Fighting For LGBTQ+ Rights In Georgia

In an episode of new YouTube docuseries Fundamental, LGBTQ+-rights activists in the country of Georgia discuss the challenges of their nascent movement.
"We don’t want to be seen as victims," Eka Aghdgomelashvili, the executive director of Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), a feminist organization working on women's rights issues in Georgia that was founded in 2000, says in the film. "We want to be seen as who we are, as fighters, people who fight and protect themselves rather than expecting to be saved."
The series, which premieres on March 4, was produced in conjunction with the Global Fund for Women, an international organization that advocates for gender equality and the human rights of women and girls. Director and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy shines a light on the brave women around the world who are fighting against patriarchy, conservatism, and repression.
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Ahead, we spoke with Eka Tsereteli, the director of WISG.
Have attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people in Georgia changed at all in the past couple of decades?
"Georgia can be characterized as a country with a deeply patriarchal culture. But it has experienced a degree of progress in terms of the legal environment. In recent years, such rapid advancement has largely been fuelled by legislative amendments, especially the adoption of the anti-discrimination law, where principles of non-discrimination explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity, and self-expression.
"At the same time, in another study, Georgia is among the ranks of other post-Soviet and former Communist countries, where attitudes towards the LGBTI community are not only deteriorating, but can also manifest as mass violence. The disparity between societal attitudes towards the LGBTI group, the legal environment, and law enforcement practices creates a volatile atmosphere."
In the film, we hear about the events of May 2013, when a crowd violently attacked an LGBTQ+-rights protest in Georgia, leaving at least 12 people hospitalized. How has this tragic event changed the movement?
"May 17, 2013, is frequently seen as a milestone in LGBTQ+ activism in Georgia. Unfortunately for us, it was not the visibility of community that increased on that day, but the visibility of the violent society we live in and the demonstration of the power of the church as the most fundamentalist institution in Georgia. Each year, on May 17, there is an anti-gay march sugarcoated under the title of 'day of the purity of family.'"
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How has the fact that the government put in place anti-discrimination laws affected both attitudes toward and awareness of LGBTQ+ people?
"'Increased visibility' of the community and the packaging of LGBTQ+ issues as sensationalist fodder is in no way an indication that the country is progressing towards building a just, equal, and safe society, free of homophobic aggression and violence. These kinds of actions allow the government and police to laud themselves in front of the international community for their efforts in protecting queer people’s freedom of expression on May 17 or during Pride events, while throughout the year, these agencies remain inept at improving the queer community’s livelihoods, eliminating deep-rooted homophobic societal attitudes, and ensuring timely and adequate responses to and effective investigation of homo- and transphobic hate crimes."
Are there different attitudes toward Pride events within the LGBTQ+ community itself?
"There were radically different opinions within the LGBTQ+ community toward Tbilisi Pride events and their organizers. WISG has become a voice of the part of the community which does not consider Pride relevant to the Georgian reality. WISG voiced this position in a statement, as well as both on the local and international level."
Is there anything people around the world can do to support Georgia's LGBTQ+ community?
"It is very important to take into consideration the local context during any effort from international society. The best practices of societies that are already prominent in human rights and democracy may not always be relevant in the Georgian context. Moreover, they can be used to simplify the complex reality."
Watch the first episode of YouTube Fundamental series on March 4.
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