On May 3, 2017, the Heinrich Boell Foundation South Caucasus Regional Office, in cooperation with project partners, the Women's Initiatives Supporting Group and the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center held the first of a series of LGBTI-focused public discussions to be organised within the framework of the EU-funded action, Solidarity Network for LGBTI in Armenia and Georgia.
The topic of the public discussion stemmed from the findings of the comprehensive study of homo/bi/transphobic attitudes conducted by WISG in 2016, as well as the long-term advocacy strategy document/declaration against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Georgia, developed via a lengthy multistakeholder process, and focused on the way LGBTI issues are manipulated by political decision-makers and public figures.
Based on study findings and observations, over the past several decades, against the backdrop of achievements made in the legislative framework, negative attitudes towards LGBTI people and their rights have been increasingly prevalent in Georgia. The practice of neglecting the issue and excluding it from the public discourse has been replaced with open aggression, which is manifested in various forms, including mass violence which took place in May 2013. The manipulation of the issue by select politicians and appealing to dominant cultural, traditional and religious values in order to justify violence further exacerbates the societal controversy. The establishment of anti-gender, ultranationalist informal groups in the country signifies a transition of this controversy to a new phase.
The public discussion, which took place in the premises of the co-working space, Impact Hub Tbilisi, featured distinguished panelists Eka Aghdgomelashvili of WISG, who focused on how the political instrumentalisation and manipulation of LGBTI issues perpetually harms the movement and LGBTI persons in general, as well as LGBTI human rights defenders and activists, and has a detrimental effect on societal attitudes; Shota Khincha of EMC, who expounded on the notion of "aggressive conservatism", the growing threat posed by informal ultranationalist groups and anti-gender movements, and reviewed their rhetoric through the lens of gender and sexuality; Anna Iluridze, Head of the Gender Equality Department of the Public Defender's Office, who spoke about the lack of political will to support and promote the rights of LGBTI persons and the absence of a state vision and strategy that would address this problem, including an overview of the relevant entries from the 2016 Human Rights Report of the Public Defender of Georgia; and Salome Asatiani of RFE/RL, who, via a video recording, presented her views based on her longstanding experience as a journalist, also focusing on historical prejudices against LGBTI persons and political manipulation of LGBTI issues, the impending constitutional amendments to define marriage as a union between a woman and a man; the geopolitical implications of political homo/bi/transphobia, as well as expounding on the role of the Georgian Orthodox Church and the media.
Following the presentations, a comprehensive and multifaceted discussion, moderated by Tamar Gurchiani, took place, where attendees of the discussion posed questions and offered comments to the panelists. The discussion centred around the concept of homonationalism; homo/bi/transphobia not only on the national, but on the regional level; Russian soft power; and personal experiences faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* persons in their work and daily lives.
The discussion was summarized by the Ms. Gurchiani, who concluded that the state requires a clear policy aimed at the protection of human rights as a state responsibility.
The series of public discussions within the EU-funded project based on the long-term advocacy strategy document is set to continue in the nearest future in the regions of Georgia.
Ekaterine Aghdgomelashvili, Shota Kincha, Anna Iluridze