On a TV talk show June 6, Mamuka Khazaradze, the leader of the new opposition political party Lelo for Georgia, said:
“The rights of sexual minorities are very well protected in our country ... If some deviations happen, it means that the law is not observed and the rights of some people are violated. However, it does not mean that the minority must infringe on the rights of the majority.”
Khazaradze was responding to a TV talk-show presenter who asked about his position on same-sex marriage and child adoption by gay couples. On this specific issue Khazaradze said that marriage was very well defined in the Constitution of Georgia and required no revision: “We must stick to it.”
Khazaradze added that he opposes same-sex marriage and that children should be raised by a mother and father. Then, on June 8, another member of the Lelo party, ex-Parliament Speaker David Usupashvili, posted a Facebook message saying Lelo would not support same-sex marriage.
The statement that sexual minorities are well protected is misleading.
It is true that Georgian law recognizes equal rights for all and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The law also considers hate motivation an aggravating circumstance for a crime.
But a constitutional amendment in 2017 changed the definition of marriage. Under Georgia’s Civil Code, marriage was defined as a heterosexual union, but the language of the constitution was neutral: Marriage was a union “based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses.” In a step backward, the amendment redefined it as a “union between a woman and a man.”
LGBT+ people are among those most vulnerable to persecution in Georgian society.
“Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are pervasive in Georgia: Beatings are commonplace, harassment and bullying constant, and exclusion from education, work and health settings appear be the norm,” a 2019 United Nations report says.
The report, by the U.N.’s Independent Expert, called the discrimination systemic.
In Georgian society and culture, aspects of homosexuality are seen as sinful, shameful or pathologic, the report says. These convictions are “fueled and reinforced by agents of the church, tolerated and at times sponsored by politicians, governmental and law enforcement agents, and replicated by mass and social media,” the expert found.
The discrimination is not limited to marriage. LGBT+ individuals in Georgia find it difficult to realize a range of basic rights, including the rights to life, free expression and assembly.
This manifested most glaringly on May 17, 2013, when thousands of anti-gay protesters, led by Orthodox priests, chased and attacked gay activists gathered in the center of Tbilisi to peacefully mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHO).
Shouts from the frenzied mob included "Kill them! Tear them to pieces!" Some 30 people were injured. Though police failed to contain the mob, they were able to put the gay rights activists on buses that took them to safety, preventing more injury.
Since then, any attempt of LGBT+ activists to mark IDAHO has been thwarted. Authorities have cited questionable excuses for blocking LGBT+ groups from holding public events. In 2016, they said Tbilisi’s main avenue was already booked by Orthodox groups to mark Family Day.
They’ve also said it would be too hard to protect demonstrators from anti-gay protesters.
In 2019, LGBT+ activists planned Georgia’s first-ever Pride Week for June 18-22, which included various events and a march. Despite lengthy advance negotiations, the Interior Ministry at the end of May rejected outdoor events because participants’ safety could not be guaranteed. On June 14, the Georgian Orthodox Church called Tbilisi Pride “absolutely unacceptable.”
That day, a small group of gay rights activists organized a gathering outside the Government Chancellery building to call for police protection. Conservative groups mobilized there and chanted homophobic slurs. A six-hour standoff ensued until police evacuated the activists.
On June 16, groups led by right-wing businessman Levan Vasadze held a rally at which he announced the formation of vigilante patrols against Tbilisi Pride and gay people. The Pride Week was rescheduled due to threats, as well as to political unrest in Tbilisi in June that led to violent clashes between police and anti-Russia protesters.
It was not until July 8 that the LGBT+ activists held the march, with its time and date kept in strict secret for threats to their safety. The event was scaled down to about 40 participants and lasted only for 30 minutes amid reports that extremist groups were on their way.
No attempt was undertaken by the LGBT+ organizations to mark IDAHO this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. They limited themselves to releasing statements.
Gay rights activists and supporters displayed rainbow flags on this occasion. However, police forced the cafe Gallery, an openly gay-friendly venue in Tbilisi, to remove the flag “to avoid excesses from opponents”, police reports say.
At times, the discrimination has been violent, even deadly:
- On June 11, 2020, a young man and his three friends were attacked and severely beaten, allegedly on homophobic grounds.
- In January 2018, a transgender woman and Equality Movement activist, Miranda Pagava, was insulted and physically assaulted in Tbilisi.The perpetrator used homophobic and transphobic hate speech.
- In November 2018, two trans women were attacked in central Tbilisi. The victims were hospitalized and claimed the attackers told them “their lives have to be taken” because they “pretend to be women.”
- In 2016, Zizi Shekiladze, 32-year-old transgender woman, was attacked by strangers who cut her throat. She was taken to the hospital with multiple head injuries and remained in a coma for several weeks before she died.
- In 2014, another transgender woman, Sabi Beriani, 25, was killed in her apartment. According to the official investigation, there had been an argument over money. However, human rights activists said that she was killed because of her gender identity.