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04/19/2007


LGBT Pride and Protest: A First-Hand Report From Sofia, Bulgaria

BY GARTH GREENWELL

1_bulgariaPride has always been a tense time in Sofia, Bulgaria, where I have lived for the last four years. In 2008, the year of the first Pride (not coincidentally, Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007), the parade was disrupted by a group of nationalists, who assaulted participants and threw Molotov cocktails. In subsequent years Pride has proceeded without incident, though with a heavy police presence. In 2010, the first year I participated, there were many more police than marchers, most of them in full riot gear, and a phalanx of armored vehicles escorted us on either side of the street.

Still, each year the number of participants has almost doubled, and support from foreign embassies and local public figures has also grown. Media coverage has gradually become more positive, and now one seldom hears words like pedal (faggot) or obraten (queer) in television commentary, as I did often during my first year here. Last year, just before Pride, I was amazed to see a short television profile of a lesbian couple and their child on Bulgarian National Television—a portrait that presented them without any sensationalism, but simply as what they were: an entirely normal family. It felt to me like a revolutionary moment.

Sofia PrideSo it has been deeply disheartening that this year’s Pride events have been marred by violence. I was shocked to learn that in Plovdiv, the country’s second largest city, an LGBT film festival was violently disrupted by hooligans. The film festival (the city’s first) had already been a source of controversy, with the local Metropolitan of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church declaring that LGBT people “destroy the souls of our children”—rhetoric that is not at all uncommon here. When a local soccer club—powerful social groups in a country obsessed with the sport—denounced the festival as “gay propaganda,” the mayor of the city responded not by defending principles of human rights or freedom of expression, but instead by declaring himself “categorically opposed to all events that divide the citizens of Plovdiv.”

On the fifth night of the festival, a group of nationalists entered the bar where that night’s film was being shown. According to LGBT-Plovdiv’s press release, one man asked, “Is this the faggots’ screening,” before promising that the first LGBT film festival would be the last. As they left, they broke the projection equipment. Although the city had promised security for the event, and though there had been an attempted disruption of an earlier screening, there was no police presence; according to organizers, it took twenty minutes for police to respond to a call for help. Bravely, organizers continued the festival the next night, and—now with police protection—it passed without further incident.

Over the last ten days, Sofia has experienced large anti-government protests each evening, with thousands of people marching peacefully through the city center. Acknowledging the burden placed on the city by the demonstrations, and told that security could not be guaranteed, the organizers of Sofia Pride decided to postpone the parade that had been planned for Saturday. Much to their surprise, an anti-gay parade took place as scheduled, with a few dozen demonstrators walking down Vitosha Boulevard, the center of the city’s fashionable shopping district.

Signs beforeSaturday evening, a small group of LGBT activists took part in the anti-government protests, carrying signs bearing messages such as “Let’s be united,” “I’m protesting without homophobia or xenophobia,” and “Gay, bi, hetero, trans: Love each other.” (#Обичайтесебе, “love one another,” is a hashtag associated with the anti-government protests.) They also passed out a large number of small flags, featuring on one side the Bulgarian flag and on the other a rainbow peace flag.

I was in the protest on Saturday, but among the tens of thousands of protesters I never managed to connect with this group. According to my friends’ reports and those that have appeared in the press, while these activists were sitting on the ground beside Eagle Bridge, a landmark of the city and a major gathering place for protesters, a man grabbed many of their signs and destroyed them. They were then harassed by several other demonstrators and accused of passing out “gay propaganda.” The police intervened to tell the LGBT protesters to “stop being provocative” and to go home; they then left the group alone and unprotected.

When the hooligans returned, one LGBT activist was physically assaulted, though not injured, and serious violence was only averted by the intervention of passers-by. By all accounts it was a terrifying moment, and one that could have been terribly worse.

Posters afterBulgaria is on the very edge of Europe, and the presence of Russia looms large; the emphasis on “gay propaganda” in attacks on gay rights here is clearly inspired by Russia’s recent passing of anti-“propaganda” laws. Attacks on Pride events in Georgia and the murders of gay men in Russia, as well as, just this weekend, an attack on the LGBT support center in Skopje, the capital of neighboring Macedonia, all contribute to an atmosphere that has called into question my own sense of the progress gay people have made in this part of the world.

I’ve written a good deal about gay life in Sofia, and about my own experiences as an openly gay person here. I work as a high school teacher, and each year gay students, none of them open, have spoken to me about their own sense of the limitations imposed on their lives. I still believe what I tell them: that even in the four years I have been here I have seen things get better, and that there are activists working bravely and tirelessly to make sure that continues to be true. But it’s hard not to be troubled by what seems, at least possibly, like a change for the worse in the weather.

Eating lunch with a number of activists this afternoon, I found myself sitting next to a young man, a new high school graduate from a small town in Bulgaria, and we spoke a bit about the recent events. “For the first time, I feel like things could move backwards,” he said, “like maybe progress isn’t inevitable.” There’s no denying that, and much depends on the ability of activists here—with the watchfulness and support of the international community—to hold government officials to their obligations under EU agreements.

The organizers of Sofia Pride promise that the parade will take place in September, though they haven’t yet set a date. They should do so, and quickly. Now more than ever, it seems terribly important that this year not pass without Pride. 

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award as well as a Lambda Literary Award. This fall he will be an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Pride Parade In Bulgaria's Sofia Goes Off Without A Hitch

BulgariaPrideDespite calls for violence from nationalist and conservative religious leaders and one small skirmish, gay pride went swimmingly in Sofia, Bulgaria, yesterday.

From Christian Science Monitor:

Organizers said yesterday's parade, the biggest yet held in Bulgaria, is a step forward in highlighting the importance of tolerance for the gay community, but that there is a long way to go in broadening acceptance of homosexuals in society in the region.

“Everything was perfect,” says Marko Markov, one of the parade organizers. “For four consecutive years there has been no violence at all at the parade itself, though we were very concerned this year. The far right is very loud but they know they can’t harm us.”

…One participant had been attacked in the center of Sofia after the march, but was rescued by passers-by.

No doubt the 600 police officers sent to the event, which drew about 1,500 to 2,000 pro-gay people, including ambassadors from the United States and England, helped dissuade the 200 counter protesters from getting too rowdy.


News: JCPenney, Convention Snubs, Hunter Parrish, 'Brave' Lesbian?

CO_Fire 1NewsIcon The wildfire in Colorado doubled in size overnight. It is only about 5% contained at the moment.

1NewsIcon JCPenney stocks plummeted after the axing of PresidentMichael Francis, the executive who helped rebrand the retailer and launched the controversial pro-gay adverts.

1NewsIcon Producers of the truly hilarious and gay-friendly ABC comedy Happy Endings will screen an unaired episode at this year's Outfest in Los Angeles.

1NewsIcon Maryland's Montgomery County School District has decided to ban all off-campus groups from distributing fliers after the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays tried to woo students.

AlexP1NewsIcon Magic Mike star Alex Pettyfer did his research by visiting a male strip club all by his lonesome. "I went on my own," he tells Jimmy Kimmel. "I think it was one of the funniest experiences I’ve ever had. It was more of a comical show to me.”

1NewsIcon Rep. Steve Israel, currently the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is advising his party peers to skip this year's convention: "If they want to win an election, they need to be in their districts... Spending five days away from voters who can vote for you and donors who can give to you may not be the right decision 75 days out from Election Day."

1NewsIcon Hunter Parrish, best known for playing hunky Silas on Weeds, is releasing a "pop-folk" EP next week. "A lot of the music is about love," he said. "Some of it is just love for my momma, and there are some ex-girlfriends I’ve been writing about."

1NewsIcon Police in California are offering a $25,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest of two suspects in a potentially anti-gay stabbing that went down in Echo Park last month.

1NewsIcon Seven gay candidates, all endorsed by the Victory Fund, advanced in the Colorado primaries, meaning they'll be on the ballot come November.

1NewsIcon Meryl Streep remembers friend Nora Ephron: "You could call on her for anything: doctors, restaurants, recipes, speeches, or just a few jokes, and we all did it, constantly. Nora just looked at every situation and cocked her head and thought, 'Hmmmm, how can I make this more fun?'"

1NewsIcon Is the heroine in Pixar's Brave an independent woman or a lesbian?

1NewsIcon Sure, NBC is totally kicking Ann Curry off of Today, but at least the journalist got a lap dance of sorts from Joe Manganiello before her final send off.

1NewsIcon Gay pride in Sofia, Bulgaria, has been marred by violence in the past. Unfortunately, this year may be no different, because a local priest from the Orthodox Church is calling on all "Christians" to stone people participating in the June 30th event. "Our whole society must in every possible way oppose the gay parade that is being planned. For this reason today, I appeal to all those who consider themselves Christians and Bulgarians-throwing stones at gays is an appropriate way," he said. Human rights activists are now calling on Bulgaria's Justice Minister to denounce the priest, Father Evgeni Yanakiev.

VictoryHirshman1NewsIcon Linda Hirshman on why people should read her new book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution: "...This is a great American story. This is one of the three great social movements of the 20th and 21st centuries and it has too long been sort of the stepchild of social movement literature. I am hoping that people will - straight and gay - will read this book to learn how you build a successful social movement."

1NewsIcon Never, ever forget 80s-era candy Bonkers. It was so fruity!

1NewsIcon Terry Richardson has Lindsay Lohan pose with a gun. This man's work really needs to evolve.

1NewsIcon The guest list for Prince Azim of Brunei's 30th birthday party sounds like a gay man's dream: Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Chace Crawford Marisa Tomei, Jerry Hall, Dionne Warwick and Mariah Carey were all in attendance.


Bulgarian Bishop Awards Medals for Defending Christianity from Gays

Bulgaria

Plovdiv Bishop Nikolay of Bulgaria has handed out awards to the Mayor of the city of Pazarzhik Todor Popov and the Pazardzhik Prosecutor Stefan Yanev for "standing up for Christian values, defending Orthodox Christian morality and spirituality, the sanctity of marriage, family, and statehood," the Sofia News Agency reports.

Meaning, they have been leaders in stomping down the gays:

"About a month ago, the local authorities in Pazardzhik stirred a controversy after coming up with an order banning the displays of one's sexuality in public, a measure which was directed at homosexuals. The ordinance came about a month after Bulgaria's third ever gay pride parade in Sofia that rallied several hundred people in June. When a gay rights organization appealed the ordinance before the local Prosecutor's Office, Prosecutor Yanev upheld the Pazardzhik municipal ordinance in an official decision filled with extensive deliberations on human sexuality, 'natural law,' and 'propriety', and essentially determining that public display of one's sexual orientation constitutes 'debauchery.' Yanev's decision was subsequently overruled by the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor's Office in Sofia."

Said Nikolay

"There is something called public morality. The society is not obliged to watch how somebody is sticking into its eyes their own travesty, and to watch how somebody is destroying the souls of our children, and pours poison into the very idea about the sanctity of the bond between a man and a woman that forms a family. The task of the Orthodox Church assigned by our God Jesus Christ himself, is to protect the moral and ethical principles of scripture. The job of the church is to condemn the devil when he tries to destroy this holy order...The Holy Synod is resisting decisively any public and shameful demonstration of sodomic sin that destroyes the traditional foundations and values of the Bulgarian people and brings enticement into the views of our children and youth."


Skinheads Attack Gay Rights Rally in Bulgaria

Skinheads_bulgaria

Skinheads in the central Bulgaria town of Pazardzhik attacked a group of six activists who had arrived there from Sofia to protest the city council's ban on displays of homosexuality in public, Novinvite reports:

"The (activists) arranged large banners on which they started writing articles from the Bulgarian Constitution and the UN Human Rights Charter. No local gay rights activists joined them, Darik Radio reported. However, about 100 local young men most of them with shaved heads and in black clothes staged an anti-rally claiming they had gathered to express their support for the order issued by the City Council. As several of skin heads members attacked the gay rights activists they were immediately knocked down to the ground and arrested by the policemen guarding the rally, who were led personally by the head of the Pazardzhik Police Directorate, Commissar Stoyan Stoyanov. No-one was hurt during the skirmish. However, the anti-rally protestors shouted offensive slogans directed against the gay rights activists such as 'No one wants you, losers', 'Out of Pazardzhik', 'Go to Uganda, freaks'."


Fake Gay Pride Posters Mock Politicos in Bulgaria


 Sofia

Posters featuring former Prime Minister and Bulgarian Socialist Party leader Sergey Stanishev, the leader of the conservative RZS (“Order, Law, Justice”) party, and popular pop folk music singer, Azis and advertising a Gay Pride parade that isn't scheduled to happen have gone up in Sofia, Bulgaria, Novinvite reports:

"The posters say that the gay parade is being organized by the Bulgarian Socialist Youth, an organization attached to the Bulgarian Socialist Party; “Spartacus”, a gay/straight disco club in downtown Sofia which was shut down several years ago, and the RZS party, and with the media support of SKAT TV... The message of the posters seems to play on the allegations made by the nationalist party Ataka that the RZS leader Yane Yanev is gay and should admit his sexual orientation because otherwise he would be susceptible to blackmailing – something which Yanev has refuted; various publications over the years have point to former Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev as being gay of which there has been no evidence."

The creator of the posters has not been identified, but the date and location on the posters "coincide(s) with the national protest rally organized by the conservative RZS party."


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