Billboards promoting tolerance towards same-sex couples, put up in various Bulgarian cities, have been targeted by vandalism and public outrage.
The negative response has prompted organisers of the campaign to say that the reaction shows how deep the problem of homophobia runs in Bulgarian society.
In Bulgaria’s Black Sea city Varna, paint was hurled at one of the billboards, while in the other major Black Sea city of Bourgas, the billboards were taken down by the advertising company after numerous public complaints.
Bulgarian media reported that there were campaigns on social networks to forcibly take down the billboards.
The plan for the campaign was to have the billboards up in Bourgas, Varna, Plovdiv and capital city Sofia until the end of January 2019.
In Varna, the municipality responded to inquiries from Bulgarian-language media about the billboards by saying that the billboards violated no municipal regulations, and for that reason the city council had taken no action to remove them, but had informed the company about the numerous complaints.
Television station bTV reported Dimitrina Ivanova of the “New Life” Association as saying that the billboards promoted “debauchery and fornication and are in violation of the Penal Code”.
The billboards, which depict fully-clothed same-sex couples embracing in well-known public places such as outside the Parliament building in Sofia, have the message: “It’s nothing scary. It’s only love”.
Ivanova said: “What will young children think? The child’s psyche is extremely vulnerable”.
Varna city councillor Kostadin Kostadinov said: “It is not acceptable to have frank propaganda for homosexual relations, and to do it in a way that will gradually be imposed on us as a norm”.
Campaign organiser Simeon Vassilev, of the Glas (“Voice”) Foundation, said: “These posters do not contradict in any way the established rules for outdoor advertising. It is removing and vandalising them that is unlawful”.
“I do not think that a hug between two men is scandalous, pornographic or promoting debauchery,” he said.
Vassilev said that the aim of the campaign was to draw attention to discrimination against and hostility towards LGBTI people, and, he said, the reaction to the billboards had proven that the problem ran much deeper.
The project is co-financed by the European Union, with a total project cost of about 150 000 euro, and there was nothing scandalous about that, he said.
“The fact that someone is annoyed by another’s difference is not the reason to throw paint, to damage and destroy public property. We did not expect a billboard to become the main news for the whole nation,” Vassilev said.