From: Georgia Today #467
By Martin Tsekov

July 10, 2009

“My worst experience was not long ago, 2004, when a straight man made me give him a blow job and then threw me down the stairs, and beat me terribly. Then he told me that if he ever sees me in this part of the city again he will beat me up the same way,” Babi said.

Babi Badalov is a 50-year-old artist from Azerbaijan who has been attracted to men from a young age. Life at home taught him to keep his sexual orientation secret. When his parents found out he was gay, his brother said he would purify the family’s name and slay him in an honor killing. The incessant aggression in Azerbaijan made him seek asylum abroad.

Although Georgia has bested its neighbor in many respects, homophobia and xenophobia are still deeply rooted in society.

Fighting a collective, Soviet mentality, Georgians are still lured into radical action fueled by politicians’ slush nationalistic messages.

Many things have changed in the world since Stonewall and Castro street, India decriminalized recently gay sex, but Georgians have veered little from their traditionalism. On Oct. 14, 2007, an incident on the reality show “Bar-4” that aired on Rustavi-2, a private television channel, stirred a controversy that revealed Georgia’s skeletons in the closet. One of the participants, Pako Tabaladze, made the jaw-dropping confession that he is gay and the whole nation was appalled. After his brazen deed, Pako was expelled from the show.

According to some media sources the decision was taken by the Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate, which often imposes its views on history, morality and sex on others.

It is no surprise that it does so successfully, when about 84 percent of the population is fervent believers. The Georgian Ombudsman, Sozar Subari, who is the country’s public defender, dismissed outright the case and decided to drop it from his report to parliament. Some politicians have made a career of restless hectoring of “the other.” During last year’s elections Nika Laliashvili, political secretary of the opposition Christian-Democratic Party said, “When I say the word ‘we,’ I mean the dominant culture, the moral majority in Georgia today.”

In 2006, on a mission to empower the community through free counseling and advocacy, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) NGO was registered. The organization offers free medical consulting and work with a psychologist. Though LGBT has received many threats, without breaking stride, the number of people visiting group sessions is three times higher today than in 2007. The NGO helps people overcome prejudices, their own, and those of others.

The organization’s president, Paata Sabelashvili, admits that “almost all have had bad experiences.” Although a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Georgia does not recognize “hate crimes” – a crime committed against someone because of his/her belonging to a certain group. Sabelashvili said that raising awareness in schools is unlikely since the Education Ministry does not show any enthusiasm to co-operate.

According to Sabelashvili, because of the patriarchal nature of society aggression against men is more tangible, while women are victimized mostly at work or at home. He added that the strong influence of the church, which often derides homosexuality, contributes to society’s intolerance of gays. While the LGBT president avowed that the level of homophobia in the country is “very strong,” he admitted that having a dialogue with young people is possible. This was proved after a lecture on “LGBT Rights” at Ilia Chavchavadze University received a positive response. However, the community is not ready to embrace gays yet, said Sabelashvili in a slightly regretful tone.

The Georgian Constitution says that “Everyone has the right to free development of his/her personality,” but a poll by the Caucasus Research Resource Center on, “What is your attitude towards different people?” begs to differ.

To the question whether you would be on friendly terms with gays, 81.4 percent replied “No.” The question, “Would you work with a homosexual?” received a 71.4 percent negative response. Interestingly, though, statistics about the distribution of HIV/AIDS cases, according to transmission route, show that 59.5 percent of Georgians are infected through intravenous drug use, 33.4 percent through heterosexual contact, and 2.7 percent through homosexual contact.

Nino Gvedashvili, a development officer with the Human Rights Center, said laughing that Georgian society is “very, very homophobic.” She said little has been done to raise awareness of the issue and conceded that some civil society organizations are also homophobic.

A recent media campaign for equality fell apart after the journalists who were supposed to participate and discuss minority issues did not show up or were silenced by their editors.  Gvedashvili said that their organization has received threatening calls from the government in the past. Although she has gay friends, she said she does not support this lifestyle and prefers the union between a man and a woman.

On the streets opinions vary.

A philosophy student, Levan Shatberashvili, thinks that Georgian society is as homophobic as any other. He does not think that this problem is widespread, but said he does not agree with the idea of gay marriage. On the other hand, 78-year-old Georgian Professor Inesa Kiknadze said “Georgian society is not ready.” Gesticulating passionately, she said gays cannot be accepted because of strong traditions strengthened by religion. She personally does not care because she thinks that people are free. However, she admitted that reproduction is important and the gay lifestyle does not allow it.

Living in the shadow of a seemingly omnipotent church may not bode well for Georgians. Unable to escape from a traditionalist, communist mentality, society fails to recognize people’s right to live their own lifestyle. If Georgia is to integrate into Europe and become a fully-fledged democracy, fingers need to be wagged and wrists slapped.