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Bulgarian LGBTQ community center attacked

Ultranationalist presidential candidate accused of leading attack

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The offices of the Bilitis Foundation in Sofia, Bulgaria, were attacked on Oct. 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Bilitis Foundation)

A Bulgarian LGBTQ rights group says the leader of an ultranationalist political party who is running for president led an attack against their offices and community center on Saturday.

The Bilitis Foundation in a series of tweets said “a group of about 10 men and women stormed” the Rainbow Hub, a community center it runs in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, with the GLAS (Gays and Lesbians Accepted in Society) Foundation. at around 5:30 p.m. local time (11:30 a.m. ET).

The Bilitis Foundation said the attack took place during a “trans community gathering.”

The assailants, according to the Bilitis Foundation, vandalized the office and struck Gloriya Filipova, the group’s project coordinator, in the face. The Bilitis Foundation said Boyan Rasate, who leads the Bulgarian National Union and is “”well-known for his LGBTI-phobic actions and statements,” masterminded the attack.

“All I ever aimed for was creating safer spaces for our community,” tweeted Filipova after the attack. “Yesterday my biggest fear came true: Our community center was destroyed and I got punched in the face. I’m sure that we have enough love to heal, but this really hurts. It is time for the BG (Bulgarian) institutions to act.”

ILGA-Europe has condemned the attack and urged Bulgarian authorities “to publicly condemn the attacks, investigate and sanction the attackers.” EuroPride is among the other organizations that have expressed support for the Bilitis and GLAS Foundations.

Bulgaria is a Balkan country that borders Serbia, North Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Romania and the Black Sea.

The Bilitis Foundation in a tweet notes it, along with AllOut, less than two weeks ago submitted to the Bulgarian Justice Ministry a petition with more than 8,000 signatures that demands the country’s Criminal Code include hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Bulgarian Constitutional Court on Oct. 27 ruled the word “gender” only applies to the “biological sense.”

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Europe

Poland LGBTQ ‘Free Zones’ tossed, UK ranking drops, Pussy Riot singer escapes

Maria Alyokhina fled Russia disguised as a food delivery driver

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Sopot (Poland) Vice Mayor Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim, right, and LGBTQ marchers (Photo courtesy of Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

LGBTQ news from Europe this past week saw a major development in Poland after a court annulled actions taken previously to declare ‘LGBT Free Zones’ by provincial governments.

Large parts of Poland were labelled “LGBT-free zones,” where regional governments declared they were against LGBTQ ideology. Last fall the executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude.) 

The survey found 56 percent of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65 percent, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58 percent of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

Lublin Regional Assembly passed a resolution in April 2019 declaring that LGBTQ rights aim to “annihilate” the “values shaped by the Catholic Church” PinkNewsUK reported.

In the same month, Ryki County, a district in Lublin, passed a resolution voting to protect “children, young people, families and Polish schools” from an apparent wave of “homoterror” being unleashed by “left-liberal groups.”

PinkNewsUK also reported that the Provincial Administrative Court in Lublin found the resolutions were “adopted without legal basis and in gross violation of the law” after a legal challenge by the Polish Ombudsman.

They become the eighth and ninth “LGBT-free zones” voided by the courts following interventions by the Polish Ombudsman. Municipal councils in Istebna, Klwów, Serniki, Osiek, Lipinki, Niebylec and the Tarnowski County Council all scrapped such measures in 2019.

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungary.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

The UK has dropped to 14th in the ILGA-Europe’s rankings for LGBTQ rights, scoring 53 out of a possible 100

ILGA-Europe, which produces a yearly “rainbow map” of 49 countries across Europe, revealed this past week that the United Kingdom had the most significant drop in ranking for LGBTQ equality rights this past year falling from 10th to 14th place.

Leading contributors to the loss in ranking and standing on the ILGA annual listing was due in part to the ongoing battles over transgender rights with a failure by the Tory-led government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set gender recognition policies especially in regard to a total ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

ILGA-Europe’s advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel, described the UK’s plunging status to The Guardian newspaper as “a sad reminder that when governments don’t stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, a powerful opposition can use that space to spread hate and division”.

The chief executive of Stonewall UK, Nancy Kelley, warned that “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

The ILGA highlighted the UK government’s failure to extend a ban on conversion practices to transgender people, as well as abandonment of promised reforms on gender recognition and its equality action plan. It added that the UK also lost points because the government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was “not … effectively protecting on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” the Guardian reported.

Kelley called on the prime minister to “step back into the game” as a leader in protecting and promoting LGBTQ rights.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, we call for his active leadership to rebuild our human rights institutions and to deliver a strategic policy programme that enables all LGBTQ+ people in the UK to live their lives in freedom and safety.”

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot escaped from Russia disguised as a food delivery worker

In what could be best described as a story worthy of a Cold-War era spy novel, the leader of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot fled Russia disguised as a food-delivery worker. Maria V. Alyokhina in an interview with the New York Times that she was able to get to her girlfriend’s home in Vilnius, Lithuania, after evading Russian Federal Security Services agents.

The queer singer-songwriter musician and human rights activist who was on house arrest at the time of her escape was set to be transferred to a penal colony in the Russian Far East after being arrested six times in the past year protesting the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more recently his order for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the account in the New York Times, Alyokhina left her apartment in the food-delivery worker disguise, and an unnamed friend drove her to the Belarusian border. The problem then became exiting from Belarus to Lithuania as she was turned away at the border twice by Lithuanian border agents.

The Times reported that Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson eventually helped Alyokhina acquire the necessary travel documents from an unnamed country that in turn assisted her entering into Lithuania, where many Pussy Riot members had already escaped to, including Alyokhina’s girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

The band has now kicked off their European tour in Berlin.

Pussy Riot concert with activist after escape from Russia

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Russia

Russia extends Brittney Griner detention for another month

WNBA star taken into custody at Moscow airport in February

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Brittney Griner (Photo by Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Russian court on Friday extended WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention for another month.

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

Griner is among the WNBA players who play in Russia during the league’s off-season.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. The National Black Justice Coalition is among the groups that have also criticized Russia over Griner’s detention.

Griner on Friday appeared in court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the Associated Press that her trial could begin soon.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Europe

Greek lawmakers ban conversion therapy for minors

Bill passed in country’s Parliament on Wednesday

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Greek parliament building (Photo by katatonia82 via Bigstockphoto)

Greek lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that will ban so-called conversion therapy for minors.

Media reports note mental health providers will face fines and prison if they subject a minor to conversion therapy without their consent. The bill will also ban the advertisement of conversion therapy in the country.

“There were some false treatments that stated that when a minor has chosen a different sexual orientation, his parents could supposedly proceed with ‘treatments’ for this child to ‘return to normality'”, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said before the vote, according to Reuters. “Obviously these treatments not only are not a therapy but they are not supported scientifically.”

Laws that ban conversion therapy have taken effect in New Zealand, France and Canada in recent months.

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