In June 2008, the first Bulgarian gay pride parade took place in Sofia.  I expect that this blog’s foreign readers cry out “Why so late,” to which I can only respond “Well, we had to start somewhere!” The 2008 parade was a small-scale event, which created a massive uproar in our society.  Days before the venue, the citizens of the capital had seen enough of anti-homosexuality posters and heard too many interviews with adversaries of the Bulgarian LGBT movement. The parade itself met with opposition from a small group of extreme nationalists and skinheads who threw a Molotov cocktail at the 150 participants. There were eighty-eight arrests that day, and as a whole, the event demonstrated the Bulgarians’ intolerance more than anything else.

In 2009, things started to change. The second gay pride fest was a colorful, peaceful, and merry event for participants and observers.

Sofia  Pride 2010 (official website) was the most successful event so far, with 800 participants, which makes it the second biggest LGBT procession on the Balkans, the one in Athens being the biggest. The walk for equality and acceptance started at Lovers’ Bridge and culminated in a concert in front of the Monument of the Soviet Army.

As in every western capital, Sofia’s highlife has always accepted homosexuality as something refined and even trendy.  Some of the biggest names in our pop culture are gay. In the same time, as in every western capital, we have extremists and homophobes who commit hate crimes against any and every group that is different, be it homosexuals, gypsies, or chalga fans.

Still, on a day-to-day basis, the majority of common Bulgarians, undoubtedly, have a hard time accepting homosexuals. When a girl comes out of the closet, people’s response often is: “But you are so beautiful, you could have any man.” When a boy comes out, his parents go through phases of shock, anger, and despair, and often blame themselves for “failing as parents” and “raising a child that is not normal.” The most frequent statement Bulgarians make is: “I accept them as long as I don’t have to see them.”

I consider myself more open-minded than the average Bulgarian. What is more, having lived in the States for two years now has helped me identify some of the reasons behind the Bulgarians’ intolerance for gays. I will throw them out as ideas, though one could write volumes and volumes on each topic.

Firstly, our society still lives in its old traditions and is very patriarchal. Although our women might seem emancipated businesswomen or highlife divas, the Bulgarian man is pretty much a macho type. He feels responsible for the family income and puts a lot of pride to everything he does and owns.Therefore, a lesbian who rejects his advances is a hit to his macho ego. A man who likes men downgrades the image that a patriarch is supposed to have. In one way or another, Bulgarians take homosexuality very personally, as if it directly affects and threatens them. Bulgarians have no problem being publicly drunk or vulgar with their wives or girlfriends, but when it comes to display of affection between members of the same sex, Bulgarian men find it outrageous (unless it is pure entertainment by two hot girls in bikini at a chalga club, in which way it is acceptable). As a result, Bulgarians try to distance themselves from anything homosexual. Most of them don’t mind reading about it in tabloids, as long as the thorn is not in their eyes.

Secondly, we believe in many stereotypes without realizing it.  We have stereotypes about other nations, other ethnicities, even other cities. We put labels on everything. We like to think of everything as simple and straightforward. We have standards for women’s beauty, for men’s achievements, for what is socially acceptable or not. To a certain degree, the States too has such standards, but they are a lot more open to free interpretation. For example, our music scene has 50% blond singers and 50% brunettes, and both have strong makeup, fake lips, and fake boobs. Similarly, “all gypsies are pickpockets” and “all gays have HIV.” Concerning the latter, poorly educated people trust everything they hear from not-so-trustworthy sources. And even when they hear something positive and something negative about a certain social group, they usually trust the negative one and adopt a stereotype, just to be on the safe side.

Thirdly, we generally have a negative worldview. For example, our sense of humor is often sarcastic and self-ironic. Being distrustful and suspicious is a feature of our national character. We like to have underdogs for everything.  That is why we blame others for our misfortunes, and often accumulated anger towards everybody who is different. We behave negatively towards things that we don’t understand and that we perceive as threatening. In a recent TV debate, a guest spoke about his anti-gay views, and his opponent lesbian’s response was “and you are fat with an ugly snout.”  Evidently, Bulgarians of all sexual orientations have a natural tendency to be cynical and spiteful.

Yet, there has been a huge progress since 2008. This year’s gay pride showed that Bulgarians are becoming more open and accepting of different people. As the Sofia pride slogan goes, “Be careful whom you hate, it might be someone you love.”