Tbilisi Marks Anti-Homophobia Day with LBGT Arrests, Religious Rallies

TBILISI - Two opposing rallies held in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi on Tuesday led to the arrest of several young activists protesting the treatment of country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Groups from Georgia’s deeply conservative Orthodox community and mainly right-wing Evangelical Protestants and Eastern Rite Christians from the US held a larger rally on Tbilisi’s central Rustaveli Avenue to mark the Georgian Patriarchate’s highly controversial Family Values Day.

The police arrested 10 LGBT activists while they attempted to stencil the words ‘all love is equal’ on walls and buildings belonging to Georgian Patriarch Ilia II. The act was meant to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).

The police immediately released three of the protestors, while the other seven await court trials later in May.

A second group of LGBT activists placed a rainbow colored chair, a symbol of violence against the LGBT community in Georgia, near a hotel where the World Congress of Families has been taking place since May 15.

The activists tried to hand the chair to Levan Vasadze, a Georgian right-wing businessman and the main local coordinator of the Congress.

Following the detentions, a small group of feminists and LGBT activists rallied in front of the Tbilisi City Court’s building demanding the immediate release of the detainees.

A second group of LGBT supporters also held a peaceful performance in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Church Backing

The gathering of extreme religious groups in Georgia has been enthusiastically endorsed by Ilia II, a powerful and controversial symbol of conservatism in the small South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people.

Ilia II has the highest approval rating (87 per cent) of any public figure in Georgia but has drawn intense criticism for his embrace of a ultra-conservative platform that is widely seen as discriminatory and overtly xenophobic.

Under Ilia II’s guidance, the Georgian Orthodox Church has followed the Moscow Patriarchate’s lead in promoting what it calls ‘traditional family values’. These include a rejection of liberal democratic thought, science, pluralism, gender and racial equality as well as LGBT and abortion rights.

The supporters of the ‘Family Values’ initiative rail against Western culture and its influence in Georgia. Similar to the flagship program propagated by Russian Patriarch Kirill II, Georgia’s clergy has for the most part wholly adopted a policy of rejecting what it sees as an attack on traditional Georgian concepts of sexuality and gender.

On May 17, 2013, an angry crowd led by the Georgian Orthodox Church violently attacked a peaceful rally of LGBT activists on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square. A reported 20,000 Orthodox activists took part in the attack, which was led by several priests.

Georgia’s Public Defender, Ucha Nanuashvili, said the day’s events showed that no effective measures had been taken to raise public awareness or establish a culture of tolerance in the country.

“I call on all public agencies to do their best to prevent hate-motivated violence… and promote the unconditional implementation of the constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms of LGBT citizens,” Nanuashvili stated.

A recent poll carried out on April 13 by the National Democratic Institute and CRRC Georgia revealed that 74 per cent of the 3,900 respondents would not vote in the upcoming October 8 elections for parties that are seen as critical of the powerful Georgian Orthodox Church.

By Tamar Svanidze

Edited by Nicholas Waller

17 May 2016 22:54