December 8, 2015

Change Starts With Us: Bilitis

Mama Cash grantee Bilitis reflects on the ingredients for impact

Mama Cash’s grantee partners are doing amazing work for women, girls, and trans people in their communities and around the world. In an eleven part series, we will share some of these inspiring stories of change. This is the story of Bilitis.

Founded in 2004 as a community organisation of lesbians and bisexual women based in Sofia, Bilitis has become one of Bulgaria’s leading LGBTI rights organisations. Bilitis’ mission is to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans*, and intersex people (LGBTI) and overcome all forms of discrimination against them in Bulgaria. Bilitis organises activities aimed at expanding and supporting LGBTI community building. It also engages in advocacy and public education in collaboration with the broader LGBTI rights movement. Bilitis has official responsibility for organising the annual Sofia Pride event and the annual LGBTI Arts Festival. In partnership with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, it oversees the strategy towards a national plan for LGBTI equality. Bilitis received its first grant from Mama Cash in 2009.

The Challenge

Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, precipitating a sharp decline in funding from international donors and leading to the collapse of a number of established human rights organisations, including the main LGB organisation, Gemini, in 2009. With Gemini having disappeared, the movement lost its public face and there was little coordinated collaboration between various LGB groups and initiatives. Lesbians and bisexual women were barely visible in national level organising, and trans* people were not represented in the movement at all. Bulgaria’s first Pride parade, in 2008, was small in numbers and attracted severe violence. At that time, Bilitis operated as a community organisation of lesbians and bisexual women. It was one of the few organisations with the capacity to engage in national level advocacy, so it stepped into the void. Bilitis gradually developed into what it describes as the “spider in the web” for a movement that, at the time, consisted mainly of loose and informally organised groups.

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