Bilitis was one of the three Bulgarian LGBTI organisations co-hosting the 2022 ILGA-Europe Annual Conference in Sofia, which took place between the 19th and 22nd of October. Originally, the annual conference of 2020 was planned to take place in Sofia, but due to COVID-19, it had to be postponed. After 3 years of not being able to meet in person, we were finally able to come together again and give LGBTI activists a space to (re)connect, exchange experiences and tips, and think about how we can move the LGBTI movement forward in Europe and Central Asia.
The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Shaping the World to Come’. Our world is going through a lot of change right now, think about climate change, the rise of right-wing ideologies, the anti-gender movement, climate change, mass migration and more. Amidst all this change, we still have to make sure that equality, freedom and the rights of marginalized groups stay a priority.
ILGA-Europe and its members can have a say in the way our world gets shaped, and our place at the table as an LGBTI movement is crucial. The annual conference is a way for activists to think about what we want our world to look like, and how we can achieve this, and how we can work together to achieve our goals.
‘Shaping the World to Come’ was built on two cornerstones: the first being ‘Building Alliances in Shifting Contexts’, wхere we reflected and thought about how we could come together in times of crises and how we could counter anti-democratic and anti-LGBTI forces. The second cornerstone was ‘Collective Resilience in The Movement’, вхере we took a look at questions around resources, safety, staying connected and how to respond to changing contexts.
350 participants, alongside ILGA-Europe staff and Board members from all over Europe and Central Asia started to arrive on Wednesday, October 19, the first day of the conference. All the participants got the chance to attend the workshops, plenaries and activities from the first day. The day started with an informational session for the newbies, and afterwards there were lots of different spaces for people to connect with each other: spaces for intersex people, trans people, lesbians, people with disabilities, people of colour, etc. Activists had a chance to reconnect and network with others and get to know each other a little bit better.
The day of the official opening – Thursday 20th – started bright and early with a warm welcome on behalf of ILGA-Europe Board and staff and a panel about building alliances in shifting contexts, where panelists spoke about and reflected on how we build alliances and work together to respond to crises, and how to counter different anti-LGBT and anti-demoratic forces. Afterwards, participants could choose from a variety of workshops, ranging from topics LGBTI experiences in Ukraine to migration and asylum, from alliance building in religious contexts to LGBTI rights in Bulgaria.
The Friday started off with a panel about collective resilience, what it can look like in our LGBTI movement and how to build and maintain it. The workshops of this day were, again, very diverse. Participants followed workshops on housing and labour equity, on how to engage the queer community, on judicial harrassment, on how humanitarian actors can work on and ensure LGBTI inclusion, etc. After lunch there were workshops on the School’s Out Project Bilitis was a part of, on maintaining resilience of people who are facing crises, how to work together with institutions to tackle hate crimes, on self-care as a feminist issue and on the legal ban of intersex genital mutilations in Greece. At the end of the day, the activists could unwind at the karaoke.
Throughout the conference, there were lots of “self-organized spaces”, where participants had the opportunity to come up with their own ideas and workshops. There were workshops on elderly queer people, on trans youth, the situation in Ukraine and many, many more.
The last day – Saturday 22nd – was, again, filled with lots of interesting workshops, 13 to be exact. Some themes of the workshops were: media interview training, holistic security, relationship diversity, pinkwashing, anti-NGO laws, fundraising,… The last General Meeting took place as well, and the new ILGA-Europe board members were elected and announced. The activists got a well deserved Gala Dinner at the end of the day and celebrated the conference with an after-party at The Steps!
One of the main responsibilities of Bilitis Foundation was managing the volunteers at the conference. More than 17 volunteers and all of our staff members joined forces in making sure every guest felt welcome, every workshop was running smoothly and our colleagues from ILGA-Europe had all the support they needed. Our volunteers also helped with the registration of the participants, managed the infodesk and helped at every workshop maing sure the facilitators had everything they needed.
Gloriya Filipova was among the organisers of the “Creating Inclusive Schools: Research and Tactics“ workshop
Thе workshop provided information about some of the most recent data and tools related to LGBTI inclusion in the field of education. Representatives from IGLYO gave a brief overview of their research into inclusive education in Council of Europe member states. Gloriya and her colleagues from the “School’s Out” project presented to the participants information about the Inclusive School Cycle Program, developed within the project (https://schools.bilitis.org/). It is a seven-step program which aims to create and maintain a safe(r) environment in schools that are participating in the program. Together, the LGBTI-organisation and the school work to create LGBTI-inclusive policies and practices, as well as to educate the school staff on the topic of LGBTI inclusion. The workshop was interactive and gave space for the participants to share experiences and come up with ideas on inclusive education for LGBTI students.
Manuela Popova joined a meeting for ILGA-grantees
Manuela presented the project “Rainbow Hub Voice” funded by ILGA-Europe, and she shared experiences and what has been done so far in the past year. The aim of the Rainbow Hub Voice project is to scale up the media skills and competences of experienced and new LGBTI activists in Bulgaria through a multi-faceted approach. Among the many activities during the project we, together with our partners from GLAS Foundation and LGBT Organisation Deystvie, created a communication toolkit for activists and organised extensive training based on it, equipping our community with the right tools on how to speak about LGBTI issues, share experiences and talk to the media.
Lilly Dragoeva was among the panelists discussing the situation with LGBTI rights in Bulgaria
On the afternoon of the Opening day, the program offered to the participants of the conference to dive deeper into the situation of LGBTI rights in Bulgaria and learn more about the struggles and success stories the local co-host have. Our ED Lilly Dragoeva joined a panel discussion together with Veneta Limberova from Youth LGBT Organization Deystvie, Radoslav Stoyanov from the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and Petar Vitanov – MEP from Bulgaria and the only Bulgarian member of the LGBTI Intergroup in the European Parliament. The discussion centered around the political instability in Bulgaria over the last few years and how it affects the life of LGBTI people, but also how it shapes the work of the LGBTI organizations. Two important cases of successful litigation efforts were presented – the Stoyanova vs. Bulgaria case and the Baby Sara case. The resilience of the community was underlined by all the panelists and was once again pointed as a main source of strength and motivation for the activists on the ground.
We are happy and proud to have been part of this amazing conference! We will meet again for ILGA-Europe Ljubljana 2023!