Gloria Filipova – Challages for LGBTI people in Bulgaria

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In a patriarchal and “traditional” society, the LGBTI community faces many challenges on many levels but there is constant work to overcome them. There are legal issues, problems with healthcare, low awareness and cutting funds for HIV, homophobic and transphobic attitudes in the society, low and bad media representation.

At the moment there are four active organizations – Bilitis Resource Center Foundation, GLAS Foundation, LGBT Youth Organization Deistvie and Single Step and three non-formal groups and collectives – LGBT HHH Collective, TIA and The Queer Squad.

It turns out that these consequences are much more than the right to inherit and the right to common parental rights.

Legal protection for LGBTI people
The only law providing protection for LGBTI people is the Law on Protection against Discrimination, but if we have to be more specific it protects mostly LGB people. In this particular law, among the other protected characteristics, we find that “sexual orientation” and “change of sex” are also included on the list. The problematic here is the formulation “change of sex” which can be interpreted in different ways. It can mean that only persons who went through surgeries or/and hormonal replacement therapy to change their biological sex are protected by this law and many transgender and non-binary people are not being considered. The terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” would be much clearer.

Sexual orientation and change of gender are being mentioned in the Law on Protection against Discrimination, but the protection ends here. Homophobic and transphobic crimes are not considered as hate crimes and homophobic and transphobic motives are not aggravating circumstances. The lack of legislation covering anti LGBTI hate crimes causes also a huge lack of any statistics or official information on the number of crimes against LGBTI people conducted in the country. Earlier in 2017 Bilitis Resource Center Foundation filed a request to the Ministry of Interior and to the Prosecutor`s Office, asking how many attacks against LGBTI people were registered in the period 2015-2016. The answer from both institutions stated that there are no such crimes registered. Since the law doesn`t consider homophobic and transphobic crimes as hate crimes, practically there is no way for them to be registered as such. The only information we have on anti-LGBTI hate crimes comes from the website http://wearetolerant.com/ created by GLAS Foundation to give LGBTI people to report such attacks.

Ilustration

Marriage equality
The civil marriage is the only legal form that gives rights and defines duties in a family. The marital union and all its consequences are described in the Family Code, in which Art. 3 stipulate that “every person has the right to marry and to have a family under the conditions laid down in this Code” and one of the conditions is that marriage is to be concluded under “mutual, free and explicit consent of a man and woman”. Art. 4 of the Family Code states that only civil marriage, concluded in the form prescribed by this Code, raises the consequences that the laws associate with marriage.

It turns out that these consequences are much more than the right to inherit and the right to common parental rights. In 2016 Bilitis Resource Center Foundation conducted qualitative research aiming to explore the situation of Rainbow Families in Bulgaria. The research consisted of qualitative interviews with 50 respondents from the community, who are members of a Rainbow Family. In the final report we see dozens of other obstacles that LGBTI people face because of the lack of legal recognition of their families. Here I list the most common of them:

Problems with access to healthcare services; inability to adopt children as a family; restricted access to some reproductive procedures; no parental rights for the non-biological parent; the care of the child after separation of the parents, as well as its financial provision are not regulated; inability to inherit; barrier with the access to social, financial and insurance institutions; lack of protection in case of domestic violence, violation of freedom of movement.

These personal struggles remain hidden from the public attention, the majority does not understand which rights of LGBTI people are violated and there is no adequate public debate on this issue .It must be noted that besides civil marriage no other type of civil partnership of factual cohabitation are available for heterosexual couples too. The reason for this might be that it would be hard to create such legislation without giving the right to LGBTI couples to benefit from it.

thanks to the only one open intersex activist in the country – Pol Naidenov, more and more people remember to include the “I” in LGBTI

Trans* People
Big problem for trans people in Bulgaria is that there is no clear and accessible gender reassignment procedure. There is no fixed path for trans people to follow to have their documents changed. Many any times when they go to court they depend only on how lucky they are and how LGBTI friendly the judge is. The transitioning process is problematic not only because of the unclear legal procedure. Other huge issue is that in Bulgaria there are no medical services to meet the needs of trans people. Very often the medical specialists refuse to work with trans people or in some cases have discriminatory and insulting attitude towards them. In this context the trans community is left alone to deal with the transitioning process. People exchange information between each other or educate themselves online, but this way of dealing with the lack of medical care can be very dangerous for their health.

Besides this, the topic of being is still surrounded by a lot of stigma and marginalization. Trans people still suffer from discrimination and violence and these problems remain invisible for the wider society, but also within the LGB community, where still there is transphobia present. The LGBTI organizations work on awareness rising and try to include trans topics as often as possible, but still there is a lot work to be done in this direction. The society is still organized around the binary gender system and non-binary or gender queer people are invisible and also stigmatized.

Intersex people
Up until a few years ago intersex was not very known term in Bulgaria. Today, thanks to the only one open intersex activist in the country – Pol Naidenov, more and more people remember to include the “I” in LGBTI. His work and his media presence have created a lot visibility and understanding for intersex people. After years of fighting the system, earlier in 2017 he won a court case and became the first intersex person whose name and gender markers are changed in his personal documents. This was a big success and raised a lot of awareness on the topic, but still there is a lot to be done in this sphere. The so called “normalizing” surgeries on intersex babies are still not criminalized in Bulgaria and in our patriarchal and binary society being intersex are surrounded by shame and stigma.

Sofia Pride 2017
Source: sofiapride.org

Political support
One of the causes of all law gaps is that the political authorities do not understand or recognize the needs and the problems of the LGBTI community. Not one of the ruling parties in the parliament has shown support for LGBTI people or is willing to work with the community. The constant change of governments does not allow a quality dialog between the LGBTI organizations and the political authorities.

Bulgaria does not remain unaffected by the increase of right ideologies on international level and the so called “patriotic” movement in the country is growing. A lot of informal groups and organizations such as National Resistance preach hatred and attack all minorities – mostly LGBTI people, Roma people and refugees. As part of the current ruling parliament we see the electoral coalition of United Patriots, consisting from three parties – IMSO – Bulgarian National Movement, National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria and Attack. These parties are openly homophobic; in 2014 the leader of Attack Volen Siderov suggested 1-5 years in prison and financial fine for the participants in Sofia Pride, but this remained only a suggestion. A couple of months ago the leader of political party Volya, Veselin Mareshki stated that all gay politicians should come out. According to him closeted homosexual politicians could be blackmailed and for this reason they must come out, which is clearly discriminatory statement.

The political support comes around Sofia Pride and mostly from foreign countries or from municipal councilors on their own initiative and from the parties they are members of. In 2017 Sofia Pride received Statement of support from 17 diplomatic missions and representatives of UNICEF and UNHCR in Bulgaria.

The community
A big gap on community level is that there are not many community places. The only LGBTI places are night clubs where teenagers are not allowed and older people don`t go very often. There is a huge need for a community center where the people can meet not only for partying, but to get help, to communicate, to have safe space, to learn, to share. At the moment there are a couple of LGBTI-friendly locations and thanks to them the community has the opportunity to meet and feel safe, but these are only occasional events. The organizations work on creating LGBTI center which will provide not only a place for meeting but also different services such as psychological and law counseling.

Despite all these barriers and negative attitudes, the LGBTI community is becoming more visible and united. In recent years we witness the creation of non-formal LGBTI groups and collectives and the LGBTI organization getting together and doing well-coordinated work. We have more frequent gatherings and events, the number of participants in Sofia Pride is growing each year, over 3000 in 2017, more and more people are engaging and fighting for their rights. All of this gives hope and anticipation for even stronger community fighting for equality.

 

Author: Gloria Filipova

GloriyaFilipova got engaged with activism in 2014 and today works in Bilitis Resource Center Foundation, the oldest LGBTI and feminist organization in Bulgaria. She`s also part of the non-formal collectives LGBT HHH and The Queer Squad.
Gloria was a speaker the the first Global Human Rights Forum conference organised by the Social Margin Center in October 2016.