LGBT rights in Bulgaria

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Location of Bulgaria (dark green)

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

StatusLegal from 1858 (as part of the Ottoman Empire) to 1879
Legal since 1968,
age of consent equalized in 2002
Gender identityTransgender people allowed to change gender after sex reassignment surgery (see below)
MilitaryGays, lesbians and bisexuals allowed to serve
Discrimination protectionsProtections in all areas since 2004 and 2015 (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships.
RestrictionsSame-sex marriage constitutionally banned.
AdoptionSingle LGBT individuals can adopt

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people 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. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been banned since 2004, with discrimination based on "gender change" being outlawed since 2015. In July 2019, a Bulgarian court recognized a same-sex marriage performed in France in a landmark ruling.[1]

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

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Before the Liberation[edit]

Homosexuality was legalized in 1858 in all parts of Ottoman Empire. After the Liberation of Bulgaria however, homosexuality was recriminalized with the adoption of a new constitution in 1879.


Following the Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the country's Penal Code came into force on 1 May 1896, and homosexual acts between males over 16 years of age became punishable by at least six months of imprisonment.[2] The Penal Code of 13 March 1951 increased the penalty to up to three years in jail.[3] 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 and one of the most loved Bulgarian singers, Emil Dimitrov.[4] 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 would no longer be considered a crime because 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 Penal Code was revised, and homosexuality became legal.

Since 2002, the age of consent has been 14, regardless of sexual orientation.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Since 1991, the Bulgarian Constitution has defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, therefore banning same-sex marriage.[5]

In 2012, on the question if same-sex couples will soon have further rights like the right to marry or adopt children, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said: "for something [like this] to happen, society needs to become ready for it."[6] There have been several debates on whether to recognise civil unions or registered partnerships, which would grant same-sex couples some of the rights and benefits of marriage, including the right to inherit, to make medical decisions, to own property together; all of which are currently denied to same-sex couples.

In 2017, a Bulgarian same-sex couple, who married in the United Kingdom, filed a lawsuit in order to have their marriage recognised.[7] The Sofia Administrative Court rejected their case in January 2018.[8]

Citing Coman and Others v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări and Ministerul Afacerilor Interne, a case originating from Romania in which the European Court of Justice ruled that same-sex couples must be granted full residency rights in all EU countries, a Sofia court granted a same-sex couple the right to live in Bulgaria on 29 June 2018. The couple, an Australian woman and her French spouse, had married in France in 2016, but were denied residency in Bulgaria a year later when they attempted to move there.[9]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Same-sex couples are banned from adopting in Bulgaria. However, single individuals regardless of sexual orientation are allowed to adopt, though requests from single men are rarely accepted. Lesbian couples do not have access to IVF and artificial insemination, as it is only available to married opposite-sex couples. Nevertheless, since 2004, single lesbian women have had access to IVF.[10]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Since 1 January 2004, the Protection Against Discrimination Act of 2003 (Bulgarian: Закон за защита от дискриминация) has prohibited discrimination and hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation in all areas (employment, the provision of goods and services, education, military service, health services, etc.).[11] Under the law, sexual orientation is defined as "heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation".

In 2015, the National Assembly amended the definition of "sex" in the law to include cases of gender change.[12] Transgender people who have not undergone a legal gender change could use "gender" from the list of protected grounds. Gender expression and gender identity are not explicitly mentioned in the revised Act.[13]

Hate crimes[edit]

Hate crimes against LGBT people are not uncommon in Bulgaria, and are often ignored and go uninvestigated by authorities. In 2008, a 25-year-old student was brutally killed in a park in Sofia because he was perceived to be gay. During the investigation, a man testified that the two suspects were part of a group intending to "cleanse" the park of gays.[14]

In January 2014, the Government committed itself to outlaw hate crimes against LGBT people.[15] However, following parliamentary elections in October 2014, the newly established Government has been silent on the issue.[14] As of 2019, Bulgaria's Penal Code still does not protect LGBT people from hate crimes.[16][17]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

The Bulgarian Personal Documents Act (Bulgarian: Закон за българските лични документи), which came into effect on 1 April 1999, was the first law in Bulgaria regulating sex changes.[10] There is no official data on the number of Bulgarians who have legally changed their gender. When a person undergoes sex reassignment surgery, they can change their passport, driver's license, personal identity document, birth certificate and uniform civil number to match their new sex. One cannot undergo sex reassignment surgery unless going to court and receiving a positive court decision. Other requirements include being at least 18 years of age and undergoing sterilization.[18] Furthermore, such procedures are not covered by the state, and thus can be very costly.[19] Without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, a person cannot change their legal gender in any official document. In 2016, however, three transgender women were allowed to change gender without undergoing surgery.[20]

A 2015 Eurobarometer survey found that only 29% of Bulgarians agreed with the statement that transgender people should be able to change their civil documents in order to match their inner gender identity.[21]

After the Constitutional Court's verdict on the Istanbul Convention, in which the court condemned attempts to introduce legislation for legal gender recognition, a transgender woman's application to change gender was rejected by a regional court.[22]

Intersex rights[edit]

Intersex persons in Bulgaria are even more marginalized and invisible in society than the transgender community. There is no data of the number of intersex babies born in the country.[23] 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.[23] There are no laws concerning intersex people.

Military service[edit]

Bulgaria's Protection Against Discrimination Act of 2003 protects individuals from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in relation to recruitment to the military.[24]

Blood donation[edit]

Gay and bisexual men are not explicitly banned from donating blood in Bulgaria, but many medical professionals, especially outside of Sofia, will not allow them to if informed about their sexual orientation. However, the blood donor application form, required prior to any blood donation, does not ask the applicant to disclose that information, rather requires them to confirm that they did not partake in practices (sexual included) that increase the risk of HIV or other STIs. The consent form is detailed in an ordinance issued by Bulgaria's Ministry of Healthcare on 19 July 2004.[25]

Public opinion[edit]

A 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that 63% of Bulgarians were "openly homophobic" and against LGBT people, and the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey recorded that acceptance of the LGBT community had risen to 39%.[26]

A 2006 European Union poll showed that 15% of Bulgarians supported same-sex marriage, with 65% opposed to it.[27][28] In 2015, those numbers remained almost the same, with 17% supporting same-sex marriage and 68% being opposed.[29]

According to a survey in 2007 by Skala, a sociological agency, 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 or lesbian.[30] A Eurobarometer survey from 2015 showed that only 9% of Bulgarian parents would accept their child being in a same-sex relationship.[31]

According to a 2008 survey, conducted in 15 schools throughout Sofia, Varna and Plovdiv, 10.5% of students identified as bisexual, whereas 1.8% identified as gay and 87.7% as straight. Of these students, 15% said they wouldn't want a gay friend and 29% said they would categorically refuse to sit next to a gay classmate. 5% said they would bully gay classmates, while 39% said they would protect them from bullying.[32]

A survey from 2012 showed the number of people who wouldn't like having a homosexual colleague had dropped to 38%. The survey also showed that Bulgarians were more tolerant toward lesbians than gay men. 26% of the respondents wouldn't hire a lesbian.[33]

A Pew Research Center published in May 2017 suggested that 18% of Bulgarians were in favor of same-sex marriage, while 79% opposed it. Support was higher among Orthodox Christians (19%) and 18–34 year olds (26%), in contrast to Muslims (12%) and people aged 35 and over (15%).[34]

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 cannot 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.

In December 2018, billboards promoting tolerance towards same-sex couples, put up in various Bulgarian cities such as Varna and Bourgas, were vandalised.[35][36]

Pride parades[edit]

Sofia Pride in 2019

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.[37] The pride parades in the following years went on peacefully and started drawing more participants as well as the support of political parties, local businesses and embassies. In 2017, the parade was attended by more than 3,000 participants and was supported by 18 diplomatic missions. The pride week also included a film program and an art festival.[38] In 2019, around 6,000 attendees marched in the gay pride parade. It was supported by 25 diplomats and representatives of international organizations and foundations.[39][40]

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church strongly opposes freedom of assembly for LGBT people and any form of manifestation like pride parades, calling them a "sinful demonstration" and the "sin of sodomy".[41] Before the 2012 Sofia Pride, a priest from Sliven said in a newspaper interview that "gays should be beaten with stones".[42] National Resistance, a far-right group, has advocated using brooms and shovels to attack people at pride parades.[43]

Parties such as the Bulgarian Socialist Party, the Greens, Bulgarian Left and DSB have supported the parade organizers' right to hold the pride parade. However, in 2014, only the Greens and Bulgarian Left sent statements of support to the parade.[44][45] Georgi Kadiev, the former Bulgarian Socialist Party mayoral candidate for Sofia, participated in support of the pride parade in 2011.[46] Some parties, such as the far-right nationalist Ataka party, strongly oppose the pride parades, protesting against them, as well as homosexuality more broadly.[45][47]

LGBT rights organizations[edit]

There are several LGBT organizations in Bulgaria:

  • Bilitis (Bulgarian: Билитис). Founded in 2004, it protects the rights of lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people. Bilitis has projects around the country.
  • LGBT Deystvie (Bulgarian: ЛГБТ Действие). It was founded in 2010 and protects the rights of LGBT in the country. It is based in Sofia.
  • GLAS Foundation (Bulgarian: Фондация ГЛАС).
  • Single Step Foundation (Bulgarian: Сингъл Степ). Founded in 2016, Single Step's mission is to help LGBTI youth, their families, friends and allies in Bulgaria in the process of recognizing, coming out and affirming their sexual orientation and gender identity. It launched the first licensed online support chat in the country in October 2017.
  • LGBT Plovdiv (Bulgarian: ЛГБТ Пловдив). It is a small LGBT organization based in Plovdiv and the region.

Pazardzhik case[edit]

In November 2009, the District Council of Pazardzhik voted in favor of an amendment, forbidding the "public demonstration of sexual or any other orientation."[48] LGBT organizations attacked the decision of the council, arguing it was discriminatory.[49] In October 2010, the district's Administrative Court struck down the resolution, citing procedural errors in its passing.[50] The court's decision was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Administrative Court in July 2011.[51]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1968)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2002)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2004)
Anti-discrimination laws concerning gender identity Yes (Since 2015)
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation and gender identity No
Same-sex marriage No/Yes (Constitutional ban since 1991; same-sex marriages performed in the EU recognised for residency purposes since 2018)
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Adoption by single LGBT individuals Yes (Single men are rarely allowed to adopt, regardless of sexual orientation)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Lesbians, gays and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (Since 2006)
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 1999)
Access to IVF for lesbian couples No (Only for married couples and single women)
Automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth No
Conversion therapy banned on minors No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Banned regardless of sexual orientation)[52]
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes (No prohibition)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bulgaria court recognises same-sex marriage in landmark ruling". PinkNews. 25 July 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  2. ^ "Bulgarian Penalty Code of 1896".[dead link]
  3. ^ Bulgarian Penalty Code of 1951
  4. ^ a b "СЕКСОЛОГЪТ ТОДОР БОСТАНДЖИЕВ: ЦОЛА ДРАГОЙЧЕВА МОЛИ ТАТО ДА НЕ ГОНИ ГЕЙОВЕТЕ" [Sexologist Todor Bostandjiev: Tsola Dragoycheva pray Tato do not evict gays] (in Bulgarian). Blitz. August 30, 2006. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ "Бойко не наднича под юргани" [Boyko does not stare under the quilts]. BGVesti (in Bulgarian). b2b media. May 14, 2012. Archived from the original on August 19, 2013.
  7. ^ Woman sues Bulgarian authorities for recognition of same-sex marriage Archived 2018-09-13 at the Wayback Machine The Sofia Globe, 5 December 2017
  8. ^ The Court did not Recognize a Marriage Between Bulgarian Women in the UK
  9. ^ Bulgarian Court Backs Same-sex Couple's EU Residence Rights, VOA News, 4 July 2018
  10. ^ a b Rainbow Europe: Bulgaria
  11. ^ "Law for protection against discrimination - in force since 2003".
  12. ^ "Закон за изменение и допълнение на Закона за защита от дискриминация - Указ №49" [Law amending and supplementing the Protection against Discrimination Act - Decree №49]. State Gazette (in Bulgarian).
  13. ^ "Laws being revised by Bulgaria's Justice Ministry; on 09.04.2012 is the new Criminal Code project". Archived from the original on June 1, 2012.
  14. ^ a b Bulgaria must investigate and prosecute hate crimes to end climate of fear Amnesty International, February 2015
  15. ^ "Преди обед, bTV: Първи детайли около София Прайд 2012" [Interview about the organization of Sofia Pride 2012 and the fight for gay rights in Bulgaria] (in Bulgarian). May 9, 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-06-25. Retrieved 2012-05-31.
  16. ^ Open letter from Bulgarian NGOs on Bulgaria's candidacy to host the European Medicines Agency
  17. ^ (in Bulgarian) НАКАЗАТЕЛЕН КОДЕКС
  18. ^ "Trans Rights Europe & Central Asia Map & Index 2019". Transgender Europe. 17 May 2019.
  19. ^ "ILGA-Europe 2011 Annual Report - Bulgaria section". Archived from the original on May 17, 2012.
  20. ^ (in Spanish) Una pareja de mujeres lleva por primera vez ante los tribunales de Bulgaria el derecho al matrimonio igualitario
  21. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2016-02-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Eurobarometer survey results; pages 66-67
  22. ^ ""Annual Review 2018"" (PDF). ILGA. December 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  23. ^ a b "Смяна на пола в България - дискусия в Червената къща" [Discussion about transsexuality and intersex in Bulgaria] (in Bulgarian). November 22, 2012. Archived from the original on 2014-03-23. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
  24. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "Refworld - Bulgaria: Situation of homosexuals; protection available to victims of harassment or violence; organizations offering assistance or support to sexual minorities (March 2005 - August 2006)". Refworld.
  26. ^ "WORLD PUBLICS WELCOME GLOBAL TRADE – BUT NOT IMMIGRATION" (PDF). October 4, 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 8, 2012. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  27. ^ "EUROBAROMETER 66 FIRST RESULTS" (PDF). TNS. European Commission. December 2006. p. 80. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  28. ^ "Eight EU Countries Back Same-Sex Marriage". angusreid. December 24, 2006. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008.
  29. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2016-02-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  30. ^ "The social situation concerning homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in Bulgaria" (PDF). March 2009.
  31. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-17. Retrieved 2016-02-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) Eurobarameter results; page 55
  32. ^ Един от десет ученици е бисексуален
  33. ^ Angelova, Polina (January 10, 2012). "Българинът не ще гейове и роми за колеги!" [The Bulgarian will not be gay and Romani for colleagues!]. Razkritia (in Bulgarian). Archived from the original on August 13, 2013.
  34. ^ "Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  35. ^ "Controversy in Bulgaria over billboards promoting tolerance towards same-sex couples". The Sofia Globe. 14 December 2018.
  36. ^ Lotto Persio, Sofia (14 December 2018). "Bulgaria: Bullboards featuring LGBT couples vandalised". PinkNews.
  37. ^ About 60 arrested at Bulgaria's first gay parade Reuters
  39. ^ "Thousands turn out for Sofia Pride 2019". The Sofia Globe. 9 June 2019.
  40. ^ Dimitrov, Martin (9 June 2019). "Love is the Theme at Twelfth Sofia Pride". BalkanInsight.
  41. ^ "Светият Синод атакува предстоящия гей парад в София" [The Holy Synod attacks the upcoming gay parade in Sofia]. (in Bulgarian). June 22, 2010. Archived from the original on July 21, 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  42. ^ "Отец зове: Пребийте гейовете с камъни" [Father calls: Beat the gays with stones]. (in Bulgarian). June 12, 2012. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  43. ^ Sofia LGBT Pride Should Showcase a Tolerant Bulgaria Human Rights Watch, 5 June 2017
  44. ^ "Костов подкрепи гей-парада" [Kostov supported the gay parade] (in Bulgarian). BNews. June 24, 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  45. ^ a b "ILGA-Europe". Archived from the original on 19 August 2014. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  46. ^ "Bulgaria's Sofia Pride Gay Parade Goes Smoothly, Only 'Family NGO' Protests". Sofia News Agency. June 18, 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  47. ^ "7th Sofia Pride march blocked by Bulgarian nationalist protesters". Gay Star News. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  48. ^ "ОБЩИНСКИ СЪВЕТ Пазарджик: РЕШЕНИЕ №211". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  49. ^ "Гейове и лесбийки лепят устите си в знак на протест" [Gays and lesbians stick their mouths in protest]. (in Bulgarian). March 2, 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  50. ^ "Административният съд в Пазарджик отмени чл.14, който дискриминира гейовете" [The Administrative Court in Pazardjik repealed Article 14, which discriminated against gays]. (in Bulgarian). November 9, 2010. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  51. ^ "Поредна гилотина за вече мъртвия Член 14" [Another guillotine for the already dead Article 14]. Младежка ЛГБТ организация "Действие" (in Bulgarian). Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  52. ^ "SURROGACY IN BULGARIA". Archived from the original on 2018-04-29. Retrieved 2017-11-24.

External links[edit]