Violence erupted in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, today as thousands of counter protestors attacked a peaceful demonstration organized by gay rights activists to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). Protestors apparently threw stones and injured not only the activists, but also police officers. I've seen photos of several vehicles with their windows smashed and videos of protestors attacking the minibus in which gay rights activists sought refuge and with which they were escorted away from the scene by law enforcement authorities. Horrific. And disgraceful.
This, just three days after Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said sexual minorities in Georgia "have the same rights as any other social groups."
This, a day after ILGA-Europe published its 2013 Rainbow Europe package reviewing the situation of LGBTI people in Europe, giving Georgia the highest grade among the three South Caucasus countries.
And this, a day after the second semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, where Finland's entrant Krista Siegfrids sang "Marry Me" and kissed one of her female back-up singers "to make a statement about the lack of legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Finland." (As far as I know, the song contest was broadcast in Georgia.)
I'm not Georgian. But I could be. So could you. We shouldn't tolerate this sort of barbarism anywhere. The fact that this counter-demonstration was tacitly supported by the highest level of the Georgia Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, and the fact that there were Orthodox priests leading the witch-hunt somehow doesn't surprise me. And though police escorted activists safely out of the scene, it can hardly be said that they protected them. Amnesty International noted that "this is the second consecutive year that police in Tbilisi have failed to protect LGBTI activists from violent attacks by Orthodox groups inspired by such intolerance." According to @onewmphoto, "One thing's for sure. The Georgian Church has proven itself to be the main obstacle to Georgia's democratization. This needs to be addressed"and I couldn't agree with him more. I am happy to hear that the mob on Rustaveli today does not represent all Georgians and that the PM's office was quick to issue a statement condemning the violence and calling for "tolerance and respect for the democratic rights of all Georgia citizens to freedom of expression and assembly". But words are not enough: when will it be safe to walk down the streets of Tbilisi and be gay? And will the protestors who resorted to violence be charged? Will there be proactive action by the Georgian authorities? Or is "Ivanishvili's government now going to stand back while christiano-fascists apply religiously sanctioned mob rule?" as @CrazyPsyKO so aptly put it. We shall see in the week to come.
I'm not the only person horrified at what happened in Georgia today. But if ILGA-Europe, an organization advocating for equality for LGBTI people in Europe, gave Georgia such a high overall ranking [better than Turkey (which has had gay pride parades in Istanbul since 2003!), San Marino, Monaco, and even Liechtenstein) when it comes to LGBT rights, I am concerned for the future. Reading and seeing what happened in Tbilisi today, I am inevitably reminded of the Diversity March in Yerevan last year — I thought that was bad, but this was much worse. It makes me afraid knowing that, according to ILGA-Europe's Rainbow Map 2013, among the South Caucasus countries, Georgia is the most hospitable to LGBTI people. What if a similar event was held in Armenia or Azerbaijan (the two countries with the lowest ranking after Russia)?
Tomorrow Belgium celebrates gay pride. This year's theme is "Rainbow Families" and included two weeks of gay pride events, including discussions on the legal and medical landscape in various European countries for same-sex couples adopting or having children — really interesting and important matters being raised and addressed, which will culminate in the parade tomorrow in Brussels, the capital of Europe. But my, what a long way we are from the fundamental rights and freedoms of not just LGBT couples and families in Europe, but also LGBT individuals to be respected. When the rights of individuals aren't even protected, how can we talk about getting married or having children? We still have a long way to go till Europe (and I'm including the South Caucasus here) becomes a safe place for LGBT people.
Incidentally, tomorrow is also the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest in which Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia will be competing. How great would it be if Georgia's entrants, following in the footsteps of Finland's entrant, ended their performance with a "same-sex kiss" or at least made some comment condemning the acts of the violent anti-gay rights protestors today?
Update May 18, 2013: Unzipped briefly summarizes the events of the day in a post titled "Part I: Victory for Homophobes. Defeat for Georgia" (with a shout-out to yours truly and this post). Part I is followed by a second, more detailed post, in which he points to the inadequacy of police measures and the position of politicians before and after the events. More detailed posts to come, he tweeted earlier today, so check his blog.
Another blogger whose post I highly recommend you read. Very different than what I've read so far on the matter: http://peripateticpedagogue.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/then-they-build-monuments-to-you/