Increase in threats against LGBT persons in Georgia
Since May 17, when LGBT activists were violently attacked in the capital Tbilisi, the spirit among Georgian LGBT activists has been subdued. Many feel more unsafe than ever. At the same time, Georgian politicians are beginning to take some tentative steps towards strengthening the protection of LGBT persons.
The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s Georgian partner organisation Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group, WISG, had planned a silent flashmob in Tbilisi, together with the LGBT organisation Identoba, on the International Day Against Homophobia and transphobia, IDAHO. The aim of the manifestation was to draw attention to the problem of homophobia and transphobia in Georgian society.
But despite promises from the police and high officials at the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the manifestation would be protected, the flashmob could not be carried out. Instead, LGBT activists were violently attacked by counter-demonstrators, led by Orthodox priests.
“Members from WISG were trapped in a corner, surrounded by police. The counter-demonstrators started throwing stones at them, and asked the police to move away so that they could ‘kill these dirty faggot women’” says Tinatin Japaridze, Program Officer for Kvinna till Kvinna in Tbilisi, who observed the events.
It was not until a UN Women representative came to the scene and showed her UN card, that the police started to take action. Members from WISG were evacuated into a minivan. Before the bus managed to drive off, demonstrators smashed all the windows, jumped on the bus and tried to pull out the women. One of the women was hit by a stone in the head, several others were also injured.
When the bus finally stopped outside the centre of Tbilisi, one of Georgia’s biggest TV channels, Rustavi 2, were waiting, cameras ready. They aired pictures of several WISG activists, many of whom are not out as LGBT persons.
LGBT activists are now gathering testimonies from those who were subjected to violence and abuse. They have filed complaints against the TV channel, the police and violent counter-demonstrators.
Attacks every day
At the same time, attacks are still taking place every day. According to Tinatin Japaridze, harassments against LGBT persons – or persons assumed to be gay – have become more common since May 17.
“You just have to have a different hairstyle, or in some way a gender non-conformative look, in order to be attacked” she says.
How has all of this affected the LGBT activists?
“I think they are demotivated and very frustrated. When they saw the crowd of 20 000 counter-demonstrators, they were overwhelmed by hopelessness. They also feel very unsafe” says Tinatin Japaridze.
Nino Kharchilava, project assistant at WISG, confirms that safety and security for LGBT community members is on top of the agenda.
“The level of hate crimes has increased after May 17. People are being attacked in the streets and on public transports, they are threatened and subjected to slander. This is the result of the climate of impunity that exists in the country towards hate crimes based on sexual or gender identity. But I hope the government will take concrete steps to stop the violence” Nino Kharchilava says.
Regarding the future for LGBT activism in the country, she considers the main priorities should be education, awareness rising and to increase the society’s understanding of LGBT issues.
Noone trialed for attacks
Parts of civil society have reacted to the attacks, albeit quietly. Among other things, a demonstration with the message “No to theocracy, no to violence,” was held a few days after IDAHO. A couple of international organisations are also trying to support the LGBT movement morally and financially, including UN Women and Kvinna till Kvinna.
Initially no politicians openly expressed their support for the LGBT activists. There have been a few arrests of people charged with committing petty crimes like breaking windows, during the clashes on May 17, but so far no one has been trialed or convicted for the attacks against LGBT activists.
“The government should punish those who were directly involved in the attacks. I regard it as attempted murder, which is a very serious offense” Tinatin Japaridze says.
Small progress was made on May 29 though, when WISG were called to a meeting with the Ministry of Interior to discuss safety and security for LGBT persons. WISG has also been asked to assist Georgia’s advisor on human rights and gender equality, Tamar Chugoshvili, with good practices from EU countries on how the protection of LGBT persons can be ensured.
And in his speech to the nation on Georgia’s Independence Day, May 26, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili criticized xenofobic and homophobic views and pointed out that everyone – regardless of ethnicity, religion or sexuality – are equal before the law
International presence needed
However, according to Kvinna till Kvinna staff in Tbilisi, the security situation for individual LGBT persons remains severe. Tinatin Japaridze believes that international organisations and embassies, as well as Georgian authorities, could have done much more to prevent the violent attacks.
“At a meeting the day before IDAHO, high police officials promised that the manifestation would be protected. Several embassies and international organisations expressed strong support for LGBT activism. But words and money are not enough – their presence was needed during the IDAHO event. International actors could also have demanded stronger guarantees by the government and the police to fulfill their promise to protect LGBT activists” Tinatin Japaridze says.
IDAHO in other places
In connection with IDAHO, several arrangements took place in Albania, such as art exhibitions, lectures, roundtables and a gay bike ride. In central Tirana a Diversity Fair was held, where bypassers could receive information about the situation for LGBT person in Albania. Never before has IDAHO been so widely celebrated in Albania, and the public debate on LGBT issues have taken on a broader dimension, largely thanks to the hard work done by LGBT groups in the country. One incident was reported: an activist was attacked with tear gas after attending an IDAHO event. However, the police questioned if the attack had anything to do with the activist’s homosexuality.
The celebration of IDAHO wasn’t announced in the media due to fear of bad reactions and violence. However, it was visited by activists from both the LGBT community and people from a wider frame of civil society. Besides movie screenings and exhibitions, the event mostly focused on discussing the future of LGBT activism in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
An IDAHO picnic was held in Belgrade. Among the organisers were Women in Black and Labris. No incidents have been reported.
The LGBT organisation PINK Armenia arranged a small rainbow flashmob in central Yerevan. The event was not promoted in advance, taking into consideration the attacks against LGBT activists who joined the Diversity march last year.
Updated in: 2013-06-05