LGBT rights in Bulgaria
Location of Bulgaria (dark green)

– in Europe (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union (light green)  –  [Legend]

StatusLegal from 1858 (as part of the Ottoman Empire) to 1879
Legal since 1968,
age of consent equalized in 2002
Gender identityTransgender people not allowed to change gender since 2017[1][2]
MilitaryGays, lesbians, and bisexuals allowed to serve
Discrimination protectionsProtections in all areas since 2004 and 2015 (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships
RestrictionsSame-sex marriage constitutionally banned
AdoptionSingle LGBT individuals can adopt

LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) in Bulgaria may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex relationships are legal in Bulgaria, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 2004, with discrimination based on "gender change" being outlawed since 2015. In July 2019, a Bulgarian court recognized a same-sex marriage performed in France in a landmark ruling.[3] For 2020, Bulgaria was ranked 37 of 49 European countries for LGBT rights protection by ILGA-Europe.[4] Like most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, post-Communist Bulgaria holds socially conservative attitudes when it comes to such matters as homosexuality.[5]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity

Before the Liberation

Homosexuality was legalized in 1858 in all parts of Ottoman Empire. After the Liberation of Bulgaria, however, homosexuality was recriminalized with the adoption of a new constitution in 1879.

1878–1968

Following the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the country's Penal Code came into force on 1 May 1896, and homosexual acts between males over 16 years of age became punishable by at least six months of imprisonment.[6] The Penal Code of 13 March 1951 increased the penalty to up to three years in jail.[7] The revised Penal Code of 1 May 1968 removed the sections outlawing homosexual acts.

July 1964 trial

In July 1964, 26 men were arrested and accused of having "perverted homosexual relationships". Some of the arrested were the famous actor Georgi Partsalev and one of the most loved Bulgarian singers, Emil Dimitrov.[8] Experts say that the process was a masquerade for the public so that "people will understand how decadent the Western culture is". In the 1960s, there were a couple of other similar cases which again involved some of Bulgaria's elite. Later in 1966, when revising the Penal Code, a group of "experts" decided that homosexual acts would no longer be considered a crime because lesbians and gays "are ill people, who shouldn't be punished because of the sufferings they are already going through (due to their illness)".[8] On 1 May 1968, the Penal Code was revised, and homosexuality became legal.

Since 2002, the age of consent has been 14, regardless of sexual orientation.

Recognition of same-sex relationships

Main article: Recognition of same-sex unions in Bulgaria

Since 1991, Article 46 of the Bulgarian Constitution has defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, therefore banning same-sex marriage.[9]

In 2012, on the question if same-sex couples will soon have further rights like the right to marry or adopt children, now-former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said: "for something [like this] to happen, society needs to become ready for it."[10] There have been several debates on whether to recognise civil unions or registered partnerships, which would grant same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage, including the right to inherit, to make medical decisions, to own property together; all of which are currently denied to same-sex couples.

In 2017, a Bulgarian same-sex couple, who married in the United Kingdom, filed a lawsuit in order to have their marriage recognised.[11] The Sofia Administrative Court rejected their case in January 2018.[12] However, lawyers from the Bulgarian LGBT organisation Deystvie (Действие) appealed against this decision. Deystvie has begun public collecting signatures in favor of their appeal.[13]

Citing Coman and Others v General Inspectorate for Immigration and Ministry of the Interior, a case originating from Romania in which the European Court of Justice ruled that same-sex couples must be granted full residency rights in all EU countries, a Sofia court granted a same-sex couple the right to live in Bulgaria on 29 June 2018. The couple, an Australian woman and her French wife, had married in France in 2016, but were denied residency in Bulgaria a year later when they attempted to move there.[14]

Adoption and parenting

Same-sex couples are banned from adopting in Bulgaria. However, single individuals regardless of sexual orientation are allowed to adopt, though requests from single men are rarely accepted. Lesbian couples do not have access to IVF and artificial insemination, as it is only available to married opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, since 2004, single lesbian women have had access to IVF.[15]

In 2021 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) heard a case involving a baby born to a lesbian couple (one Bulgarian and the other a British citizen) in Spain. The baby was not entitled to either British or Spanish citizenship so the couple applied for Bulgarian citizenship for their child. Because the Bulgarian authorities refused to issue a birth certificate, the child was denied the benefits of European citizenship, became stateless, and has not been able to leave Spain.[16][17] In December 2021, the ECJ ruled against Bulgaria in the case, finding that the country had to issue an ID card based on the parentage established by Spain so that the child could exercise her right to European citizenship.[18]

Discrimination protections

Since 1 January 2004, the Protection Against Discrimination Act of 2003 (Bulgarian: Закон за защита от дискриминация) has prohibited discrimination and hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation in all areas (employment, the provision of goods and services, education, military service, health services, etc.).[19] Under the law, sexual orientation is defined as "heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation".

In 2015, the National Assembly amended the definition of "sex" in the law to include cases of gender change.[20] Transgender people who have not undergone a legal gender change could use "gender" from the list of protected grounds. Gender expression and gender identity are not explicitly mentioned in the revised Act.[21]

Hate crimes

Hate crimes against LGBT people are not uncommon in Bulgaria, and are often ignored and go uninvestigated by authorities. In 2008, a 25-year-old student was brutally killed in a park in Sofia because he was perceived to be gay. During the investigation, a man testified that the two suspects were part of a group intending to "cleanse" the park of gays.[22] On 27 September 2020, children as young as 14 or 15 were assaulted in Plovdiv, as part of an anti-LGBT "cleansing action" apparently done by ultra fans of Botev.[23]

In January 2014, the Government committed itself to outlaw hate crimes against LGBT people.[24] However, following parliamentary elections in October 2014, the newly established Government has been silent on the issue.[22] As of 2020, Bulgaria's Penal Code still does not protect LGBT people from hate crimes.[25][26][23]

Gender identity and expression

The Bulgarian Personal Documents Act (Bulgarian: Закон за българските лични документи), which came into effect on 1 April 1999, was the first law in Bulgaria regulating sex changes.[15] There is no official data on the number of Bulgarians who have legally changed their gender. When a person undergoes sex reassignment surgery, they can change their passport, driver's license, personal identity document, birth certificate and uniform civil number to match their new sex. One cannot undergo sex reassignment surgery unless going to court and receiving a positive court decision. Other requirements include being at least 18 years of age and undergoing sterilization.[27] Furthermore, such procedures are not covered by the state, and thus can be very costly.[28] Without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, a person cannot change their legal gender in any official document. In 2016, however, three transgender women were allowed to change gender without undergoing surgery.[29]

A 2015 Eurobarometer survey found that only 29% of Bulgarians agreed with the statement that transgender people should be able to change their civil documents in order to match their inner gender identity.[30]

After the Constitutional Court's verdict on the Istanbul Convention, in which the court condemned attempts to introduce legislation for legal gender recognition, a transgender woman's application to change gender was rejected by a regional court.[31]

Intersex rights

There is no data of the number of intersex babies born in the country.[32] The standard procedure in a case of an intersex child birth is the removal of the male genitalia due to the fact that it is an easier operation than the one removing the female genitalia. The parents are rarely informed of the damages this could later cause to the child's gender identity.[32] There are no laws concerning intersex people.

Military service

Bulgaria's Protection Against Discrimination Act of 2003 protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to recruitment to the military.[33]

Blood donation

Gay and bisexual men are not explicitly banned from donating blood in Bulgaria. However, the blood donor application form, required prior to any blood donation, does not ask the applicant to disclose that information, rather requires them to confirm that they did not partake in practices (sexual included) that increase the risk of HIV or other STIs. The consent form is detailed in an ordinance issued by Bulgaria's Ministry of Healthcare on 19 July 2004.[34]

Party positions on potential same-sex marriage/partnership law

Party In favour Seats in the National Assembly Position
We Continue the Change Partially 67 Coalition
GERBSDS No 59 Opposition
DPS Partially 34 Opposition
BSP for Bulgaria No 26 Coalition
There Is Such a People No 25 Coalition
Democratic Bulgaria Partially 16 Coalition
Revival No 13 Opposition
Stand Up.BG! We are coming! Partially 0 Extraparliamentary
IMRO – Bulgarian National Movement No 0 Extraparliamentary

Support for same-sex marriage legislation on a political level is limited to positions of individual party members.

In light of the elections for the 47th National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria on 14 November 2021, the Organizational Committee of Sofia Pride analyzed the election platforms of all major parties' running candidates for MPs. In the Committee's words, 'LGBTQ+ people continue to be unrepresented in the party headquarters' visions and ideas for the country'. [35]

Public opinion

A 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that 63% of Bulgarians were "openly homophobic" and against LGBT people, and the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that acceptance of the LGBT community had risen to 39%.[36]

A 2006 European Union poll showed that 15% of Bulgarians supported same-sex marriage, with 65% opposed to it.[37][38] In 2015, those numbers remained almost the same, with 17% supporting same-sex marriage and 68% being opposed.[39]

According to a survey in 2007 by Skala, a sociological agency, 42.4% of Bulgarians would not like having a homosexual friend or colleague. 46% answered that it would be unacceptable if their own child was gay or lesbian.[40] A Eurobarometer survey from 2015 showed that only 9% of Bulgarian parents would accept their child being in a same-sex relationship.[41]

According to a 2008 survey, conducted in 15 schools throughout Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv, 10.5% of students identified as bisexual, whereas 1.8% identified as gay and 87.7% as straight. Of these students, 15% said they would not want a gay friend and 29% said they would categorically refuse to sit next to a gay classmate. 5% said they would bully gay classmates, while 39% said they would protect them from bullying.[42]

A survey from 2012 showed the number of people who would not like having a homosexual colleague had dropped to 38%. The survey also showed that Bulgarians were more tolerant toward lesbians than gay men. 26% of the respondents would not hire a lesbian.[43]

A Pew Research Center published in May 2017 suggested that 18% of Bulgarians were in favor of same-sex marriage, while 79% opposed it. Support was higher among Orthodox Christians (19%) and 18–34 year olds (26%), in contrast to Muslims (12%) and people aged 35 and over (15%).[44] While just 27% believe there is nothing wrong with same-sex relationships, a 2015 Eurobarometer survey reported that 51% supported equal rights.[45]

Living conditions

Most of gay life in Bulgaria is primarily set in Sofia. There are gay establishments in Plovdiv, Varna and Blagoevgrad. Outside of the big cities, the subject is a taboo and rarely welcomed or admitted to be relevant or real. As this is still a highly controversial subject in Bulgaria, accurate data cannot be obtained due to the unwillingness of some or most persons who identify as LGBT to freely affirm themselves as such out of fear of public persecution, scrutiny or harassment.

In December 2018, billboards promoting tolerance towards same-sex couples, put up in various Bulgarian cities such as Varna and Bourgas, were vandalised.[46][47]

During the 2020–2021 Bulgarian protests, there was a rise in anti-LGBT rhetoric and discrimination, as right-wing and far-right groups and organizations attempted to put the topic of gender (through the anti-LGBT trope of gender ideology) at the forefront over the COVID-19 pandemic in Bulgaria and the protests themselves. Gender became a slur for non-binary people or any person perceived to be LGBT. Nonetheless, acceptance of LGBT people among the more educated, middle-class Bulgarians has increased, as the efforts of LGBT-rights organizations were paying off, such as the biggest LGBT pride in the country's history, the first LGBT exhibition (the Balkan Pride) outside Sofia, and the recognition of a same-sex marriage between an Australian and French citizen in a Bulgarian court.[5]

Pride parades

Sofia Pride in 2019
Sofia Pride in 2019

The only pride parade to take place so far in Bulgaria is Sofia Pride. The first parade took place in 2008 and drew about 150 participants, who were attacked with petrol bombs, rocks and glass bottles. More than 60 hooligans were arrested.[48] The pride parades in the following years went on peacefully and started drawing more participants as well as the support of political parties, local businesses and embassies. In 2017, the parade was attended by more than 3,000 participants and was supported by 18 diplomatic missions. The pride week also included a film program and an art festival.[49] In 2019, around 6,000 attendees marched in the gay pride parade. It was supported by 25 diplomats and representatives of international organizations and foundations.[50][51]

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church strongly opposes freedom of assembly for LGBT people and any form of manifestation like pride parades, calling them a "sinful demonstration" and the "sin of sodomy".[52] Before the 2012 Sofia Pride, a priest from Sliven said in a newspaper interview that "gays should be beaten with stones".[53] National Resistance, a far-right group, has advocated using brooms and shovels to attack people at pride parades.[54]

Parties such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Greens, Bulgarian Left and DSB have supported the parade organizers' right to hold the pride parade. However, in 2014, only the Greens and Bulgarian Left sent statements of support to the parade.[55][56] Georgi Kadiev, the former Bulgarian Socialist Party mayoral candidate for Sofia, participated in support of the pride parade in 2011.[57] Some parties, such as the far-right nationalist Ataka party, strongly oppose the pride parades, protesting against them, as well as homosexuality more broadly.[56][58]

LGBT rights organizations

There are several LGBT organizations in Bulgaria:

Pazardzhik case

In November 2009, the District Council of Pazardzhik voted in favor of an amendment forbidding the "public demonstration of sexual or any other orientation."[59] LGBT organizations attacked the decision of the council, arguing it was discriminatory.[60] In October 2010, the district's Administrative Court struck down the resolution, citing procedural errors in its passing.[61] The court's decision was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Administrative Court in July 2011.[62]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal
(since 1968)
Equal age of consent (14)
(since 2002)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment
(since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services
(since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas, including indirect discrimination and hate speech
(since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity
(since 2015)
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation and gender identity
Same-sex marriage
(constitutional ban since 1991)
Recognition of same-sex couples
Adoption by single LGBT individuals
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
Lesbians, gays and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military
(since 2006)
Right to change legal gender
(since 2017)[63][64]
Access to IVF for lesbian couples
(only for married couples and single women)
Automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth
Conversion therapy banned on minors
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples
(banned regardless of sexual orientation)[65]
MSMs allowed to donate blood

See also

References

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