the time the other policeman was staying in front of the door of the minibus as a guardian. After that they had the same conversation that he had with me with the other girl but in Romanian language and he asked her the same questions: “who I am”, “are we girlfriends”, “is she in love with me”, “what we were doing on the street”. She showed him her stomach which was swelled and again explained that she don’t feel good and just wanted to seat for a while.
Around half an hour we stayed in that car, observed and asked the same questions, me in English, her in Romanian. During all that time I tried not to show any fear or to say something about my personal life because they were just waiting for this. But even without saying anything they recognized me as a lesbian, because I look more masculine and different from their vision for woman.
I wanted to scream on their faces that I’m lesbian, that I work in the Bulgarian LGBT organization, that I know my rights and the Romanian law, but I felt that it was more secure on that time to stay calm and to speak about anything which will be a purpose for them to continue the interrogation, I was more scared about the other girl and I wanted to save her from that mess.
They were not doing their job and the purpose of our arrest was invented by them, they lied to us about a law that doesn’t exist at all in Romania in order to scare us or to gain information in a deceitful way. All the time I was trying to see some information about them, but they were not wearing their badges. They stopped the minibus on a street where everything was dark and it was hard to see the number plate of the care but one is sure – I will always remember their faces.
Finally after all when they understood that we don’t have money with us and they cannot do anything more they left us to go back in the restaurant. When we came back we said the entire story to her boyfriend and to the others and everybody was angry because of what happened with us, but it passed and it was more important that we are fine and escaped from them after all. I understood that I could do nothing against the police officers because I couldn’t say anything about them, no names, no numbers, no nothing, just their faces.
I called the person I know from the LGBT organization in Romania and I told her the story, unfortunately that was all we could do, she told me the same, that they can do nothing against the police officers because nobody knows their names and that it will hardly to find out who were they. The same day we said good-bye.
I was personally affected and it was more than a stress for the other girl, because she never had any contact with the reality I met before just because I look different. I was not so much scared about myself but more about her because she never had a closer touch with homosexuality and the problems we met during our lives.
For me everything seemed to be usual because that was not my first time being humiliated I such way from somebody in my country, but I didn’t expected this to happened in a country where “diversity is welcome” and where an anti discrimination law exists.
It is truth and that case proved to me that the law means nothing when the society doesn’t agree and doesn’t accept diversity and we have to walk a long way until the time when your sexual orientation or the way you look will not be a purpose to be treated differently by the others.
And here we can take a look on the recommendations that were written already in the country report on the status of LGBT people in Romania by the executive director of ACCEPT, Florin Buhuceanu:
1. Romania must ratify as soon as possible the Additional Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms prohibiting discrimination on any grounds.
2. The Romanian Government must adopt legal measures aimed at preventing and combating indirect discrimination, and also the procedure of reversing the burden of proof.
3. The Romanian Government and the National Council for Combating Discrimination must initiate public policies for the social inclusion and participation of LGBT persons in society, and to combat their exclusion.
4. Educational programmes and campaigns should be initiated and developed by the National Council for Combating Discrimination in partnership with LGBT organisations for magistrates, police, medical and educational authorities, to reduce prejudice and stereotypes about LGBT people.
5. A media campaign aimed at increasing cultural and social diversity of Romanian society (including sexual orientation issues) needs to be designed and implemented in close partnership with the National Council for Combating Discrimination and LGBT organisations.
After facing the reality and realized the importance of these recommendations I fully support them and hope that they will be implemented as soon as possible in order to create a better society where people can freely express their selves without being prosecuted and treated in a different way just because of their sexual orientation.
I’m thankful that the destiny met me, but not somebody else with this case. I wish I could say aloud one day that this didn’t happened again to nobody. I do hope that we should and will be stronger next time when somebody is trying to treat us badly. Such incidents are making me stronger and giving me power to go further in what I’m doing.
Bulgarian Gay Organization "GEMINI"
office: 3 Vassil Levski blvd., app.7
PO BOX 123
phone/fax: +359 /2/ 987 68 72
cellular: +359 /0/ 89 418 868
personal web: http://www.s-news.co.uk
‘Soldier’s’ Story–My Life So Far
by Ms. Desislava Petrova aka ‘Soldier’, President, Bulgarian Gay Organization "GEMINI"
My name is Desislava Petrova, but everybody knows me as “Soldier” – I have had that nickname since 10 years when a friend of mine decided to call me like this just because I was wearing boots and camouflage and was much attracted to weapons. My dream was to follow the steps of my grand father and to become military but now I’m soldier in a different meaning – something like “soldier of fortune”.
I’m 22 years old woman and grown up in a normal family in the capital of Bulgaria – Sofia. My parents are divorced since I was 12 years old and live happily with their partners. My sister (25) is married with two wonderful daughters.
During my whole life since I was small I’m always experiencing and like the challenges, I’m always trying to discover new things and experimenting with life.
I can say that my real life started when I was 9 years old when my best friend fell down from the pedal boat and drowned in a lake in front of my eyes and I couldn’t help her. From my parents I understood that they found her in the water after 9 hours of researches with professional equipment. That’s how a simple game can become something that will always follow you in your life. After the stress I had I found myself living in the Bulgarian embassy in Alger – the capital of Algeria.
My father was working in the Ministry of foreign affairs and we were there for almost 3 years. I knew nobody, I was obliged to learn French very quickly in order to have the possibility to understand the lessons in the French Lyceum where I was studying and my life changed and turned in completely different way. I made new friends from all over the world and I started to heal myself from the stress I had from this incident.
From the beginning I was afraid to make new friendships because I was thinking that something bad will happen with everybody I’m friend with. After these wonderful years in Algeria our family had to turn back to Bulgaria and everything started again … I had to find new friends, I had to find a new school and begin a new life in Bulgaria, where everything was hard. I was 12 and just after our coming back to the country my parents decided to divorce which was very hard for me. I had to go in Court and say which from my parents I prefer to live with and who I like most. It was difficult for me to decide and separate my mother and father, but finally I decided that my mother needs more support at that time and I have to live with her.
During that time I had big problems with school and I lived a life which was not very normal for a so young girl. I went to night clubs, parties and used alcohol and drugs, but my family never understood that. I finished hardly my school with many problems with my teachers and after all I found the way back to normal life.
During all that time I was much closed person in front of my family and friends and I lived a double life between being the proper kid and the “bad” one. I was very open with all of my friends, always in the center and much liked by them and at the same time none of my parents knew anything personal about me. I moved from group to group, making new and different friends, trying to find myself and I survived many things on that way. I was always enthusiastic and with the will to try everything from life and running into all possible directions with the mind that I still didn’t found my place on that earth.
Finally I found it and that place is the place where I’m sitting right know and writing these words from. I found myself and announced that I did so in front of everybody. Ooops maybe I forgot to say that I’m lesbian! Yeah I am and I’m proud to be me! Since I was very young I was and felt different from the others but nobody could explain me why. I was always running around with the boys and felt like being part of them. I never enjoyed the things that girls enjoyed. Even in the kids garden when I was 4-5 years old I played with cars and guns and enjoyed much to fight with the boys.
I always hated my mother when she tried to put me into a skirt or dress and I usually started to cry to change it with pants. I was a naughty child and nobody could say me what to do or not but at the same time everybody liked me because I was very sweet and smart kid. When I started school I continued to be the same, but while I was in the classroom I was always quiet and good breeding because I liked so much our teacher. When I had to move into a new school after the second class I went to her and promised that one day I will grow up, buy a motorbike and go to take her for a ride. I was always jealous that her husband is coming to take her from work with the car every evening and I dreamed to be just like him, military and with beautiful wife.
My grandfather was one of the creators of the Bulgarian security service and I have that in my blood. Unfortunately after I was accepted in the Bulgarian police academy I understood that this is not my place and I was very disappointed to find out that nothing is working like I was thinking before, so I decided to forget that dream about the Bulgarian security service and find a new place for me.
I was always affected by the girls and when I was younger I never knew that there are women like me. Actually I never knew that for the others that’s something which is not normal. I just acted as a boy and played that game which I much enjoyed, but after I understood that the sexual orientation doesn’t depend from the gender I started living a new life with my real personality as a Woman! Most of the lesbians act like man just because it is simpler to accept yourself like that, but once you’re aware of your sexual orientation and not scared from that, found yourself and alright with this there is no necessity to hide and play the opposite gender role.
I cannot remember when I started to seek women because I feel like I always did so, during my whole life. When I was 14 my friends from school started talking about guys and sex and I was always jealous and asking “why they are talking about boys when they have me”. I never wanted to be with a man physically but I tried to have some relations from which I’m not very satisfied. I can consider a man as a friend, but that’s all, nothing more than friends. I will never forget my first touch with a woman who I knew many months before.
Every evening after going back home I cried and watching the sky I prayed to have a real relation with a woman and that day came when I was 16. I had my real love and I felt what I wanted to feel during my whole life, than I understood that this is not the accepted love from the society. I faced many problems with my sexuality and after I came out to myself which was harder than in front of the others I started searching information on that “problem”. The only information I received was that homosexuals are mental ill and incapable persons that lesbians are “these blonde women from the porn industry” and I couldn’t understand why I seem to be so different from this description.
I was always sure that I’m normal but I walked the long way before I understood that I’m right and that I’m not the only one. I was always looking for people like me and trying to find more information, but unfortunately in Bulgaria there was no information on this issue or if so the information was negative. It was hard to find people like me and it was and still always very difficult to find a partner which doesn’t have problems to be in serious relation with you. I was happy to be one of the first clients of the new and first opened mix club in the capital and there I said just “wow! I feel not alone now”. This club became my second home and I’m still going there – already 6 years. I found my space on the earth!
After knowing already lot of things and received many information on this issue I started wondering why the society is so intolerant and why they are treating me so different from the others. I never looked like a statistic woman, I shaved my hair many times and wearing sport and unisex clothes that’s why I had many problems being myself. I was beaten on the street three times and many others in clubs, three times I was robbed in a awfully and severe way by unknown extortionist and they were never found, my own uncle tried to kill me with a knife telling me that I’m debauching his daughters and I was verbally abused many times in public places.
But all these things are helping me to be stronger in life. I still remember the words of one guy which said to me while kicking me on the pavement: “What the hell are you?” After one of these “incidents” I was with concussion of the brain and I stayed at home for one month, but nothing happened with the violators after that. I never went to the police station or tried to find any assistance just because I was afraid to say why I was beaten. My friends always helped me to come back to normal life after that.
One of the incidents happened while my sister, her husband, I and my best friend went to a holiday in another town. We took an apartment and went out, after coming back while I was sleeping, my sister was in the bathroom and my friend away, her husband entered drunk in the room and asked me who I think I am and why I act as a man, after that he took off his underwear and started joking with me while I was still sleepy telling me to watch what he have. After becoming angry because of the fact that I didn’t reacted he just came and started to beat me in my bed. I just saw my sister entering and after her my friend and he continued screaming and hitting my face. My friend and I went out hardly and went to a hotel to escape.
Years after I understood that the husband of my sister realized the same day that I’m homosexual and after being drunk just couldn’t control him. Now after years we are friends and he fully supports me in what I’m doing. After surviving so many things in life being different I understood that there is a need and that things should be changed, that I should help the others to avoid such incidents and problems. Just months before I turn nineteen I understood that in our country there is a LGBT organization but also that there is only few persons working, trying to do something without any material support. I went to an international seminar for woman from minorities where I saw the difference between east and west European countries and I turned back to Bulgaria motivated to start something new!
One month after the things just happened, it was like a flash for me. I was on the first seminar between our organization, other NGO’s and officials from the ministries and I was there to represent a report on situation of homosexual women in Bulgaria. My life turned completely when in the coffee break there was a herd of journalists hungry for information waiting for me. I just did it! I was everywhere saying “I’m lesbian and the people should respect me because of the person I am, not because of my sexual orientation!”, “my parents and friends have to accept me in the way I am”, and I was in the breaking news of the national television, in the most read newspapers and in the mouth of every Bulgarian.
I felt myself free and new. I felt that I said something which was the most important thing in my life. This is the most important moment of my life and I could never forget it. It gave me the starting point of everything I’m doing.
I became closer with whole my family and started talking with them as a friend, we had long discussions on the topic of homosexuality. They understood what happened with me and what life I had. They fully supported me in my decision to be open and after long conversations everything turned into the normal way. I found many new friends and continued having my old ones behind me.
Of course there were negative reactions after becoming a public person from homophobic minded people and there is still such, but from this moment I feel stronger and free and nobody can change me. Just one week before that public appearance I’ve quit my old job as a fitness instructor and manager of the fitness centre because I had many problems with my boss which was a very strong and popular person and wanted to have intimate relation with me and since that time I never found a new job. I went to many interviews and tried to find a proper work with normal payment but nobody wants in his company an open lesbian, that’s something which is still a problem for many of the lesbians and gay men in my country.
I’m still one of the few persons appearing in the media and talking about homosexuality since that’s something which is not accepted and immoral for most of our society. People are scared to talk and to be their selves in real life and usually they are living a double life where during the day they are “normal” and when being in hidden and private places they are showing their real personality without being scared that somebody will abuse or blame them because of being gay or lesbian.
I started working voluntary with the Gemini and for the cause and I felt that this is the mission of my life. After almost three years I’m still here and working for the cause, I’m president of the organization and I’m proud of myself. Of course there are still a lot of things that should be changed here in our country but after being here and involving more and more people to help me in the work I feel better and secure for our future and the future of our children.
February 6-12, 2004 – Sofia Echo, Sofia, Bulgaria
Reading Room: Discrimination and homophobia endures in Sofia
by Velina Nacheva
In Bulgaria, homosexuals, transsexuals and bisexuals face negative discrimination in their work places, in sports, and at high schools and universities. This was said by Desislava Petrova, chairperson of the Bulgarian gay organisation GEMINI at the end of a two-day international conference entitled Preventing and Combating Discrimination.
Petrova said that the matter of her personal life was comparable to the way other people in the country regarded their faith. The continuing intolerance in society was a result of immaturity, she said. "Bulgarian society has little knowledge on bisexual, transgender and homosexual topics," she told The Echo. And ignorance aggravated intolerance. "I have a homosexual orientation and that is what makes me more aware of the faith of these people," Petrova said.
She has a keen interest in Roma rights, women’s rights, and human rights in general, and believes that all of these should be a priority for Bulgaria and for every society. She said that there had been positive changes in the past years in Bulgaria. For a very long time, to be a Roma person, to be an ethnic minority, and to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual has meant being "the other" in Bulgarian society.
The Bulgarian Law on the Protection against Discrimination came into force on January 1. It bans all forms of negative discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation. Ailsa Spindler, executive director of the European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), noted the difference between a law existing and it being implemented.
To make a real difference, people needed to invoke their rights to make the law meaningful. ILGA has been informed about two cases of lesbian women whose rights were abused on the road in Bulgaria by policemen, who threatened them with arrest. Nothing the gay women were doing was against the law; it appeared the basis of the incident was that they matched the stereotype of what lesbians look like. "I think in many countries, even the more liberal countries in Europe you get that type of harassment," Spindler told The Echo, adding that the northern part of Italy was an example of such discrimination.
" It is very difficult to be judgmental at an European level," Spindler said. She said that societal attitudes in Bulgaria were still conservative and traditional in many ways. This could be a hangover from communism, while there could be other influences. "Bulgaria has had to change many aspects of its society and this is challenging," she told The Echo. At times when people feel threatened by change, they often look for people they can blame. "Sometimes minorities, sexual orientation groups can be the object of that blame," she said.
Spindler has always been struck by the allegation that people level at homosexuals: that they are promiscuous and never stay with the same partner. "But when we ask to register our partnerships they say it is a threat to marriage. They want it both ways," Spindler said.
This is a difficult and exciting time for Bulgaria and the values that people of her generation and younger people have been brought up with, were quite different to what they are now being told is the norm, Spindler said. A negative attitude may be found on an individual or institutional level. "When it is individual it is based on ignorance," Spindler said. People just do not understand the issues, or have stereotyped views of how a lesbian or gay man behaves and use it as a basis to criticise their lifestyle.
A bigger challenge is the institutional resistance, she said. Hidden discrimination is hardest to combat. If you tackle the people responsible for this in the system they simply deny it, Spindler said. Rev Elder Diane Fisher (Canadian), Regional Elder for Metropolitan Community Churches, told The Echo: "It is difficult for gay men and lesbians to become visible because in their visibility they are threatened". She said that there certainly had been discrimination against gay men who wanted to become priests and she said that there has been harassment of many "different people" in the world, not only in Bulgaria.
In Canada when she first "came out" she was harassed and jailed. "Now all our rights are protected and we have the right to gay marriage," Fischer said. In the past 35 years, there had been many changes globally, she said. Fisher expected people to be very excited about the law that came into effect on January 1 and she was right. "The law gives a legal identity and protection," Fischer said. The law protects from discrimination all physical persons on the territory of Bulgaria, the associations of physical persons and legal persons when they are discriminated upon some of the features shown in the law: sex, race, nationality, ethnical affiliation, citizenship, origin, religion or faith, education, convictions, political affiliation, personal or social status, disability, age, sexual orientation, family status, property status or every other feature prescribed by law or international treaty which the Republic of Bulgaria has entered in.
"I believe that Bulgaria has gone farther than many of the European Union countries or those candidates for the EU and it is very helpful," Fischer told The Echo. The protection from discrimination in exercising the right of labour is provided in a separate section of the law, which includes definite prohibitions and obligations for each employer.
The conference dealing with all the issues of discrimination was also attended by COC Netherlands and ACCEPT Romania, the latter being awarded Equality for Gays and Lesbians in the European Institutions Award for overall achievements in the combat for equality of people with homosexual, bisexual and transgender orientation.
Bulgaria is one of the first countries in eastern Europe that has adopted a law that fulfills all the requirements of the European Directives for protection against discrimination. On the deadline for implementation of the Employment Framework Directive, ILGA-Europe ILGA urged all EU member states to stand by their pledge to full equality for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people in Europe.
ILGA is a worldwide federation of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people everywhere. Founded in 1978, it now has more than 350 member organisations. Every continent and around 80 countries are represented. ILGA member groups range from small collectives to national groups and entire cities.
GEMINI said that the Employment Framework Directive (adopted on November 27, 2000) should have been implemented by the EU member states by December 2, 2003. Yet, of the current 15 EU member states, only three meet the minimum standards of implementation – Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.
Others – notably Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands – cover a considerable scope of the directive but would still need to enact some amendments in order to fully comply. All other member states either transposed the directive insufficiently or have not yet adopted or even tabled any legislation at all. Many governments seem to have found the directive challenging, as it raises the profile of discrimination based on sexual orientation. The second-class treatment of same-sex partnerships and marriages and the churches’ position on homosexuality are related topics, which are on the political agenda at the moment. To ensure a social Europe where the principle of equality is more than a mere slogan, it is indispensable that governments act to protect those most in danger of being excluded and victimised. Being far ahead in the aspect of tolerance and making all minority groups visible Bulgaria is continuing to progress with a right step and a right tone.
21st December 2007 – PinkNews
New EU nation not taking to gay acceptance
by Tony Grew
One of the more recent EU member states has very high levels of hostility towards gay people, a survey has revealed. Bulgaria, one of the poorest countries on the continent, joined the European Union in January, but social attitudes do not appear to be developing as quickly as the economy. According to the Novinite news agency, research conducted by Skala agency in September found that only 17 percent of Bulgarians "can freely communicate with gay people."
The survey into discrimination found that 80 percent of people in Bulgaria had a "negative attitude" towards gay people and 53 percent had an "extremely negative" attitude. 70% of people would not let their child be taught in a school with a gay teacher and nearly 50% would not want a gay co-worker. Eighteen years after the fall of Communism, the citizens of Romania and Bulgaria celebrated becoming members of the exclusive Euro club on January 1st 2007.
Gay rights in Bulgaria have progressed rapidly in recent years, although acceptance is still confined to major cities. The promise of membership of the EU has hastened the pace of social reform in the two nations, to the extent that gay and lesbian Romanians and Bulgarians have some of the most comprehensive rights in Europe. In Bulgaria anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2003, and homosexuality was decriminalised in the late 1960s, as in the UK. The age of consent was equalised in 2002 and all discrimination in law was abolished that year.
October 1, 2008 – PinkNews
Bulgarians continue to reject homosexuality
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A majority of Bulgarians do not approve of gays. New research has highlighted the extent of homophobia in Bulgaria. A poll released today found that 80% of Bulgarians have negative attitudes to gays and lesbians. 70% would not allow their child to be educated by a gay teacher and 50% would not work with a homosexual. The poll "was presented at a roundtable in Sofia dedicated to sexuality issues and AIDS and HIV prevention," according to Bulgarian news service novinite.com. The study revealed that 59% are "extremely homophobic."
Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. Homosexuality was decriminalised in the 1960s, the age of consent was equalised in 2002 and anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2003. Gay rights group Gemini’s website claims the country has some of the best anti-discrimination legislation in Europe. At Sofia Pride in June a heavy police presence ensured there were no injuries to the 150 participants.
More than 60 skinheads and rightwing nationalists were arrested and a homophobic mob threw petrol bombs, squid and stones. 150 police, some in armoured police vehicles, managed to keep order. A survey of 27,000 people released in July by the European Union found that 51% overall thought sexual orientation discrimination was widespread in their country, Only 20% of Bulgarians thought it was, the lowest score out of the 27 EU nations.
The UK was just below the average among the 27 EU nations, with 50% thinking discrimination against gay, bisexual and lesbian people is widespread. Just 1% of Bulgarians said they had seen discrimination against gay people. 6% is the EU average.
November 11, 2008 – PinkNews
Bulgarian leader’s anti-gay comment targets Prime Minister
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
A ‘war of words’ between the leader of Bulgaria’s popular GERB political party and the country’s Prime Minister has escalated. Boyko Borisov, the GERB leader and mayor of Sofia, responded to Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev’s assertion that he is not afraid of his rightwing opponent, ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. "We will not be governed by a party that will turn the country into criminals’ dominion," said Mr Stanishev, leader of the Socialist party.
Mr Borisov retaliated, telling journalists he would do "anything to keep people with homosexual adjustment out of the politics of this country, because this affects peoples psyche and also the way that important decisions are being taken." This is thought to be a reference to the Prime Minister. Mr Stanishev, 42, is a colourful political figure in Bulgaria. Prime Minister since 2005, he is unmarried but co-habits with TV war correspondent Elena Yoncheva. Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in the 1960s, the age of consent was equalised in 2002 and anti-discrimination laws have been in place since 2003. Parliament is considering a new draft of a the Family Code which introduces civil partnership into Bulgarian law, but only between a man and a woman. Politicians have refused to countenance extending protections to gay and lesbian couples. A poll released last month found that 80% of Bulgarians have negative attitudes to gays and lesbians. 70% would not allow their child to be educated by a gay teacher and 50% would not work with a homosexual.
The poll "was presented at a roundtable in Sofia dedicated to sexuality issues and AIDS and HIV prevention," according to Bulgarian news service novinite.com. The study revealed that 59% are "extremely homophobic." At Sofia Pride in June a heavy police presence ensured there were no injuries to the 150 participants. More than 60 skinheads and rightwing nationalists were arrested and a homophobic mob threw petrol bombs, squid and stones. 150 police, some in armoured police vehicles, managed to keep order. It was the country’s first Pride event. Prime Minister Stanishev said he "accepts people with different sexual orientation but does not quite approve of the demonstrations of such an orientation."
June 26, 2009 – PinkNews
Pride in Sofia could be a "step forward" for Bulgaria
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The Rainbow Friendship Rally that will take place on Sunday in Sofia could serve "as a step forward in attitudes of acceptance and tolerance in Bulgarian society," a leading commentator has said. The Pride event has proved contentious in Bulgaria. The country joined the EU in 2007 but social attitudes towards homosexuality remain hostile. Writing in the Sofia Echo, Clive Leviev-Sawyer said that the rally "is about promoting respect for fundamental human rights."
"In 2008, the first such rally in Sofia was marred by attempted disruption by far-right thugs and skinheads. Reports at the time said that police were ineffectual in responding to the hooliganism," he wrote. "Given that the Bulgarian constitution asserts the right of peaceful assembly for demonstrations, the state failed in its duty last year, and it is to be hoped that the rally is enabled to proceed in the spirit in which it is intended. It is to be hoped that the parade proceeds as a peaceful celebration of the diversity of humankind, and serves as a step forward in attitudes of acceptance and tolerance in Bulgarian society."
Earlier this month the British ambassador to Bulgaria was criticised for his support for the event. Steve Williams had extended a message of support to the Rainbow Friendship Rally. He said: "Guaranteeing human rights of LGBT persons requires an active, consistent, determined policy of the authorities, both at the level of central government and at the level of local government, as well as by other state institutions. We express our wholehearted support to all those who – whether as individuals, working for government organisations or for nongovernmental organisations – are working to ensure that all of us can fully enjoy our human rights, without distinction of any kind, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Celebrating diversity is not about promoting a lifestyle – it is about promoting respect for fundamental human rights. It is about the very essence of our European democratic values."
However, Bojan Rasate, the leader of the Guardia Bulgarian National Alliance, attacked the remarks, saying Williams should "mind his own business and his country’s business". According to the Daily Telegraph, Rasate added: "He has no right to tell Bulgarians how to live in Bulgaria. Europe has been ruled by homosexuals for a long time. We do not care how they live, but we do not want them to impose their pervert values on us."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The FCO promotes human rights around the world regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Showing support for Pride events, where people seek to assert their rights and highlight the challenges they face, is part of this work."
Bulgaria was named in an EU report in March as one of the member states thast routinely block gay events. A 2008 poll found that 80 per cent of Bulgarians have negative attitudes to gays and lesbians. Seventy per cent would not allow their child to be educated by a gay teacher and 50 per cent would not work with someone who was gay.
July 4, 2009 – PinkNews
Gay Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant writes to ambassadors attacked over LGBT rights
by Jessica Geen
Openly gay Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant has extended his support to two British ambassadors who were criticised for their support of gay rights. The British ambassador to Bulgaria, Steve Williams, and the British ambassador to Poland, Ric Todd, both came under fire earlier last month when they showed their support for gay Pride marches. Williams was told by a far-right leader in Bulgaria that he should "mind his own business", while Todd was accused of "representing the homosexual lobby".
In a couple of hand-written letters seen by PinkNews.co.uk, Bryant praised the courage of the pair, saying he felt it would give confidence to many. He told Todd: "We have not met but I wanted to congratulate you on your flying the rainbow flag next to the union flag last year and your UK guide to LGBT rights in Polish this year. I know you had some flak but frankly, all power to your elbow."
A similar letter, sent to Williams, read: "I just wanted to write and congratulate you on the message of support you sent to the Rainbow Friendship Rally in Sofia. I know you have come under attack in some quarters but I fully support what you have done. Britain supports everyone regardless of their sexuality and it is only right we make that clear. Responding to the criticisms of Todd and Williams, the Foreign Office said: "The FCO promotes human rights around the world regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Showing support for Pride events, where people seek to assert their rights and highlight the challenges they face, is part of this work."
Poland and Bulgaria were named in an EU report in March as two countries which routinely block gay events. A 2008 poll found that 80 per cent of Bulgarians have negative attitudes to gays and lesbians. Seventy per cent would not allow their child to be educated by a gay teacher and 50 per cent would not work with someone who was gay.
May 17, 2010 – Novinite.com
Bulgaria Ranks High in Homophobia
Bulgaria is one of the most homophobic countries in the EU, according to the Bulgarian gay and lesbian community. As a member of the EU, the Bulgarian state should assist those of its citizens who have a different sexual orientation, however it does nothing to alleviate their situation, said Monday Aksiniya Gencheva, a Bulgarian gay activist. Gencheva cited data by Eurobarometer which shows that 30% of the Bulgarian employers have declared that they would not hire a gay or lesbian person although the country’s Labor Code defends the rights of gays and lesbians.
Also, according to Gencheva, two foreign residents have asked for political refuge in Bulgaria on homophobic grounds but have been turned down. 17 May is declared the International Day against Homophobia and is marked throughout the world. “Homophobia is an outrageous violation of human rights,” said Monday the President of the EU Parliament Jerzy Buzek.
The Spanish Green MEP Raül Romeva suggested that anti-discrimination campaigns and discussions be launched within the EU. “The EU anti-discrimination directive sends a message not only to EU member states but also to non EU countries about the need for a change in attitude,” Said Romeva Monday, adding that the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals are most neglected in countries where there is no clear boundary between the state and religious institutions, including the Near East, the Caribbean Islands and Africa.
Romeva was quick to point out that the residents of many European states are also forced to “live in the secret – hiding facts about their sexual orientation” and that many of them have been deprived of their human rights. May 17 was chosen as the International Day against Homophobia because homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases of the World Health Organization on May 17, 1990. It is celebrated in more than 50 countries in the world, and recognized officially by the European Union, Belgium, United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Mexico, Costa-Rica, etc.
May 28, 2010 – PinkNews
Bulgaria’s third LGBT pride parade has diplomatic support
by Christopher Brocklebank
The international diplomatic society in Sofia, Bulgaria, has again expressed its staunch support of the capital’s third annual pride parade, to be held on 26 June. Sofia Pride will mark the closing weekend of a seven-day cultural event which will showcase photographic exhibitions and host various discussions. This year’s parade will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of homosexuality’s removal from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of diseases and disorders.
Representatives of various diplomatic missions including the UK, USA, Belgium and France attended a cocktail reception on Wed in support of Sofia Pride. It was hosted by the embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, the exterior of which was draped with a rainbow flag, the international symbol of LGBT movement. The gathering was held in the hope of engaging the political class of Bulgaria to enter into discussion over guaranteeing basic human rights to the sexual minorities of the country. It was pointed out by a diplomat at the gathering that such issues shouldn’t be restricted to NGO and artistic and intellectual circles alone, but rather an issue which should involve the polical and wider society of Bulgaria as a whole.
It is not known, however, if any Bulgarian ploiticans were even present at the party, and a representative of the committee for organising Sofia Pride said: "The Diplomatic Society in Sofia has developed a tradition already in supporting us, but this is the first time that such a social event has been organised as an expression of this support. This means a lot to us. It is a pity that no Bulgarian politicians have yet dared support such an event as the gay pride parade."
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June 29, 2010 – IGLHRC
Bulgaria Pride 2010 Celebrates Love, Equality and Diversity Free from Threatened Anti-LGBT Violence
After facing considerable opposition in their attempts to hold a Pride March in Sofia over the past two years, LGBT activists exercised their human rights for a third time at this year’s 2010 Pride March, themed "Love Equality, Embrace Diversity." Months before Pride, on March 20 2010, skinheads attacked a peaceful protest by six LGBT activists in Pazardzhik, Bulgaria. While police prevented them from severely harming the activists, several were injured, and the skinheads continued to yell offensive slogans such as "Out of Pazardzhik" and "Go to Uganda, freaks." In addition to attacks against LGBT citizens, neo-Nazis and far-right groups are reported to have attacked other peaceful protesters and individuals at three separate instances in the month of June alone.
Despite the threat of organized violence, intimidation, and discrimination in the lead up to the event, the March was attended by approximately 800 people and protected by 300 police officers. Six or seven anti-LGBT protesters were arrested during the event, and no other incidents occurred.
Bulgaria saw its first Pride March in 2008, but a week before the first LGBT march, the Bulgarian National Alliance (BNA) called for a "Week of Intolerance," with the slogan "be normal, be intolerant." The BNA encouraged other nationalist groups to organize against the right of LGBT Bulgarians and their supporters to march peacefully. This resulted in violence during the march: BNA members and other neo-Nazis threw rocks, Molotov cocktails, and small explosives at the marchers. Many of the attackers, including the head of the BNA, Boyan Rasate, were arrested for the violence surrounding the march.
In 2009 neo-Nazi groups once again organized against the march. This intolerance and potential violence was publicly encouraged by parties in Parliament, such as the Veliko Makedonska Revolucionna Organizacia (VMRO). VMRO characterized LGBT marches as "blackmail" and "strongly oppose[d]" them in an official statement, and Ataka, (another political party) called upon Bulgarian men to "beat up the gays." Fortunately, at the "Rainbow Friendship Rally," itself, police protection prevented any attacks from occurring.
IGLHRC congratulates the Bulgarian LGBT activists and supporters who planned and participated in this most recent successful demonstration of LGBT pride and bravery, and calls on the Bulgarian government to continue to support their work and the rights of all people in Bulgaria, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Read IGLHRC’s letter to Bulgarian officials (PDF) calling for the rights to freedom of expression of the participants in the 2010 Sofia Pride March to be respected and protected.
June 18, 2011 – NPR
Police Protect Gay Pride Rallies Across Balkans
Sofia, Bulgaria – Gays and lesbians marched in several Eastern European capitals Saturday protected by hundreds of riot police after some extremist groups urged members to stop the Gay Pride rallies. Nearly 1,000 people joined the fourth Gay Pride rally in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, organizers said. Twice as many paraded through the Croatian capital of Zagreb under rainbow arches of balloons and banners for that city’s 10th Gay Pride march. Hungarian gay rights activists also took to the streets in Budapest, flanked by police in full riot gear.
Gays and lesbians face widespread hostility in the region’s macho-dominated societies, and opposition to their public events has been fierce. "I am here because I am tired of being afraid," Deya Georgieva, 19, said in Sofia. "It is really ridiculous that in a country pretending to be European its citizens are denied some basic rights." Police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said 2,000 people marched through central Zagreb, protected by more than 700 policemen. Police detained 17 people for insulting the marchers and holding anti-gay banners. Some prominent public figures joined the Zagreb parade, which was dubbed "The Future is Ours." The Zagreb rally came a week after thousands of extremists disrupted a gay pride event in the coastal city of Split, throwing rocks, bottles and firecrackers.
Croatia, which has pledged to protect human rights as part of efforts to join the European Union, provided extensive security for Saturday’s rally. After years of tough negotiations, EU officials said earlier this month that Croatia could join the 27-nation bloc in 2013. Due to extremist violence during previous gay rights parades, Sofia city hall rejected an anti-gay group’s demand to hold a parallel rally. Gay Pride organizers, however, said extremists used social networks to drum up resistance.
Guarded by hundreds of police and private security, the mostly young marchers walked peacefully through downtown Sofia displaying colorful banners calling for love, equality and sexual diversity. "We are here because we exist" read one banner. "Be aware whom you hate, because it could be someone you love" proclaimed another.
Gays in Bulgaria face widespread hostility despite a 2003 anti-discrimination law that protects their rights. One young man said his parents were unaware of his sexual orientation. "They belong to another generation, and for them the issue is taboo," said 18-year-old Nikolay, who would not give his last name for fear of discrimination.
On Friday, the United Nations issued its first condemnation of discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people in a cautiously worded declaration. The resolution was hailed by supporters, including the United States, as a historic moment but decried by some African and Muslim countries for introducing ideas that "have no legal foundation."