A group of approximately 200 gay rights activists and supporters, holding rainbow flags and posters with messages against homophobic violence, gathered outside the Government building in Tbilisi on May 17 to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
“Even though number of positive legislative amendments have been passed in Georgia, negative attitudes towards LGBT group members are on rise, which makes it impossible for lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and intersex persons to enjoy their rights and freedoms equally to other citizens,” the May 16 press release, signed by twelve rights organizations, stated.
The organizations said that the LGBT community continues to enjoy the right of expression “only in restricted conditions” and added that the location of the event, as well as its time, were not pre-announced publicly because of security reasons – in order to avoid possible reoccurrence of violence similar to those that took place in 2012 and 2013.
The demonstrators had to change the initially intended venue in front of the Parliament building on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, after Orthodox groups announced their plans for marking the Family Purity Day, introduced in 2014 in an attempt to counter the International Day Against Homophobia.
A small area in front of the Government building, about three hundred meters from Rustaveli Avenue, was chosen as an alternative venue for the rally. There was heavy police presence in the area: they erected fences to block counter demonstrators from entering the anti-homophobia rally area. Activists were collected at two locations in Tbilisi and escorted to and out of the area by municipal buses. In accordance with police instructions, the demonstration lasted for an hour only.
Sophio Shamanidi, Georgian President’s advisor on religious and ethnic minorities issues, who was present at the demonstration in front of the Government building, told reporters at the meeting that she welcomed that the demonstrators were able to exercise their constitutional right to assemble and express themselves freely.
Shamanidi, however, added that “it is regretful that the Ministry of Internal Affairs had to protect one person from another in this manner.” “This indicates that, unfortunately, part of the society has not freed themselves from irrational phobias. We have not fully realized that every person enjoys similar rights in this country,” she stated.
In a statement on the occasion of the International Day Against Homophobia, the Georgian Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, said that despite numerous calls, the steps taken by the authorities to improve the rights of LGBT people “are still minimal and formal.”
“Homophobic and transphobic attitudes, use of hate speech, unequal treatment on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as violation of rights, remains a challenge in Georgia. LGBT people do not feel safe in exercising important rights, such as education, employment, healthcare, etc.,” the Public Defender said.
The government’s handling of the demonstration was criticized by seven local human rights organizations, which issued a joint statement on May 16, calling on the authorities to ensure “the freedom of assembly and expression, security, inviolability and protection of dignity” of community members, gay rights activists and supporters.
“The communication between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the LGBT activists and organizations this year revealed that there is no political will in the country to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the LGBT community. Ensuring equality does not represent the country’s priority and its interest is, essentially, to emphasize on the pseudo-protection of LGBT persons,” the organizations said.
Family Purity Day March
Demonstrators, led by senior Orthodox clerics, gathered at five locations on Rustaveli Avenue from early morning on May 17 to mark the Georgian Orthodox Church-introduced Family Day. Various outdoor events were held, involving performances of Georgian folk choirs and religious sermons.
Later, the demonstrators marched down the Rustaveli Avenue moving to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, greeted the demonstrators and held a religious service.
The sermon, read by one of the clerics on behalf of the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, focused on the importance of families, relations between wives and husbands and upbringing of children.
“A Christian family has to be created through love, the family can not exist without love, or else, it will take a distorted form and may collapse at all. In order to avoid the loss of love and maintain happiness, the family members need to learn how to live for each other and establish their family into a small church,” Ilia II said in the sermon.
The Patriarch added that family hierarchy is one of the pillars of a healthy family. “The family hierarchy (seniority) needs to be observed and the head of the family has to be a husband, as the almighty dictates. This does not mean that he is in some way superior, but that he has more responsibilities and is obliged to care for and protect the family. Caring means not only the providing materially, but service to god as well” he said.
On May 17, the Georgian Orthodox Church also awarded hundred families with seven or more children with certificates issued by Patriarch Ilia II.