Comment: Is newspaper backlash aid to homophobia?

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.’s Dave McElhill ponders press reporting regarding EU enlargement and asks if the tones are helping the international gay community.

The recent headlines have been full of commentary regarding the likely influx of new immigrants when Bulgaria and Romania join the EU.

The right wing press though is aiming to keep levels of legal immigration down from countries which are openly anti-gay, as shown by the response to pride marches throughout former Soviet states, in particular Latvia.

Questions remain, though, as to whether or not the two new EU candidate countries are as openly homophobic.

If so this presents grounds for possible immigration to avoid discrimination.

Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, has not held a gay pride march in over 4 years.

The two marches that have been undertaken, covering less than a mile each, were held in 2000 and 2002 with over a thousand people present.

However, Gemini, a Bulgarian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) organisation, has not allowed this to halt moves to make Bulgarian society more open.

They are currently involved in suing a prominent nationalist over comments that he made, which Gemini claim to be homophobic.

Gemini is also promoting a Cultural Festival to be held in Sofia in early October, and is currently on the look out for entries.

Gemini is not the only organisation, with the Queer Bulgaria Foundation hosting an international seminar entitled “Am I legal? Anti-discriminating polices in Europe” in early November.

According to the website there is also a thriving lesbian scene in Sofia.

Romania held its first gay pride event in Bucharest in 2005, and has recently held its second.

This included an exhibition called “spouse for life.”

The recent event faced opposition from the Romanian Orthodox Church, though the homosexual community has support from metropolitan churchs and groups in Bucharest.

Florin Buhuceanu, gay group ACCEPT’s executive director, said in a media statement that “we are not asking for separate rights or special rights, but simply the same rights already afforded heterosexual couples.”

This comes in the wake of the post millennium in 2002 to legislate in favour of gay and lesbian relationships, repealing laws that made homosexual relationships illegal.

Previous to this Romanian law had used the same anti-sodomy laws as in the Soviet era, until forced to repeal the law by domestic and European criticism in 2001.

The LGBT rights group ACCEPT, began in 1996 and currently enjoying its tenth anniversary, opposed the older laws and has helped in the legal era to organise the Gay Pride march and the Bucharest Gayfest every year.

Human Rights Watch, though, highlight the problems in both countries until several years ago.

It features Romania on its list of countries in its “Hall of Shame”, though both countries have not raised significant problems over sexual choice since 2002 reports on their progress adopting pro LGBT laws for EU membership.

A list available from Amnesty International’s website does not make reassuring reading.

Although gender reassignment is available in both countries legally, Romania only has some anti discrimination laws, and Bulgaria has none.

An example of this is the outing, and subsequent sacking, of Bulgarian footballers, covered by in March.

While the new countries don’t appear to have large scale homophobia problems such as we have seen Latvia and Poland, there has been a lack of progress in the two new EU states highlighted by the need for better anti discrimination laws.

The right wing press’s xenophobic reporting tones towards EU enlargement are detrimental to the LGBT community in Bulgaria and Romania as we see them as “others” rather than groups needing support.