Bulgarian Gay Pride March
An estimated two-thousand people took part in the annual gay pride rally held in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia on Saturday. The participates were protected by scores of riot police, after a number of extremist groups urged their members to take direct action to stop the event from taking place. Previous rallies have been viciously attacked by various groups opposing gay rights, and the moves towards legalizing gay marriage in Bulgaria.
The group of mainly young marchers walked peacefully through downtown Sofia on Saturday, displaying colourful rainbow flag banners calling for equality, love and acceptance of sexual diversity. Cheering and clapping, while blowing whistles and horns, the group was flanked by police and private security operatives.
Prior to the event diplomats from Argentina, Austria, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Serbia and the United States issued a joint statement supporting the Sofia Pride March, calling it "an opportunity to promote human rights and tolerance, celebrate diversity, and denounce homophobia." The Ambassadors from the UK and the USA were also present at the march.
Bulgaria is still a relatively new member of the European Union, only joining in 2007 and has a population of some 7.3 million people. Whilst moves toward a more open-minded and tolerant are underway, gay people still face widespread hostility in the country's macho-dominated society and opposition to their public events has been fierce and violent.
The influential Orthodox Church urged authorities to ban Saturday's rally, saying it would undermine Christian traditions. In a statement, the Holy Synod of the Church said it was "categorically opposed to the organization of such an immoral manifestation."
Amnesty International along with other human rights groups have called for an urgent overhaul of Bulgarian law, ensuring hate crimes targeting gay people are properly investigated and prosecuted. At present, while there has been anti discrimination laws protecting gay people since 2004, very little is done and very few cases have ever been taken to court.