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Ana Dabrundashvili

Georgians Clash Over Anti-Homophobia Rally

The planned rally against homophobia and transphobia in Tbilisi spilled out of control as clergymen and the members of congregation clashed with gay rights activists. Police struggled to take things under control as demonstrators were hunting gay people and their supporters all over downtown Tbilisi.

The rally and the counter-rally

The LGBT activists were not allowed to organise a rally against homophobia on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, where the demonstration was planned to be held, was occupied by clergymen and the members of Georgian Orthodox Church (to which over 80% of Georgians belong) who promised not to let gay activists gather in the center of Tbilisi.

Police failed to separate anti-homophobia activists from the demonstrators, simply gathering the LGBT activists, putting them into city buses and evacuating outside Tbilisi before the planned demonstration.

Up to twenty people, journalists and policemen among them, were hurt as some LGBT activists remained in the center of Tbilisi. People on the other side, chasing LGBT activists, damaged municipal transport and city shops. They made aggressive remarks against gay people, gay activists and number of local civil society organizations that supported the rally. There were many young people among them, some probably even school-age.

Such conduct has been encouraged by many clergymen in Georgia who called on the members of their congregations to fight homosexuals. Some directly promoted violence in the heat of the moment when the two groups met.

“I will kill you all,” – shouted a priest, running against the demonstrators, cursing.

After the gay activists were gone, some people remained in the center of the city, others went to pray and celebrate in the churches.

Georgian public is divided whether today Georgians should celebrate or be ashamed.

Photo gallery by Levan Verdzeuli

Preparations

Rally against homophobia has been at the center of public attention for weeks. Clergymen and more conservative civil society activities vowed that such rallies are unacceptable and planned counter-demonstrations.

Georgian Patriarch Illia II asked the Tbilisi City Hall to withdraw its permission on the rally. Tbilisi City Hall responded that there is no permission required as the citizens of Georgia can gather and protest without state permission, they only notify the authorities. The announcement of the Patriarch angered the liberal part of the Georgian public not only because it revealed a rather shallow knowledge of Georgian legislation among the church authorities, but also because it said that “homosexuality is an abnormality and all religions and science (medicine, psychology) agree on this.”  Anti-homosexual remarks have become typical for the Orthodox Church.

On the night of May 16, priests and their supporters gathered in front of former Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue and spent the night there.

In the morning of May 17, Rustaveli Avenue was full of police and anti-LGBT protesters. Some groups marched shouting “Georgia,” others walked down the street praying. Many were in national outfits and patriotic songs were on.

A small group of people led by Basil Mkalavishvili, an assailant ex-priest who served a prison term for committing violence against religious minorities, came on the demonstration holding bunches of nettles, saying they will fight gay people.

Photo report by radio Liberty:

Public Opinion

The Georgian public is divided on the issue of homosexuality, but anti-homosexual attitudes prevail. Some Georgians tend to think that “such things” are not for “Georgian men” and “such people (homosexuals)” can go to Europe and America, where “these things” are accepted.  Homosexuality is often perceived as “unnatural”, “against God” and something that will make Georgian nation “extinct.”

Others say they can do whatever they want in their homes but bringing their sexuality to public is “seductive” and unacceptable. They demand to ban “propaganda of seduction”.

Then there are those who believe in equality of all, regardless oftheir sexual orientation.

There is no extensive research on public attitudes towards homosexuality in Georgia. A recent research carried out by local LGBT organizations, shows that most homosexuals in the country are victims of pressure and violence.

 

What do Authorities do?

The Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said the day before that the rights of homosexual people will be defended by the police. The Chairman of the Parliament Davit Usupashvili stated his support for the rights of minorities.

Previous government led by President Mikheil Saakshvili was thought to be composed of liberal-minded individuals and western-educated reformers. In general, they supported gay rights but did not always dare to have a firm stand on the rights of homosexual people – confront the church and the people.

Last year on May 17, police also failed to guarantee the security of LGBT activists.

Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is often accused by his opponent to be driving Georgia back into the past, seems to have a clear position on the rights of sexual minorities. However, the police has not yet taken the responsibility for the failure of the rally, saying the authorities did what they could. So far, not all the members of the current government, which is a set of various kinds of people, are fierce defenders of homosexual rights.

Feature photo: http://bit.ly/11KeHLX

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Ana is from Tbilisi, Georgia, where she currently works for the Caucasus Research Resource Centers. She has an MA in International Relations and BA in Journalism. Pursues writing in free time and is interested in literature.

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