In the summer of 2015, Ivan Dimov got an uncomfortable look at what it was like to be young and gay in Bulgaria.
According to a recent report by the European Commission, Bulgaria is one of the least LGBTI-friendly places in Europe. Workplace and housing discrimination is common. Violence and harassment directed at LGBTI people is “widespread,” reports the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [PDF].
While at a party outside Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city, a young man asked Dimov, a native Bulgarian who had spent 25 years living in New York, if they could talk. “He was nervous and not comfortable to be talking to a stranger,” Dimov explained. “But he didn’t know where else to go.”
The young man approached Dimov because Dimov was the only “out” person he knew. The young man had told his mom he was gay, he said, and she had responded by sending him to a psychiatrist who told him that he could be “cured.” (In Bulgaria, “conversion therapy” is widely accepted as a method to “treat” LGBTI people.)
The young man at the party told Dimov how one trauma had led to another. He ran away from home. He tried to commit suicide. When he appealed to Dimov—a complete stranger—Dimov was stunned. “He was completely alone,” Dimov explained. “He had no one to talk to.”
After learning more about the young man’s story, Dimov decided to return to Bulgaria, his home country, to set up an organization that would provide support and guidance to young LGBTI people in Bulgaria, as well as their parents and their friends. Read more via Open Society Foundation