Tbilisi Pride and Prejudice

Despite the threats of nationalist groups and the announcement of the government to not be able to ensure safety, the team of „Tbilisi Pride“ is determined to hold a number of events. Lack of security, death threats and the exposing attitude of the own family are constant companions.

In the last days of mid-june Miko hesitated to use public transport. Too unsafe. „Our faces are well-known. Just two days ago two young men were beaten up inside the metro, only because they were wearing earrings“, tells the young activist and co-organiser of the first Tbilisi Pride. When he says „us“, he is talking about the organising team of the first pride in Georgia‘s capital Tbilisi. To get to the office of his organisation, he uses taxis. But even this was a delicate matter, because the affable drivers like to chat with their customers. „I can’t answer normally to the question about my work like other people would do“, complains the 22-year old. Most of last week he spent in the office anyway, where he also stayed over night.

But he did not get much sleep. Too many things needed to be organised, in order for the first Tbilisi Pride to proceed in a smooth and foremost save manner. A colourful parade through the city centre was never on the mind of the organisers. First of all, as a member of the LGBTIQ-Community you have no reason to celebrate in Georgia and secondly, everybody remembers the pictures from 2013 when a handful of activists was attacked by a mob of nationalists and clericals and barely managed to escape. So instead the organisers decide for an Action Week with a theatre play, an international conference and a „March of Dignity“ as part of the first “Tbilisi Pride”.

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Tired, but satisfied. Miko is sitting in the courtyard of the hotel, that agreed to be the venue of the conference of the first „Tbilisi Pride“. Photo: Felix Weiß

Getting rid“ of queer activists

That not a lot had changed since 2013, became obvious during the last weeks before the Tbilisi Pride. „The main organisers received death threats per text message, which were quite personal. The addresses of their parents were mentioned and they were threatened that their children would be killed“, says Miko. Although the telephone numbers should be registered, nobody has big hopes that the police will identify the senders.

A prominent as well as radical opponent of the LGBTIQ-Community is the millionaire Levan Vasadze. Few days before the official start of the pride he called for the formation of militias, catch queer-activists and „get rid of them“ in front of hundreds of supporters inside central Vera park while police were watching. He recommended to police not to interfere and to his supporters to be prepared for confrontations.

No trust in police

But also the Georgian-orthodox church voiced their opposition against Tbilisi Pride. In an open letter international organisations, embassies and the government were asked not to support the “sinful” event as it was against „general morals“. The Pride was not forbidden. However, at the beginning of June the Ministry of the Interior announced that it will not be able to guarantee the safety of the event. What sounds like a capitulation of a state, to radical, nationalist and openly extreme right-wing groups was no big surprise to Miko and his colleagues.

„We don’t trust the police“, he sums it up. „We were informing the Ministry of the Interior about the venue of our conference by telephone. Five minutes later we received a call back and we were told that unfortunately this information had been leaked and we had to look for another location.“ Contemporaneous the Facebook-pages of some radical groups displayed the planned venue of the conference. The organisers have no proof, but a big mistrust towards the authorities. Which is why they didn’t inform the Ministry about the final venue.

At the conference activists and journalists from Armenia, Germany, Georgia, Great Britain, Austria and Ukraine organised the different panels and reported about the situation in their countries and the rise of extreme right-wing groups. On a separate date the theatre play „Caucasian Metamorphosis“ was performed. Miko invited his mother to the play, which is about the coming-out of a homosexual youngster and the heavy reactions from his conservative family. „My mum was shocked. And suddenly she was in a situation where she was in a minority with her opinion and attitude. This was a totally new experience for her,“ says Miko and laughs.

Escalation of protests

He likes to laugh a lot, although most of the time he is determined to put a good face on. While the pride events take place discreet and silently, outside in the streets of Tbilisi violence is erupting. Triggered by a Russian MP, who as a participant of the „Interparliamentary Assembly of Orthodoxy“ addressed the audience of the meeting on 20th June from the seat of the Speaker of the Georgian parliament. If a member of a delegation from another country would have done this, it would have been labelled as a breach in protocol. In Georgia, where the two break-away regions Abkhazia and South-Ossetia are not only economically and militarily supported by Russia, but also officially recognised, this speech by a Russian politician from the seat of the speaker of the Parliament is an affront which leads to a mass protest with thousands of people.

The protests start out peacefully, targeting Russia but mainly their own government. During the night, protesters try to storm the parliament building. Social media is showing live images of police deploying water canons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Hundreds are detained, and hundreds are treated in the city’s hospitals. Two people lose an eye to the rubber bullets: a father and an 18-year old girl.

Demands towards the government

Because of the riots the organising team of the Pride decides to cancel the planned „March of Dignity“. Considering the tense situation in the city center, it would be too hard to take responsibility. Though Miko shares this decision, he asks the rhetorical question: „Why can our government protect a Russian Duma deputy, but can’t guarantee our safety – the safety of its own citizens?“. The team is sitting down to prepare a closing statement.

The activists have three main demands towards the government. It should be possible for a transgender person to decide on the gender written in the ID documents. „We can decide freely on our name, but what is it good for if in the ID is written the gender as it is noted in the certificate of birth?“, Miko asks. Besides, the activists want to have an official adviser to the government for what concerns LGBTIQ-issues. The last demand is a shelter for homeless LGBTIQ-people. Especially transgender are victims of violent assaults during the nights. Young people who had their coming-out and are rejected by their families should also find shelter in this institution.

“She needs time“

During the conference, when I ask Miko for a photo with the rainbow flag inside the spacious court yard of a hotel which is hyped in international media, the hotel manager asks us politely to take the picture in a special room – considering the other guests. Miko is rolling his eyes: „This is the typical attitude: nobody cares what you do in your bedroom or in this case in a closed room. But please – not in public. Our space is again nowhere – at least not in public space.“

Two days later we meet again at the after show party of the Pride in a small club. It is located in one of the old spacious apartments in the city centre. The mood is wild. Miko is coming from the toilet, where he wiped off his make-up. „You missed my performance in the drag-show“, he says laughing. Asking him, if he is satisfied with things went with the first Tbilisi Pride he answers half jokingly, half serious: „I am glad that I am still alive.“ Then he tells that after going with his mother to the theatre play he had his coming-out towards her. And? „I think she needs some time,“ he says after a moment of thinking.

Georgia, as well.

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Although Miko likes to laugh, he looks quite stern in this photo. No surprise – when we were about to take this photo, the hotel manager bowed us out from the courtyard. Photos with the rainbow flag please only in closed buildings. Photo: Felix Weiß

Supplement:

The postponed „March of Dignity“ was supposed to happen on 07. July 2019. As details leaked and radicals groups headed by the millionaire Levan Vasadze announced to prevent the march, the Tbilisi Pride-Team decided to cancel it. Instead a drone with the rainbow flag was flying over the city center and the heads of counter-demonstrators, whilst the activists held a small rally in front of the Ministry of the Interior, that was – according to its own statement – was not able to garantuee the safety of the event.

 

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