LGBT rights in Bulgaria

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LGBT rights in Bulgaria
Location of  Bulgaria  (dark green)

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

Same-sex sexual activity legal?

Legal since 1858 (as part of the Ottoman Empire) and recriminalised in 1878

Legal since 1968,
age of consent equalized in 2002
Gender identity/expression (see below)
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protections in all areas since 2003 (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships.
Same-sex marriage constitutionally banned.
Adoption Single gay people can adopt

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Bulgaria may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity 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.

Bulgaria, like most countries in Central and Eastern Europe, tends to be socially conservative when it comes to such issues as homosexuality.

Laws against homosexuality[edit]

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe
  Foreign marriages recognized
  Other type of partnership
  Unregistered cohabitation
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples

Includes laws that have not yet gone into effect.

Before the Liberation[edit]

Homosexuality was legalized in 1858 in all parts of Ottoman Empire, so Bulgaria as part of it legalized it too. After the Liberation of Bulgaria, homosexuality was recriminalized.


Following the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the country's own penal code came into force on 1 May 1896, and homosexual acts between males over 16 years of age became punishable by at least 6 months of imprisonment.[1] The Penal Code of 13 March 1951 increased the penalty to up to 3 years in jail.[2] The revised Penal Code of 1 May 1968 removed the sections outlawing homosexual acts.

July 1964 trial[edit]

In July 1964, 26 men were arrested and accused of having "perverted homosexual relationships". Some of the arrested were the famous actor Georgi Partsalev & one of the most loved Bulgarian singers Emil Dimitrov.[3] 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 will no longer be considered a crime, since lesbians and gays "are ill people, who shouldn't be punished because of the sufferings they are already going through (due to their illness)".[4] On 1 May 1968, the new Criminal Code came into force and legalized homosexual acts.

Discrimination protections[edit]

Since 2003, the Protection Against Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination & hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation in all areas.[5] In 2015 the parliament passed an amendment to the law that forbids discrimination of people who have changed their gender.[6] In the upcoming revision of the Criminal Code hate crimes against LGBT people will be criminalized.[7]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Since 1991 the Constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, therefore banning same-sex marriage.[8]

In 2012 on the question if gay couples will soon have further rights like the right to marry or adopt children, the former prime minister Boyko Borisov said: "for something [like this] to happen, society needs to become ready for it."[9]

Public opinion[edit]

Circle frame.svg

Support for same-sex marriage (2006 poll)[10]

  Totally against (43%)
  Tend to be against (22%)
  Tend to be for (10%)
  Totally for (5%)
  Don't know (20%)

A 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that 37% of Bulgarians think homosexuality should be accepted by society, but the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that acceptance had risen to 39%.[11]

A 2006 European Union poll shows 15% of Bulgarians support same-sex marriage, with 65% opposed to it.[10][12] In 2015 those numbers remained almost the same with 17% supporting same-sex marriage while 68% being against it.[13]

According to a survey carried out in 2007 by the Bulgarian sociological agency Skala 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/lesbian.[14] A Eurobarometer survey from 2015 shows that only 9% of Bulgarian parents would accept their child being in a same-sex relationship.[15]

A survey from 2012 shows the number of people who wouldn't like having a homosexual colleague has dropped to 38%. The survey also shows that Bulgarians are more tolerant towards lesbians rather than gay men. 26% of the respondents wouldn't hire a lesbian.[16]

Living conditions[edit]

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 can not 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.

Transgender and intersex persons in Bulgaria[edit]

There is no official data of the Bulgarians who have legally changed their gender. When a person undergoes sex reassignment surgery they must change their passport, driver's license, personal identity document, birth certificate and uniform civil number in order for them to match their new sex. One cannot undergo a surgery unless going to a trial and receiving a positive court's decision.[17] However without undergoing a surgery a person can't change their legal gender in any official document.[18] There are no laws regulating the sex change procedures, which are mostly done by private clinics at very high prices. A recent Eurobarometer survey found that only 29% of Bulgarians agree with the statement that transgender people should be able to change their civil documents in order to match their inner gender identity.[19]

Since 2015 people who have undegone a sex reassignment surgery are protected with an amendment to the 2003 Protection Against Discrimination Act. Transgender people who haven't undergone a surgery could use gender from the list of protected grounds. Gender expression and gender identity are not protected by the revised new Penal Code.[20] From the LGBT group the transgender people are the most marginalized ones. To date many people in the country think transsexual and transvestite are the same thing.

Intersex persons in Bulgaria are even more marginalized and invisible in the society than the transgender community. To date the mass of Bulgarians wrongly use the word hermaphrodite rather than the correct term intersex. There is no data of the number of intersex babies born in the country.[21] 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.[21] There are no laws concerning intersex.

Pazardzhik case[edit]

In November 2009 the district council of Pazardzhik voted in favor of resolution 211, an amendment to the Public Decency Act, forbidding "Public demonstration of sexual or any other orientation."[22] LGBT organizations attacked the decision of the council, saying it was discriminative.[23] In October 2010 the district's Administrative court struck down the resolution, citing procedural errors in its passing.[24] The court's decision was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Administrative Court in July 2011[25]

LGBT rights organizations[edit]

The main LGBT rights organization in Bulgaria is LGBT Action (Bulgarian: ЛГБТ Действие). It was founded in 2010 and today is the main organization protecting the rights of LGBT in the country. It is based in Sofia. LGBT Action also organizes the Sofia Pride & group therapies for LGBT youth.

Bilitis (Bulgarian: Билитис) is the second largest organisation of such type in Bulgaria. Founded in 2004 it protects the rights of lesbian & bisexual women and transgender people. Bilitis has projects around the country.

LGBT Plovdiv (Bulgarian: ЛГБТ Пловдив) is a small LGBT organization based in Plovdiv and the region.

Pride parades[edit]

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.[26] The pride parades in the following years went on peacefully and started drawing more participants and the support of political parties and embassies. In 2015 there were more than 1,500 participants, a film program and an art festival.[27]

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church strongly opposes any forms of manifestation like pride parades, calling them a "sinful demonstration" and the "sin of Sodomy".[28] Before the 2012 Sofia Pride a priest from Sliven said in a newspaper interview that "gays should be beaten with stones".[29]

Parties such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Greens, Bulgarian Left and DSB have supported the parade organizers' right to hold the pride parade, although in 2014, only the Greens and Bulgarian Left sent statements of support to the parade.[30][31] Georgi Kadiev, former Bulgarian Socialist Party mayoral candidate for Sofia, participated in support of the pride parade in 2011.[32] Some parties, such as the far-right nationalist Ataka party, strongly oppose the pride parades, protesting against them, as well as homosexuality more broadly.[31][33]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1968)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2002)
Anti-discrimination laws in all areas Yes (Since 2003)
Laws against hate speech Yes (Since 2003)
Laws against hate crimes No (Pending)
Laws protecting transgender people Yes (Since 2015)
Same-sex marriage No (Constitutional ban since 1991)
Recognition of same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Joint and step adoption by same-sex couples No
Adoption by single homosexual person Yes (Single men are rarely allowed to adopt, no matter the sexual orientation)
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
IVF for lesbians No (Only for married couples)
Gays allowed to serve openly in the military Yes
Right to change legal gender Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bulgarian Penalty Code of 1896
  2. ^ Bulgarian Penalty Code of 1951
  4. ^ Psychiatrist Todor Bostandzhiev talks about the "gay trial" and the new Penal Code
  5. ^ Law for protection against discrimination - in force since 2003
  6. ^ (Bulgarian)
  7. ^ Interview about the organization of Sofia Pride 2012 and the fight for gay rights in Bulgaria
  8. ^ "National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria - Constitution". National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria. 6 February 2008. Retrieved 14 July 2014. Matrimony shall be a free union between a man and a woman. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b "EUROBAROMETER 66 FIRST RESULTS" (PDF). TNS. European Commission. December 2006. p. 80. Retrieved 6 August 2014. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Eurobarameter results; page 55
  16. ^ Results from the survey, published in an online article
  17. ^ ILGA-Europe 2011 Annual Report - Bulgaria section
  18. ^ Forum discussion about transsexuality & sex change
  19. ^ Eurobarometer survey results; pages 66-67
  20. ^ Laws being revised by Bulgaria's Justice Ministry; on 09.04.2012 is the new Criminal Code project
  21. ^ a b Discussion about transsexuality and intersex in Bulgaria
  22. ^ obspz. "ОБЩИНСКИ СЪВЕТ Пазарджик: РЕШЕНИЕ №211". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  23. ^ "Гейове и лесбийки лепят устите си в знак на протест". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  24. ^ "Административният съд в Пазарджик отмени чл.14, който дискриминира гейовете". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  25. ^ "Поредна гилотина за вече мъртвия Член 14". Младежка ЛГБТ организация "Действие". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  26. ^ 60 hooligans arrested during Bulgaria's first ever pride parade
  27. ^ "Над 1 500 души шестваха на осмия София Прайд - София Прайд". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  28. ^ "Общество -". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "Отец зове: Пребийте гейовете с камъни". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  30. ^ БиНюз - Запазената марка в новините. "Костов подкрепи гей-парада". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  31. ^ a b "ILGA-Europe". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  32. ^ "Bulgaria's Sofia Pride Gay Parade Goes Smoothly, Only 'Family NGO' Protests". Retrieved 23 August 2015. 
  33. ^ "7th Sofia Pride march blocked by Bulgarian nationalist protesters". Gay Star News. Retrieved 23 August 2015. 

External links[edit]