Opinion polls in Bulgaria have shown a prevalence of homophobic attitudes. In public life, being openly gay is unusual, limited usually to people in entertainment and the arts. Unlike other European countries, if any politician of note is gay, they do not say so, probably well aware that to do so would be career suicide.
If it is accepted, as it should be in a democratic society, that human rights are indivisible, then negative discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation should be unacceptable.
The voices raised vehemently against the Rainbow Friendship Rally planned for Sofia on June 27 have come from far-right quarters and some Bulgarian Orthodox Church theology students, taking the view that the parade is meant as promoting the superiority of being gay over being heterosexual – as the theology students put it, that the abnormal is better than the normal.
Thus far, it has been mainly foreign voices that have spoken out in support of the principle of the parade, the promotion of tolerance. The ambassadors of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States have issued messages of support.
No major Bulgarian politician or political party has done so, presumably for fear of losing votes with national parliamentary elections only about a week away.
The backlash from far-right quarters against these envoys has been unpalatable, and has missed the point in, for instance, the message from UK ambassador Steve Williams, who was singled out perhaps because of timing in being the first to issue a message.
The Rainbow Friendship Rally is about celebrating diversity, not about promoting a lifestyle, Williams said. It is about promoting respect for fundamental human rights.
In 2008, the first such rally in Sofia was marred by attempted disruption by far-right thugs and skinheads. Reports at the time said that police were ineffectual in responding to the hooliganism.
Given that the Bulgarian constitution asserts the right of peaceful assembly for demonstrations, the state failed in its duty last year, and it is to be hoped that the rally is enabled to proceed in the spirit in which it is intended.
Elsewhere in the world such rallies are received with distaste in some quarters, even if they are allowed to proceed. Dislike of such rallies tends to be linked to displays of camp behaviour, of a kind that does not reflect the diversity of gay people who include countless individuals who are anything but flamboyant; in the same way that there is wide diversity in the behaviours of heterosexuals.
It is to be hoped that the parade proceeds as a peaceful celebration of the diversity of humankind, and serves as a step forward in attitudes of acceptance and tolerance in Bulgarian society.