Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Having Outlawed Foreign Influence, Georgian Dream Initiates Anti-LGBTQ+ Law

Tbilisi Pride says that it is in the ‘ultimate battle for our lives… and if we lose, we will have to go into exile’

Police try to block counter demonstrators as they try to interfere with a pride party in Tbilisi, Georgia, in July 2023. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Police try to block counter demonstrators as they try to interfere with a pride party in Tbilisi, Georgia, in July 2023. Photo: AP/Alamy

Don’t miss a story

Sign up to the Behind the Headlines newsletter (and get a free copy of Byline Times in the post)

In May, the 73-year-old father of former Tbilisi Pride director Ana Subeliani was assaulted outside his home.

What marked the attack out as different from the wave of state violence that has gripped the Georgian capital in recent months, over the passing of the ‘foreign agents’ law, however, was that it was carried out not by police or masked assailants, but by a neighbour. 

“It’s a sign of the hatred and polarisation that [the ruling] Georgian Dream [party] want to create within society,” Tamar Jakeli, one of Tbilisi Pride’s current co-directors, told Byline Times.

“Members of the LGBT community no longer feel safe. A lot of queer people are thinking of leaving to seek asylum in other countries, because staying here has become an act of everyday bravery on our part.”

Georgian far-right parties and their supporters hold a banner that reads ‘No to LGBT darkness’ as they gather in front of the Parliament building during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi in July 2022. Photo: AP/Alamy

Two weeks after the attack on Subeliani’s father, the Georgian Government passed its controversial Russian-style law.

Decried by critics as an analogue of measures used by the Kremlin to crush dissent amid war in Ukraine, it marked perhaps the most spectacular episode in Georgia’s authoritarian slide away from its historic partners in the West, whom officials demonise as a conspiratorial ‘global party of war’ hell bent on dragging the country into the ongoing conflict. 

Meet Zviad ‘Khareba’ Kharazishvili, Georgia’s Alleged Minister for State Violence

“He’s emotionless, unblinking, a special kind of animal. When financial sanctions finally drop, Khareba needs to be one of the first people targeted”

Widely received as a bare-faced bid to sabotage the overwhelming majority of the Georgian public’s hopes of one day joining the European Union, the move has brought Georgia’s relations with the Euro-Atlantic community to their lowest point since the South Caucasian country’s independence from the Soviet Union.

Citing efforts to “derail Georgia’s European future”, the United States has already imposed travel bans for “a few dozen” unidentified Government officials, with further sanctions expected in the coming weeks.

Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, leader of the created by him the Georgian Dream party, pictured in April 2024. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, creator and Leader of the Georgian Dream party, in April 2024. Photo: AP/Alamy

“This proposed initiative is a blatant attack on human rights in Georgia and on the rights of LGBTI people in particular,” Amnesty International has said. “It is distressing to see the governing party pursue such a detrimental initiative in a country that is pursuing membership of the European Union, which is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom and equality for all.”

We’re the first targets, but this is bigger than the LGBT community. This is about censorship and repression, about taking Georgia back to our Soviet past.

Tamar Jakeli, Tbilisi Pride

Tamar Jakeli, of Tbilisi Pride, told Byline Times: “These narratives about the global war party, about LGBT propaganda, about a second front [in Georgia] – they’re aimed at making regular people believe the West wants to drag them into a war and spread corrupt values. It’s all very Putinist rhetoric.”

What has received significantly less attention in the aftermath of that law’s passing is a new and wide-ranging bill “On Family Values and Protection of Minors”, initiated by Georgian Dream at the beginning of June. If passed, the measures will build on a pre-existing ban on same-sex marriages, to outlaw adoption by queer parents, as well as gender-affirming surgery and treatments, according to a Government summary.

Also prohibited would be the inclusion of “pseudo-liberal LGBT propaganda” in the country’s education system, any “gatherings aimed at popularising same-sex families] or intimate relationships”, and the publication and broadcast of scenes featuring queer sex and intimacy on television. 

How the Georgian ‘Foreign Agents Bill’ May Cost it Everything its People Have Ever Dreamed Of – And Benefit No One But Russia

Georgian Dream’s ‘Russian-style’ law has prompted strong statements of concern from the UK, US and EU with critics saying it is an attempt to muzzle the media and NGOs – it may also end Georgia’s hopes of joining the EU

There can be little denying the parallels between this new bill and the track lately assumed by Moscow. Last November, the Kremlin designated the “international LGBT public movement” an extremist organisation. Vladimir Putin has previously accused Western countries of “moving toward open Satanism” for their promotion of LGBTQ+ rights.

“Sadly, this is another indication that the ruling party [in Georgia] has chosen to move toward regimes that stress intolerance and one-party rule,” Ian Kelly, a former US ambassador to Georgia, told Byline Times. “Friends of Georgia in the West will continue to support those who want to return to a path to the West.”

EXCLUSIVE

UK Government Accused of Allowing Georgia’s ‘Pro-Russian’ Drift After Foreign Influence Law Passed

The Conservatives said they had no idea a UK-backed Georgian communications unit was using trolls to attack opponents and spread anti-Western disinformation. A source claims the former Foreign Secretary was informed last March

But while Georgian Dream’s ‘foreign agents’ law prompted hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in what was widely considered to be a betrayal of their country’s democratic aspirations, the public response to this latest bill has been decidedly more muted. 

As a deeply culturally conservative society, negative attitudes towards the queer community remain prevalent in Georgia. While prejudices have lessened in recent years, a 2022 study by local NGO the Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group found that roughly 75% of respondents remain opposed to gay marriage, with more than half maintaining that LGBTQ+ people should be legally denied the right to assemble and express themselves.

This is the ultimate battle for our lives and our future in Georgia – if we lose, we will have to go into exile.

Tamar Jakeli, Tbilisi Pride

These attitudes have historically prompted shocking displays of violence from the country’s far-right.

Alt-Info, a pro-Russian news outlet and associated network of extremist activists, last year led a march against Tbilisi Pride, resulting in the festival being called off at the last minute after thousands of protestors trashed the site.

This came two years after the organisation led a similar demonstration against the event, in which a Polish tourist was stabbed repeatedly in the chest and a local cameraman was beaten to death. 

The Georgian Orthodox Church also plays a discernible role in perpetuating these attitudes, with the Patriarchate having in 2013 designated 17 May – the International Day Against Homophobia – as ‘Family Purity Day’ in Georgia. High-ranking clerics have further railed against the US and EU embassies in Tbilisi for “poisoning and depraving” the country through their historic support for LGBTQ+ activists, while others have actively condoned the violence perpetuated by Alt-Info, even participating in the rallies themselves. 

This new anti-LGBT bill appears to represent a concerted effort by Georgian Dream to re-establish legitimacy and increase its appeal among conservative voters ahead of parliamentary elections in October.

It also comes as an otherwise fractured political opposition forge new alliances – sparked by the public outcry over the foreign agents law – through which to challenge the ruling party at the polls. 

ENJOYING THIS ARTICLE? HELP US TO PRODUCE MORE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

In the current political climate, and due to the level of violence the festival faced last year, Tbilisi Pride will not host any in-person events to mark Pride Month this year. But, while recent developments may have stressed a need for caution, Tamar Jakelia remains under no illusions about just how crucial the next few months will be. 

“This is the ultimate battle for our lives and our future in Georgia – if we lose, we will have to go into exile,” she says. “But, until October, we will be doing everything we can to convince people to vote this homophobic Government out. If I didn’t believe that was possible, I would leave today.”


Written by

This article was filed under
, , , , , , ,