Ruling Majority Tests Homophobia as Campaign Pillar

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze backed the ruling majority in announcing legislation to fight “pseudo-liberal ideology” and “LGBT propaganda.” The ruling party is clearly mounting homophobia as an early pillar for its parliamentary election campaign. And since elections are slated for this fall, there is still time to roll back the campaign or modify its pace if it fails to impress the voters. The ruling party remains mum about the scope and exact content of the proposed legislation, but its rhetoric bears uncanny similarity with Russian and Hungarian legislation adopted earlier.

“Duty” to Counter “Non-traditional Way of Life”

The “People’s Power”, the ruling party’s populist spin-off, kick-started the campaign of support for the new legislation. People’s Power flying the trial balloons on behalf of the ruling party is not new. This is precisely the role they played when the “foreign agents’ law,” targeting civil society groups and media, was initiated in 2023.

The MPs from the People’s Power posted an anti-Western, anti-LGBT statement on social media on February 26, slamming the U.S. for promoting “pseudo-liberal ideas” and questioning the reasonability of Georgia’s strategic partnership with Washington. The statement proffered a nauseating litany of “proofs” of wanton corruption of children through “gender ideology” and “gay propaganda.”

Mamuka Mdinaradze, head of the majority faction in the Parliament, built on this statement on February 29, saying his party will propose legislation to shield future generations from “pseudo-liberal ideology.” Citing “some international studies,” he claimed that in countries dominated by this “ideology,” an increasing proportion of young people are switching to what he called “non-traditional sexual orientations.”

Mdinaradze listed “inevitable harmful consequences” that could threaten Georgian society, including threatened traditional “mother” and “father” roles through what he described as “gender-neutral” identities like “parent number one” and “parent number two” in birth certificates.

He planted further worries that Georgia might one day be “asked” (presumably by its Western partners) to legalize same-sex marriage, which goes against the country’s Constitution. Mdinaradze praised the Georgian Dream for amending the country’s main law in 2017 so that it defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the purpose of founding a family.

“It is our duty to the Georgian society and its future to counter the targeted propaganda of the non-traditional way of life,” he said.

He also dared anyone critical of the initiative to frame the issue as a choice between “Europe or LGBT propaganda,” arguing this was impossible given the careful approach his party has taken to balance rights with restriction of “propaganda.”

Proposals to “regulate LGBT propaganda” are not new. The Georgian Orthodox Church called last year for legislation to do just that. At that time, President Salome Zurabishvili vowed to impose a veto on such a proposal. In 2023, Mdinaradze, serving as GD party whip, said the adoption of a “ban on LGBT propaganda” was not being considered by the ruling party. He cited the unnamed “legal problems,” unwillingness to “give advantage” to what he called “LGBT propagandists and radicals,” and added that the party thought it was better to counter “unhealthy propaganda” with “healthy initiatives” rather than legislate against it. Mdinaradze did not say what made the party reconsider its position this year.

Dangerous games

The draft law has yet to see the light of day, but fears are already mounting that whatever the political motive may be, the Georgian Dream exploits homophobia as a campaign pillar for the upcoming parliamentary elections, a campaign of hate that may make the pre-election period even more dangerous for Georgia’s queers.

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze claims that his guiding principle will be to ensure that this law is in line with the country’s Constitution, especially its second chapter, which provides for the protection of fundamental human rights. Georgian Public Defender Levan Ioseliani made the same point, saying it is “difficult” for him to assess the initiative before it is drafted. Mdinaradze has also repeatedly stressed that the protection of human rights is a must and that a strict line must be drawn with “LGBT propaganda,” saying that the two are different things. He even asked the opposition to help delineate the two and participate actively in the deliberations.

But the initiative comes in the context of deteriorating conditions for Georgia’s queer community. Last year, the police failed to prevent the violent mob from breaking into the Pride Festival grounds despite government promises to protect the event. LGBT groups have refrained from holding Pride Marches since the homophobic pogroms of 2021 that injured dozens of journalists, one of whom died days later. The violent groups were organized by the anti-liberal, pro-Russian, and homophobic Alt-Info movement. One of its prominent figures, Konstantine Morgoshia, is now unsurprisingly praising the ruling majority’s initiative.

New “Russian Law”?

“This [legislative initiative] is being done just to win votes, and this is another ‘Russian law,'” says Paata Zakareishvili, a Georgian political analyst and former GD-nominated Minister who parted ways with the ruling majority. He is using the civil society moniker for the “foreign agents” law. Some civil society leaders also framed the new proposal as the “new Russian law” or “Russian Law 2.0”.

Indeed, there are clear parallels with Russia’s approach, which also gives an example of gradual escalation in terms of both scope and sanctions. In 2013, the Russian State Duma amended the article “Propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors” into federal law on child rights protection. In 2023, it went further, as the Russian Supreme Court outlawed what it called the “International LGBT Movement,” defining it as an “extremist organization.” Shortly after the ruling, administrative detentions, fines, and other punishments were meted out to people merely perceived as “extremists,” often based on arbitrary criteria such as their appearance or social media activity. There are also uncanny similarities between the examples used by President Putin and GD leadership: “parent number one/parent number two” and “transvestites in kindergartens,” these are just two examples from the Kremlin book of propaganda.

Similar “anti-propaganda” laws have also been passed in Hungary, whose far-right leader Viktor Orban has kept close ties with Georgian leaders. In 2021, Orban also banned “LGBT propaganda,” with the stated intention of protecting young generations. Shortly after the law went into effect, books with LGBT characters or themes were removed from bookstores. The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the regulation, and more than a dozen EU nations joined the lawsuit. In April 2023, the Hungarian President unexpectedly vetoed the escalatory amendment to legislation that stipulated that citizens can anonymously report same-sex couples raising children together for breaching the “constitutionally recognized role of marriage and the family.”

Electoral objectives?

Some government critics say the ruling majority is still smarting after having been defeated by the angry streets on “foreign agents” law and is pining for revenge. They say the real objective is to restrict the freedom of expression. Packaging the move as the crackdown on queer rights is allegedly intended to paint the opponents as “queer supporters” and thus – hopefully – preempt the repeat of the mass public mobilization on the assumption that the public won’t hit the streets to protect the marginalized queer community.

The parliamentary majority promises to present the “anti-LGBT propaganda” draft law in the coming two weeks. But the opposition already sees it as a distraction from real issues, claiming it is yet another step of the ruling party to win the votes.

Zakareishvili says the Georgian Dream wants to “win over right-wing, far-right and conservative [voters]” who have strayed too far towards Alt-Info.

Some opponents are trying to counter-attack on the core pretext advanced by the ruling party – the protection of children. “The government, which is deaf to pedophilia, child marriage, violence against children, children going hungry, wants to protect children from sex change when no such cases exist in Georgia – none!” – wrote Tamar Chergoleishvili, one of the leaders of the European Georgia party.

Overall, before the draft is officially unveiled, the general mood is that of tense anticipation coupled with indecision over whether it is politically expedient to tackle the issue.

by Gigi Kobakhidze,


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