By Spenser Mes
Last summer, CrossFit Virtuosity member Ivan Dimov was at a party in his native Bulgaria. “I’m outspoken,” Ivan says, “and it became kind of obvious that I’m gay.” Later that night a teenager approached him, fumbling, nervous. He said he was gay too, and that he didn’t have anyone to talk to. “I was probably the first person he ever told,” Ivan says.
The moment was pivotal for Ivan, who left Bulgaria after high school to attend Williams College in Massachusetts and has since spent more than 20 years living and working in the United States. “Of course I knew that Bulgaria is not an easy place to be gay,” says Ivan, “but that was when I started to think seriously about what I could do to make things better.”
The atmosphere for LGBTQ rights in Bulgaria is about what you’d expect for a former Soviet ally in Eastern Europe. Same-sex marriage has been constitutionally banned since 1991, and according to a 2015 poll, only 17 percent of the country supports gay unions. Almost all public queer life is concentrated in Sofia, the capital, which hosts the country’s only pride parade. Last week’s drew a record-high number of participants: 2,100.
Services for the Bulgarian LGBTQ community barely exist, so Ivan’s initial goals are to provide some basics, in partnership with local psychologists and U.S.-based non-profits like The Trevor Project. He first aims to create a hotline offering crisis intervention and suicide prevention counseling, support, education, and a sense of community to LGBTQ youth. Second, open a safe house for runaway kids. Third, and most ambitious, “to help change society.”
To make his campaign as mainstream and effective as possible, Ivan has formed a coalition with a broad range of Bulgarians: a boxer and his model wife, gay businessmen, an Olympian, a rock star. In July he leaves for Europe, where he’ll run 12 marathons in 12 countries to fundraise and “hopefully not end up in a hospital,” says Ivan.
Ivan kicked things off a few weeks ago with the backing of the LGBTQ fitness organization OUTWOD, coordinating fundraising workouts at CrossFit Armed in Miami, CrossFit Hollywood in Los Angeles, and his home gym, CrossFit Virtuosity in Brooklyn.
Support for Ivan’s project has been strong at Virtuosity: owner Samantha Orme custom created a marathon-inspired workout for OUTWOD, member Jay Silver filmed during the event for a documentary being produced by Bulgarian’s biggest TV station, and member Rob Wu will promote the cause through his fundraising platform, CauseVox.
The international CrossFit community plays an important role in Ivan’s plan. In each city he is running a marathon, he hopes to find a box to host the same marathon-inspired fundraising workout that was successful stateside.
If you know someone who could help out Ivan in any of the locations listed below, you’re planning to be in Europe at the same time and you’d like to come cheer Ivan on or WOD with him, or you’d like to support his non-profit in any other way, please contact him directly at [email protected].
- 13-Aug-16: Helsinki, Finland
- 20-Aug-16: Reykjavik, Iceland
- 28-Aug-16: Mexico City, Mexico
- 11-Sep-16: Talinn, Estonia
- 17-Sep-16: Oslo, Norway
- 25-Sep-16: Berlin, Germany
- 2-Oct-16: Lisbon, Portugal
- 9-Oct-16: Sofia, Bulgaria
- 16-Oct-16: Amsterdam, Netherlands
- 23-Oct-16: Venice, Italy
- 30-Oct-16: Dublin, Ireland
- 13-Nov-16: Athens, Greece
Remember, we’ll be celebrating NYC Pride tomorrow (Saturday) here at CrossFit Virtuosity during all Level 2 classes, and celebrating afterwards at Northern Bell!