Gay in Georgia: „If you are Georgian, you need to be a straight man“
The current Spartacus Gay Travel Index ranks Georgia number 95 in its ranking, with an overall rating of -2. In categories such as same-sex marriage, persecution, antidiscrimination laws or transgender rights, the country only scores in a single case with a positive rating. All others are either 0 or negative. Although homosexuality has been legal in Georgia since 2000, it is taboo in large parts of the country with far-reaching consequences for lesbians, gays and queer people in the country. For my article “LGBTQ + Georgia” on Couple of Men, I have looked more closely at the current situation of the LGBTQ + community and what it means to be gay in Georgia.
Gay in Georgia: Strong influence of the Orthodox Church
The cause of the difficult situation for the LGBTQ + community in Georgia is the great influence of the Orthodox Church. Also the Georgian population is strongly conservative, with partly open rejection of homosexuality. For example, in a 2011 poll, the majority of respondents said they preferred having an alcoholic rather than a homosexual as a work colleague. An education on sexual diversity simply does not take place in the schools in Georgia as of now. In this climate, disclosing one’s (gay) sexual identity and exposing it to the public is a major risk factor. A coming-out is often associated with significant negative effects, such as job loss. Transgender people are often denied access to the university.
The Day of the Family in Georgia
Even in private, there is a clear idea of family, love and sexuality in Georgia. Since 2014, 17 May in Georgia is the day of the family, officially proclaimed by the Georgian Orthodox Church. However, there is a very special picture of what a family in Georgia looks like. Namely not gay, lesbian, bi or transgender.
On the occasion of this day, also the day against homophobia, events and demonstrations of the LGBTQ + community in the capital Tbilisi take place regularly, albeit with a higher risk level. In 2012, around 20 people demonstrating rights and equality for LGBTQ + were massively harassed by Orthodox priests and their supporters. The following year, the LGBTQ + activists faced a mob of several thousand (some sources speak of up to 20,000) homophobic members of the conservative Orthodox Church. The LGBTQ+ activists finally fled in a bus. A few days before the event, Ilia II of Georgia, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, called homosexuality an anomaly and disease.
In 2018, the actions of the LGBTQ+ activists were canceled at short notice. Their protection could not be guaranteed, officialls said. Also this year in 2019, LGBTQ+ organizations or other activists did not organize an event on May 17. Too big is the fear of renewed attacks.
Daily threat & hostility to the LGBTQ + community
In Georgia, obviously, it does not suffice to conform to the optics that the conservative and radical sections of the population consider to be the norm. It does not even have to be explicit gay acts, such as kissing or holding hands, in public. Sometimes an earring, a beard or a certain way to dress can be enough to be beaten, explains Michael Mepharishvili from the NGO Equality Movement in Tbilisi. Also, there are only a few places where LGBTQ+ can live out their identity openly. When Equality Movement was founded in 2013, there was only one LGBTQ+ club in the capital, and now there are 6. However, visiting these clubs always involves a risk. It can happen that people are caught, threatened and attacked when entering or leaving the premises by radical groups. But also hostility and insults in restaurants, on the bus or on the street are almost commonplace.
The annual updated ranking of Spartacus’ Gay Travel Index for 2019 informs travelers about the situation of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in 197 countries and regions around the world. Which countries are gay friendly? Where do LGBTQ + travelers have to be extra careful?
The work of Equality Movement in Georgia
But even in Georgia there are organizations that do not simply want to accept the given circumstances without a fight. These include Identoba in the city of Kutaisi and Equality Movement in the capital Tbilisi.
Equality Movement was originally called LGBT Georgia. However, this name brought with it the problem that no one wanted to provide the founders with office space. As soon as it became clear which views the NGO represents, the rejection came in as well. After the change to the more neutral name Equality Movement the situation got a little better – but not good, because nevertheless the organization had to move several times to avoid hostility and attacks. Even in the current office there is a security service that can be called in an emergency. Again and again it happens that private printing services refuse an order when it becomes clear that it is about LGBTQ+ information material. For transgender people, there are special driving services that they should bring safely to the office or to the doctor. Equality Movement also offers free and anonymous HIV testing and information events in nightclubs and at festivals. It is also planned to create a map of Tbilisi with ‘safe places’ for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The attempt of a dialogue between both sides, however, does not exist, explains Mepharishvili. Instead, it would rather be a radicalization on both sides. “There is no space for dialogue.”
Situation of LGBTQ+ in Georgia is slowly improving …
“Compared to neighboring Turkey and Russia, the situation is still good,” Michael Mepharishvili tries to see the situation positively. Within the young, Europe-oriented generation, more and more tolerance and openness for homosexuality can be seen. In a survey by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in mid-2018, at least, there was a small increase (2%) in LGBTQ+ rights advocates. Overall, 23% of respondents rated gender equality as important, with 26% at least neutral. Nevertheless, 44% of respondents clearly opposed the importance of LGBT rights.
In October 2017, an openly lesbian politician, Nino Bolkvadze, ran for public office for the first time. The same month, Georgian footballer Guram Kashia showed off a rainbow bracelet on the occasion of the International Day of Coming Out at a game in the Netherlands. The action triggered unrest in their own country with several arrests.
… but not fast enough
Certainly Georgia’s desire to become part of the European Union will benefit the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, many of the changes and improvements in their own country are not fast enough. Georgia has just under 4.5 million inhabitants and many members of the LGBTQ+ community go abroad looking for more freedom and tolerance. Michael Mepharishvili explains: “I am afraid that I will soon be alone in this fight.”
More about Sarah
Gay Georgia: About the current situation for LGBTQ + community in Georgia
Sarah’s article about Gay Georgia is the first part of her coverage. In the next few days we will publish another interview with LGBTQ+ activist Tsiala Ratiani. But that’s just the beginning of the work of our reporter Sarah. More travel reports on the situation of the LGBTQ+ community will follow in the coming weeks and months. The aim of this series is to expose the sometimes dangerous situation for lesbian, gay and queer people in less privileged countries, thereby contributing to equality, love and tolerance throughout the world. Do you have stories and stories that should be told on Couple of Men? Send us an e-mail or private message on social media. Do not worry, all data will be treated confidentially and securely. And yet: Happy Pride and #lovewins!
Do you wanna know and see more of us gay couple travel bloggers? Stay tuned on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook! See you around in Europe or on one of our next gay pride trips around the world!
Karl & Daan.