Monday, June 20, 2011

Parade Exposes Gaps in Response to Crime

I went to the 4th annual LGBT Pride Parade in Sofia on Saturday. Having lived in San Francisco for several years, I know that there's no comparison for what I'm used to; but the feeling of solidarity and activism among many people I met was the same. If you're not familiar with the level of homophobia in the Balkans, keep in mind that even having a parade is a significant accomplishment. It's not generally acceptable for gays, lesbians bisexuals and transgender folk to be open about their identity, as most Bulgarian families are very conservative. There were threats by members of an ultra-nationalist political party (Ataka) to stage a counter-protest to the event, but luckily nothing of the sort happened. I did witness several onlookers giving parade-goers the middle finger, but this provocation was only met with smiles and blowing kisses. The number of participants was estimated at about 1200, and there were quite a few observers along the route waving and cheering the crowd onward. There was a massive police presence there (which the organizers of the parade were obliged to pay for- this is illegal under EU legislation), participants were not supposed to leave the parade route once it started and were also advised to leave in large groups to avoid possible hate-motivated attacks. Unfortunately, there was an incident that evening where five participants were attacked by skinheads. They informed the police, who are investigating the crime as an act of "hooliganism" rather than a hate crime. This is a major problem here because LGBT issues are not taken seriously by the government. Read Amnesty International's report here. Hopefully, this incident and recent others like it (such as the attack on the Banyi Bashi mosque) will create the necessary momentum to fix the judicial problems here and bring Bulgaria up to date with EU standards for human rights. 

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