A group of approximately 250 gay rights activists and their sympathizers, holding rainbow flags and posters with messages against homophobic violence, gathered outside the Government administration in Tbilisi to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).
The demonstrators assembled in the area at 7 pm today in their individual capacity, despite earlier announcement that the rally would officially be called off due to possible violence from participants of parallel rallies – convened over the Orthodox Patriarchate’s Family Day celebrations.
There was heavy police presence in and around the demonstration venue, about three hundred meters from the Parliament building, where the ultranationalist March of the Georgians activists had gathered from earlier today, apparently in an attempt to thwart the anti-homophobia event.
The police officers had to seal off the nearby streets with iron fences to hinder the counter-rally participants from entering the demonstration venue. Some protesters were escorted to and out of the area by municipal buses mobilized specifically for this purpose by the authorities.
Londa Toloraia, head of the Interior Ministry’s Human Rights Department, who was present at the demonstration, told reporters before the rally that the police would guarantee the security of participants and their right to freedom of expression.
The 1.5-hour-long demonstration was held without major incidents, except when a young man, who had apparently secretively entered the rally, physically assaulted one of the speakers. The police arrested the man on scene, with Toloraia saying the assailant would face charges of violence, which is punishable with maximum penalty of imprisonment from one to three years.
Summing up the anti-homophobia demonstration, Giorgi Tabagari, a gay-rights activist, said the event was important for him as a member of the group “that has been deprived of walking freely in streets and that has been under permanent threat and humiliation.”
“Today, we should have had a different rally here, we should have marked the May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which has been taken away from the community by various groups, not only the authorities – the Patriarchate, various law enforcement agencies and the people who had warned us that the situation could have escalated [because of our event], which pushed us to cancel the demonstration,” he added.
“Today’s event was, of course, very restrictive; we want to organize demonstrations without being forced to be leave the place secretly, and this is not a privilege, this is the very right that every citizen has to have in this country,” Tabagari also noted.
Earlier today, a small group of gay rights activists marked the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia with mini-demonstrations at six different locations in Tbilisi, including the Interior, Healthcare, Justice and Education Ministries, as well as the Vake Park and the Emergency Response Center, slamming the authorities’ discriminatory practices against the LGBT community and proposing policy solutions tailored to their needs.
They also reiterated their earlier calls for the resignation of Sopio Kiladze, the Parliament’s human rights committee chair.