Denitsa Lyubenov is the only lawyer working exclusively on LGBTQ rights in Bulgaria and co-founder of the youth LGBTQ organization Deystvie. She is also the new HRC Global Fellow, working alongside HRC staff in Washington, D.C. for four weeks. HRC’s Global Fellows program brings established and emerging LGBTQ leaders to the nation’s capital for professional development opportunities to build leadership capacity.
HRC sat down Lyubenov, who is openly lesbian, to discuss Bulgaria, her goals and the fight for LGBTQ rights.
How did you become an LGBTQ advocate?
I have been working on improving human rights in Bulgaria for the past 10 years. Founding Deystvie came naturally five years ago. Graduating from a school for public international law motivated me to start a legal defense program that provides pro-bono legal aid to LGBTQ people in Bulgaria. I am also hearing strategic litigation cases on the recognition of civil unions in the country with several cases pending before the European Court of Human Rights.
What is it like for LGBTQ people in Bulgaria?
The social and political contexts are still negative and we lack any legal recognition of LGBTQ people. We don’t have many allies, and the LGBTQ community is predominantly not out, mainly because of fear and stigmatization. To change that, we need more visibility, more grassroots initiatives and more community organizing, along with political and legal changes.
What does your organization Deystvie do?
My organization has three main programs: legal defense, visibility and awareness raising, and cultural acceptance. We do community-building and organizing through various workshops about equality and rights, trainings on discrimination and coordinating of the annual Pride March, the annual Sofia Pride Film Fest and small community-based meetings.
How did you hear about HRC?
HRC has been an inspiration to me for many years. I have followed the organization’s work for a long time, and it was always my dream to come and learn from its LGBTQ advocates and champions. Finally, I had the chance to do so with this fellowship opportunity!
What will you be doing as a Global Fellow?
I came to HRC to learn more about the LGBTQ movement in the U.S., grassroots initiatives, political lobbying and legal and social change. I will spend four weeks in Washington, D.C. as part of the U.S. Department of State’s exchange program Sustaining Civic Participation in Minority Communities for citizens of Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. During that time, I will be learning how the organization functions, how it is structured and how the U.S. LGBTQ movement has progressed in the last few decades. The experience I am gaining with the team at HRC is important and inspiring. After each day, I am adding something new that could be done in my country.
What do you plan to do when you return home?
In my first week, I set up quite a big goal for when I go back to Bulgaria: to have civil unions recognized within a couple of years. Along with civil unions, I want to use this as a platform to mobilize and bring people together, to build up a movement of active LGBTQ people and allies and change the political and legal context for LGBTQ Bulgarians. And yes, I believe it is possible!
HRC Global is proud to amplify the work of creative, courageous and effective leaders like Lyubenov who are committed to advocating for the rights of LGBTQ people in Bulgaria. HRC Global advocates for LGBTQ equality around the world through fellowships, partnerships and research. Read more about our work here and our Global Fellows program here.
Above: Sofia Pride 2016, Sofia, Bulgaria
Below: Presenting the litigated cases by Deystvie during Sofia Queer Forum, 2016, Sofia, Bulgaria (Photo by Svetla Encheva)