At the last Sofia Pride, the country's activists were greeted like pop stars by the audience when they came on stage, and there is good reason for that. One of them is the lawyer Denitsa Lyubenova, member of the legal consultancy and assistance organization Deistvie ("Action"), which has been active for ten years.
There have been some obvious changes after fifteen years of Sofia Pride and ten years of Deistvie: no longer an event where many people fear for their safety, it now goes through the central streets of Sofia, the range of its program keeps growing, and it attracts greater public support (this year it was attended by 12,000 people). Still, how do these changes feel on the inside?
"For me, the biggest victory and progress of our LGBTI community over the last 10 years is the sense of community that we have been able to create. And I include here all the different LGBTI organizations and human rights activists.” According to her, it is important not to forget the main purpose of these events, since there are currently 79 laws on the book which discriminate against queer people. "Over the last fifteen years, Sofia Pride has established itself as the largest human rights march in Bulgaria. And although music and merriment dominate the event, Pride is defined by its political demands. We see a great need for the status quo to change, we see that tens of thousands of people remain invisible to the administration and laws of Bulgaria."
Denitsa Lyubenova/ Photographer: Anastas Turpanov
"In 2017, no one dared to talk about marriage between persons of the same sex, but thanks to our work, everyone is now waiting for the issuance of a birth certificate listing two mothers as parents. In 2017 no one dared to talk to politicians, and now we have a list of demands ready, and the Deistvie team knows exactly which laws should be changed and how so that LGBTI people can have equal standing before the law in Bulgaria."
For Denitsa, this also means a completely different way of discussing and solving these problems: "Today we have enormous support from diplomats in Bulgaria and representatives of the European Parliament. Today we are much stronger precisely because of the support of partners, donor organizations, the corporate sector and society in general. But for me, the biggest victory is that our community has faith in Deistvie. We see it every day. In short, I believe that we are moving forward boldly, and even though the administration and Bulgarian politicians have no desire for change, it is still happening, thanks to all of us."
On June 17, the day before the Pride parade, ashort documentary about Denitsa Lyubenova, part of the series "Think Freedom: Freedom is Action" by Tanuki Films and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, was shown at The Steps. In less than twenty minutes, the film by director Anna Stoeva and cinematographer Ivan Nikolov capturesseveral days of her life over theyear and a half she has spent workingon the "Baby Sara" case. Was itdifficult to let people observe her work process? She considersthis accessin a larger context: asunderstandingwhata human rights defender does, and how progress in one sphere can unlock progress in another.
"I have been a lawyer for eight years, and for six I have been dealing exclusively with human rights, and mainly with the rights of our LGBTI community. At first I was afraid and ashamed, because I met incredible resistance and ridicule. No one believed in what Deistvie was trying to do and build."