Sofia is Bulgaria’s capital city, and where I am currently interning with the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law(BCNL). Having established itself in 2001, BCNL is associated with both the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL). Together, BCNL, ICNL, and ECNL develop legal frameworks aimed at protecting the right of association and protecting civil society organizations. BCNL concentrates their efforts within the respective state of Bulgaria.
I was encouraged by my colleagues during the first half of my internship to explore the country and become better acquainted with Bulgarian culture and Balkan history. From the moment I stepped off the plane and was met with the Cyrillic alphabet, I knew I had much to learn. As a creature of comfort, I have maintained familiar habits: I walk everywhere, I read every event poster (using google translate), and I conversed with every willing stranger (many times using Google translate). Through this, I have come to discover various events that would both shape my internship experience and inform my research in the latter half of my time with BCNL. These events, thus far, include the launch of Let’s Go, the Future Cities/Future Climates Conference hosted by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, BCNL’s NGO Summer School and Civil Alarm Clock Festival, Sofia Pride, Jazz Festival, Kikimora’s Queer Burlesque Workshop, and Kopy Shop’s book-binding workshop.
Attendance at each event allowed me, a Queer student and artist, to form community with fellow creative LGBTI* peers. These connections may read as sensible at first, however, ideologies rooted in Bulgaria’s Nazi-alliance dating back to World War I and II continue to exist today. More plainly, Trans identity is framed by the state as a psychological disorder and the “genders” are believed to be a threat to the traditional Bulgarian family. With this, the state does not protect members of the LGBTI community under their hate crime legislation, nor has the state demonstrated any initiative to advance their politics in such direction following recommendations from the Council of Europe, the European Convention of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, The European Council and the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, nor the United Nations.
Public figures have themselves inflicted violence onto the LGBTI community in Bulgaria with no repercussions creating a precedent for lateral civilian violence. This realization, as I walk the streets of Sofia, leads me to feelings of anxiousness; a feeling I have never experienced due to my queerness in Canada. I recognize how fortunate I am back home. I also recognize how much I withhold from those I meet in Bulgaria, providing them with an inauthentic version of myself. For me, queerness is both part of my sexual and gender identity, as well as my politics. So, when sharing conversation, I have been leaving my opinions and experiences out. I chose to frame this approach as recognizing that I am a temporary guest in this country with much to learn from others while listening to the opinions and experiences they share. I am a temporary guest learning for the first time of the complexities faced by LGBTI Bulgarian citizens who navigate the numerous authorities awaiting legislative and judicial shifts; shifts in a more inclusive direction.
*LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex is the acronym used by those with whom I had met and shared conversations within Bulgaria). Though this differs from the commonly used LGBTQ+ acronym in Canada, it is understood that application of the local acronym will be respected and inclusive of those who identify within the 2SLGBTQQIA+ spectrum.