Out and Proud? LGBT+ in Bulgaria
Written by Denitsa Dimitrova, edited by Scott Green, photos by GLAS Foundation, Bilitis, and People of Sofia
It's been a tough winter. Scratch that! It's been a tough year. If a color had to be assigned to the general feeling of the past 13 months, I'd say anything between 'deep gray' and 'pitch black' would be a reasonable choice. But summer is almost here to turn those frowns upside down and oh boy, does summer have color! All the colors of the rainbow, as a matter of fact.
In many countries, June has been officially recognized as pride month and we’ve asked Simeon (GLAS Foundation), Kosta (out.bg), Gloriya (Bilitis), and Chris (huge.bg) to share their thoughts, experiences, and hopes for the LGBT+ community in Bulgaria, and what’s happening this year that you can be part of. Each of them was kind enough to answer our questions, which we’ll be sharing in a five-part series of articles, covering everything from gay rights during Communism to RuPaul’s breakthrough show.
But first, introductions:
Gloriya: Bilitis is currently the oldest LGBTI organization in Bulgaria! It started in 2004 as a group of lesbian and bisexual women who were aiming to create a community where they can find support and be themselves. Today, we still keep this grassroots model and many of our main activities are focused on community building and providing support. Our mission is to eliminate all forms of discrimination and achieving full equality for LGBTI people in Bulgaria. We’re a small, but very motivated team of people who are willing to put all the effort into making this mission come true.
Gloriya Filipova holding a sign saying 'Love is stronger than hate.' Photo courtesy of Bilitis
Chris Serafimov holding the book 'People with Voices.' Photo courtesy of People of Sofia
Kosta: Out.bg is a next-generation media in Bulgaria. We celebrate the latest in culture, wellness, identity, politics, and entertainment through the lens of the LGBTQ+ community, and we cover news and politics with an advocacy stance, shining a light on the issues and challenges that queer Bulgarians face. Most of the media coverage of queer people is still rooted in homophobia, stereotypes, and lack of understanding, so we are working hard to normalize the topics that need to be addressed in an educated way. We give a platform to emerging writers and artists, and one of the best parts of our work is the conversations we have with activists and other leaders in our #OutOriginals / #OutInterview series. The editorial team is very creative and driven and most of our writers are millennials and even Gen Z, so the pieces are punchy. We have our core team in Sofia as well as Bulgarian correspondents from Paris, Amsterdam, and Texas, who bring in the international context that is key to advancing the media conversations around queer people here.
Out.bg is also a joint project between Single Step Foundation and Independent Media, who were wonderful in creating a space for me to envision an LGBTQ+ media platform as ambitious as their news and sports outlets, dnews.bg and dsport.bg. My background is in media and the arts, so for me, the impetus for starting the platform was the lack of empathy in media representation. One interesting piece we did was about the homophobic Hungarian MEP József Szájer who was caught at a gay sex party in Brussels. Our take on it was sympathetic and talked about shame and hypocrisy and how that trickles down into homophobic legislation rather than pointing a finger towards him. Even in the most shocking of circumstances, as a media, we look for humanity and empathy, which is something the Bulgarian audience really needs.
Simeon: GLAS Foundation is one of the core organizers of Sofia Pride, the largest event in support of human rights in Bulgaria. Operating the community center for LGBT+ 'The Rainbow Hub' and focused on social awareness campaigns, GLAS is fighting for equal rights and marriage equality in Bulgaria. Working closely with businesses to achieve diversity and inclusion for LGBT+ employees in the workplace. GLAS stands for Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society and for the past six years we’ve been focused on bringing awareness and promoting acceptance. I am Simeon Vasilev and I'm the chairman of the foundation and a full-time activist.
It all started when I first took part in Sofia Pride and started organizing the Sofia Pride Arts; A cultural festival preceding Sofia Pride that has been happening for 8 years so far. It’s a dream come true to have this space, ‘The Rainbow Hub’; the community is now more visible, more organized, we are stronger as a movement.
Chris: HUGE.bg has been online for more than eight years already. Some readers call us the Bulgarian epitome of worldwide websites and magazines like Attitude Magazine, Out Magazine, The Advocate, and Queerty. As the Editor in Chief, my main goal has always been to bring the most important and appealing content that the Bulgarian LGBT+ community might be interested in and to create a platform for talented local and international artists. HUGE’s biggest demographic has always been gay men but we also like to keep our lesbian and trans audience engaged. To me, the key to a successful queer media is being inclusive and finding the right balance between informative, educational, and entertaining publications and I’d like to believe we’ve been on the right track with this task for some time now.
As we mentioned at the beginning, this is part one of a five-part series. If you want to read more about the LGBT+ community in Bulgaria here is part 2, and part 3, please keep an eye out in the coming weeks for part four, and part five.