Homophobia: Are attitudes towards minorities changing in Georgia?
Speakers Tata Tsopurashvili, Lela Gaprindashvili, Tamta Melashvili, Levan Abashidze and moderator Marina Elbakidze
What does LGBT mean and what society knows about this term? What is the attitude of Georgian society towards such groups, and to what extent are those attitudes changing over time, according to experts’ observations? Is there a solid cultural basis for homophobia, and where and in which cultures has it emerged early on? What determines internalized homophobia, or what are the concrete cases of oppression of sexual minorities in Georgia? Is homosexuality an ideology or it is just a simple individual choice to be what one is? Raising the issues of homophobia as a “phantom threat” and the problem of “coming out,” the openness of the public debate held on June 22, 2011 at the Heinrich Boell Foundation distinguished it from other debates carried out on the same topic.
The presented speeches approached the issue of sexual minorities through different perspectives. Philosopher Tata Tsopurashvili talked about socio-cultural aspects of homophobia. In her speech she developed two theses: the first – homophobia in Christian culture is created on the grounds of Judaism, and second – she questioned whether it is possible to read the histories of Sodom and Gomorrah differently, making more of a political statement than a moral one. She discussed attitudes towards homosexuality in ancient Greek civilization and remembered “The Feast” by Plato; as she said, in Ancient Greece homosexual relations were seen as legitimate, however, a man was obliged to have a family and produce future generations.
According to Tsopurashvili, homophobic discourse in Christian culture is clearly depicted because it is based on Judaism. She mentioned excerpts from the “Old Testament” and noted that “what happens in the history of Sodom and Gomorrah is a verdict for a hegemonic civilization.”
As for the discourse on homosexuality, according to the speaker, its formation began in the 19th century, when psychiatrists started to name sexual practices. “Creation of sexual discourse in Georgia and detaching it from religion and shifting it to pedagogical and civil law sphere occurred in 1801, when Georgia found itself under the Russian and therefore European type of law order.”
Philosopher Lela Gaprindashvili talked about the current attitudes towards homosexuality in Georgia. She remarked that the topic is the subject of political discourse and attaching it to religious discourse is a shame. Gaprindashvili discussed her articles that reflect this issue. She also mentioned homophobic statements by the Georgian media.
The main topic of Tamta Melashvili’s speech was the history of shaping the LGBT topic in Georgia and the characteristics of this process. As she remarked, organizations - “Inclusive Foundation” and “Supporting Group for Women’s Initiatives” that work on the topics in Georgia, were established in 2006. However, according to the speaker, the lesbian community was formed earlier and became more developed then the gay community. Melashvili believes that the lesbian community no longer depends on the organization and has very high potential to shift to a new phase of development. At the end she also remarked that only external changes are not enough and that development within these communities is also very important.
Theologian Levan Abashidze discussed the attitude of the contemporary Christian Church towards homosexuality. He also mentioned books of the “Old Testament” in which homosexual practice is condemned and announced as a sin. In addition, he noted that homosexual relations are viewed as unnatural and both Orthodox and Catholic Churches regard them as a sin. There is a different attitude on the part of Protestant Churches, which believe that individuals have this feature from nature and God. Based on such assumptions, these Churches have attempted to sanctify their relations and allow religious marriage between representatives of the same gender.
“The Orthodox Church does not claim to deliver a certain ideology that should be imposed on the entire society. The Church has its own function and teaching and first of all it is directed to the Church members. For me, Christianity is the love of brothers and related people – those people do not have to think exactly as I do. This love excludes aggression,” noted Levan Abashidze at the end of the discussion.
The debate was organized within the framework of the EU-funded project "Addressing Hate Speech in Georgia: A Litmus Test for Human Rights and Social Tolerance".