Is the Grass Always Greener on the Other Side? – Interview: Living as a Lesbian* in Sofia 2021

This month we would like to dedicate our interview series to give voice to Gloriya from Bilitis, Sofia. The main community center of the Bulgarian LGBTI people was attacked and ruined by a leading politician and his group a couple of weeks ago. Gloriya was there and she wants to share their story with us. Let us stand with the people in Sofia!

Hey, Gloriya! Nice to meet you. As a start, can you introduce yourself please?

My name is Gloriya and I’m a LGBTI and feminist activist from Bulgaria. Currently I work as a project coordinator at Bilitis foundation, the oldest still running LGBTI organization in Bulgaria. Bilitis is a grassroots organization and one of our main goals is to create safer spaces for LGBTI people in Bulgaria. Together with our colleagues from GLAS Foundation, we run the only LGBTI community center called Rainbow Hub. Rainbow hub is the place where people from the community can gather, find support and just feel free to be themselves. 

Tell us a bit about the LGBTQ situation in Bulgaria these days.

In terms of community mobilization we see great progress in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, the situation is not like this when it comes to legislation and social acceptance. Lately we can witness very strong anti-LGBTI campaigns, organized by far-right organizations and parties. These campaigns, usually based on fake information and the demonization of LGBTI people, have led to a decrease in the acceptance of LGBTI people. When comparing the Eurobarometer results from 2015 and 2019, we can see a 10-15% drop in the acceptance rate. The demonization of LGBTI people led to an increase of hate speech and, unfortunately, in 2021 this took a very physical form. We have recorded over 20 physical attacks against LGBTI people and community spaces this year.

We heard from the news that Bilitis was also among the targets. Can you tell us what happened?

On October 30th our community center was attacked by a group of 10 nationalists, led by presidential candidate Boyan Stankov, known as Boyan Rassate. They stormed in during a Trans community meeting, and when I tried to stop them, Rassate himself punched me in the face. After this they destroyed everything there was – laptops, books, furniture, even the oven in the kitchen. They spray-painted the paintings on the walls and a banner, which ironically was about hate crimes. Everything happened within less than two minutes. 

Since Rassate was running for president, he had immunity and it was impossible to press charges against him. On November 1st we organized a protest , urging the institutions to take action and asking the Central Election Commission to take down his immunity. By the end of the protest we learned that they voted to do so. The Sofia City Prosecutor’s Office pressed two charges against Rassate: one for vandalism and second one for minor bodily injury.

Wow, that is incredible! How did the community react?

We received great support from the community, there were hundreds of people at the protest! We gathered many donations to recover the space and people themselves came to help us clean up the ruins of the attack.

That is uplifting! What's next for you and Bilitis?

Our priority right now is to recover from the attack – to renovate the space and to provide psychological support to the people who were present during the attack. We’re continuing to push for hate crimes legislation. Ironically, a few days before the attack we filed a petition at the Ministry of Justice asking for the criminalization of anti-LGBTI hate crimes. We’re hoping that the institutions will finally start to pay attention to this issue.

Let us hope so indeed. Is there anything we can do to help?

I think spreading the word is very important and I thank you for being interested in the case! Another thing everyone can do is to sign our petition urging the Bulgarian institutions to take action against the attacker: 

Certainly we’ll do that! The Hungarian community is with you.

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