In a statement released on the eve of planned anti-gay rally by Orthodox and conservative groups in Tbilisi center, the Georgian Orthodox Church reiterated on May 16 its condemnation of what it calls “unnatural, pervert relations” and called on the participants of the planned demonstration to march peacefully, saying that the Church is against of violence.
Last year an attempted anti-homophobia rally on May 17 in Tbilisi to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia was violently disrupted by thousands of demonstrators, led by Orthodox clerics. LGBT rights groups plan no event this year to mark this day.
An “appeal for protest” signed by various individuals, among them some public personalities, was released this week calling for a rally on Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi on May 17 to demand from the authorities to remove “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the newly adopted anti-discrimination law and to also demand adoption of a law “banning direct or indirect propaganda” of homosexuality.
Last week head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, said Georgia should mark the “day of strength of family and respect for parents” every year on May 17. He called to mark this day with church service followed by spraying streets with holy water.
“Firmness and sacredness of family is a foundation of strength of the state,” the Patriarchate said in the statement on May 16. “Infringing sacredness of family and declaring unnatural and pervert relations as natural is completely unacceptable for the majority of population of Georgia, regardless of religion. Of course it is also unacceptable for the Georgian Orthodox Church. But it does not mean that the Church fights against those, who are damaged with this sin. On the contrary, it is taking care for them and is directing efforts to correct them.”
It also said that the Church “fights against the sin itself and against its public propaganda, because such attitude angers the God very much and causes punishment from the God.” It said that because of that the Church “tries to protect the nation from legalization of immorality.”
“As we know a certain group of believers and part of the society plans a street march on the occasion of this day [for respect of family strength]. The Georgian Patriarchate respectfully calls on them to march only peacefully and with prayer; the Church has always been and is against violence,” the Patriarchate said.
Tbilisi-based gay rights group, Identoba, has said for multiple times that it plans “no event whatsoever” this year to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Instead, Identoba has opted for, as it said, “a secure way” of expression and launched a website www.17maisi.org where interested persons are invited to send videos, slogans, stories, petitions or anything through which they want to express themselves in connection to the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
For safety reasons Identoba has called on LGBT community representatives to stay away from the venue of planned anti-gay rally and its nearby streets.
“It seems that the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia will, once again, be turned into a Georgian day of expressing homophobia,” the group said in a statement on May 15. “Unfortunately, LGBT activists are unable to organize or plan any counter protest to this absurd situation due to security reasons and state’s inability to ensure the safety (considering the experiences in 2013 and 2012).”
Identoba also said that although it is not planning any event to mark IDAHO, the Church, some non-parliamentary opposition parties, various “radical fundamentalist forces” and pro-Russian groups anyway started preparations for anti-gay rally.
“Lacking an enemy against which the march would be ‘justified’, they are going to protest the adoption of anti-discrimination bill by the Parliament, which they say ‘legitimizes incest and sodomy in Georgia’,” the gay rights group said and added that in order to boost turnout at the planned rally on May 17, the Georgian Orthodox Church declared this date as the family day.
The group also said that this week police officers visited two gay-friendly cafes in downtown Tbilisi and demanded addresses and personal contacts of all LGBT staff members and threatened managers not to speak publicly about the police request. The Interior Ministry has denied it.
Identoba also said that developments surrounding May 17 should also be viewed in the context of upcoming signing of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU. The group said that pro-Russian elements, including within the Church “find homophobia a good basis to mobilize people” against Europe “which they equate with the ‘promotion of homosexuality and pedophilia’.”
“They depict the struggle for LGBT rights in the country as an imposed value of the “pervert West”. Therefore anti-LGBT rhetoric is heavily framed with anti-European and pro-Russian sentiments. In our assessment, for them, May 17 turned into a day when they can flex their muscles in front of Georgian government,” Identoba said.