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The theme of the 23rd Annual ILGA-Europe Conference is “Stronger Together”. In a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, it is important to remind ourselves that our gains are fragile and that the journey for equality is not complete. Therefore this year ILGA-Europe sounded the alarm bell about real rollback. There is a real sense of urgency in taking action both to continue gaining protection and acceptance and to withstand very serious attempts to undermine our human rights. Keeping this into account, the conference is an agenda-setting moment for European LGBTI movements. The Annual Conference is the moment every year when LGBTI movements identify priorities for the coming year and strengthen effectiveness in bringing change that matters to LGBTI people.

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As always, Bilitis took an active part in the conference. Executive Director Lilly Dragoeva, Co-Chair of the Board Pol Naydenov and Gloriya Filipova, Project and Communication Manager, participated in a number of workshops and seminars, sharing more about the situation in Bulgaria and the work of Bilitis. In addition, Lilly Dragoeva was a speaker in two workshops of the conference program.

The first workshop was devoted to the so-called ‘gender ideology’ – a discourse that is present in a large and growing number of European countries. ILGA-Europe and partner organisations from Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Poland, together with a team of experts conducted a research over the last year. The research aimed at: understanding mental models around anti-gender discourse; test possible narratives, frames, messages to respond effectively; move from assumptions to systematic research; analyse discourse outside capitals including in small cities. In her presentation, Lilly emphasized the main conclusion of the study that Bulgarians accept the need for equality at an abstract level, but when it comes to the rights of certain groups of people (such as LGBTI people and Roma), resistance to their equality emerges.

“For this reason, it is not surprising there is a widespread understanding among survey participants that there is no problem with LGBTI people’s equality in Bulgaria, and the lack of recognition of same-sex families is not considered a violation of rights,” commented Lilly Dragoeva.

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The second workshop co-organized by Bilitis was dedicated to the topic of LGBTI and sports. The workshop looked at the development of LGBTIQ activism within sport, charting the journey through the birth of EGLSF, development of EuroGames and many LGBTIQ sports events around Europe. Lilly presented the experience of Billitis in the creation of Sofia Pride Sport – a series of sporting events within the framework of the Sofia Pride program, launched in 2018. The discussion that followed focused on contemporary issues and current challenges considering how LGBTIQ sports intersects and mirrors issues and challenges in the broader LGBTIQ movement, which intersectional perspectives could be developed throughout LGBTIQ sports and how LGBTIQ sports is nowadays capable to effect mainstream sport and broader society in equality and inclusion. Panelist in the workshop were Hugh Torrance (European Gay & Lesbian Sport Federation, EGLSF, UK), Lilly Dragoeva, (Bilitis Foundation, Bulgaria), Rosario Coco, (AICS, Italy) and Liván Soto (Diversport, Spain).