Bulgaria told to urgently tackle anti-LGBTQ+ hate by European human rights group

Thousands of people march on the streets during the annual Sofia LGBT Pride parade in Sofia, Bulgaria

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has called on Bulgaria to crack down on anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour.

The report, focused on addressing inequality in Bulgaria, identified the LGBTQ+ community, as well as Roma people, as “the main victims of public expressions of hatred and prejudice” in the country.

“Hate speech against these groups also came in recent years from high-level politicians,” said the ECRI, the Council of Europe’s human rights monitoring body.

The report praised Bulgaria’s progress on other issues, such as fighting antisemitism, inclusive education and supporting refugees.

But sadly, advances were not to be found on combating homophobia and transphobia.

Despite introducing training for the police to recognise anti-LGBTQ+ behaviour, the report found that decreases in other kinds of hate crime, such as antisemitism, had “unfortunately not been applied to these types of hatred as well”.

Despite the ECRI’s previous recommendations, there is still no official monitoring of anti-LGBTQ+ hate in Bulgaria. National authorities have failed to conduct any research into anti-LGBTQ+ issues, or introduced new gender recognition legislation.

The report highlighted that an LGBTQ+ community centre based in Sofia called the Rainbow Hub has been consistently targeted and attacked in recent years.

The centre was smashed up by a group of fascists led by a far-right presidential candidate shortly before the November 2021 election.

To counter hate crime, the ECRI recommended that Bulgaria officials establish a LGBTQ+ working group, with representatives from LGBTQ+ communities, that could research discrimination and develop a national strategy.

They also recommended that “authorities develop legislation on gender reassignment and recognition in line with international human rights standards”.

The ECRI plans to follow up on the implementation of this plan in two years. However, Bulgaria has yet to implement the recommendations made in the previous report.

Equaldex ranks Bulgaria as 58 out of 79 for public acceptance of homosexuality. A survey in 2020 showed that 65 per cent of the population thought homosexuality could never be justified.

The community has some legal safeguards, including legislation making it illegal to discriminate in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Same-sex marriage and adoption have not been introduced, and while trans people can gain legal gender recognition, it is dependant on surgery.