News / Europe

Gay Rights Roil Former Soviet Georgia

Gay Rights Roil Former Soviet Georgiai
X
August 19, 2013 8:25 PM
Gay rights have spread in the West, but a backlash is taking hold in the former Soviet Union. Russia’s new ban on gay propaganda is sparking Western calls for boycotts of Russian products and events. In Georgia, the Georgian Orthodox Church led thousands of the faithful to block a gay rights rally last May here in Tbilisi, the nation’s capital. VOA's James Brooke report from Tbilisi, Georgia.
James Brooke
Gay rights have spread in the West, but a backlash is taking hold in the former Soviet Union.

Russia’s new ban on gay propaganda is sparking Western calls for boycotts of Russian products and events. In Georgia, the Georgian Orthodox Church led thousands of the faithful to block a gay rights rally last May here in Tbilisi, the nation’s capital.
 
They carried signs, they sang hymns and they carried stinging nettles to thrash gay people. Then they broke through police lines.
 
Chanting "Kill them, kill them," protesters mobbed a minibus in which gay activists took refuge.
 
No one was killed that day, and injuries were fairly light. Now, Georgia is taking stock.
 
Shalva Kekelia was one of 200 Orthodox priests there. He said most priests tried to prevent violence.
 
"We told the gay people that they should go, because we couldn’t keep the crowds from attacking them," he said, referring to warnings prior to the May 17 march. "But they refused and were really aggressive. So we couldn’t do anything to stop it."

Homosexuality as sin

Father Shalva said homosexuality is a sin that must be kept out of sight in Georgia.
 
For us it’s absolutely unbelievable, said the priest, the father of three children. "We understand that there is a freedom for everyone to do what they want, but we don’t want them to preach homosexuality, because it’s a sin."
 
Like many Georgians, Shalva sees tolerance for homosexuality as a foreign import. "In Europe they always try to teach us what to do," he said in the quiet of his 100-year-old church off Tbilisi's busy Rustaveli Avenue. "Why do they think that we are that stupid, that we don’t know what we have to do?"
 
But, only a few blocks away, David Shubladze, a founder of LGBT Georgia, sits at a garden café. He said Georgia has its own, homegrown tolerance.
 
"There were manifestations to support us that were organized, not by LGBT people, but by normal Georgian citizens," he said, referring to a petition drive. "They gathered 15,000 signatures, and gave it to parliament so that they would investigate the May 17 violence."

Citizen support for LGBT

When a ruling party congressman questioned the signatures, people posted their photos on a Facebook page, some with notes saying: "I signed and I am real."
 
Due to public pressure, a taboo was broken: Two priests went on trial, charged with using violence and threats to interfere with a demonstration. One was acquitted. The other is to go on trial this week.
 
Alexander Rondeli, a Tbilisi think tank director, said the aftermath of the anti-gay violence is positive.
 
"What happened is not bad because after that the taboo about impunity of criticism of the Church was lifted," said Rondeli, president of  the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. "And now many people criticize that. Before the Church was taboo. We could not discuss what church was doing."
 
Georgian Prime Minister Bizdina Ivanishvili said that his government protects minorities.
 
Three days later the same group was able to have a peaceful rally," he told VOA in an interview at his Estate in Ureki. "The police acted in a very sharp and distinct way, and those who were agitating crowds and forcing them against minorities were punished. It was a very clear-cut example of how government acted in defense of those minorities."
 
As this traditional society moves into the 21st century, Georgia’s new generation can be expected to grapple with more and more societal change.

  • Georgian Orthodox Priest Shalva Kekelia asked gay leaders not to hold the May 17 rally in downtown Tbilisi and says he and other priests tried unsuccessfully to contain the thousands of counter-demonstrators. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • David Shubladze, a founder of LGBT Georgia, says that thousands of Georgians -- gay and straight -- signed a petition demanding judicial prosecution of the priests who led the anti-gay mob on May 17, 2013. (Vera Undritz for VOA)
  • Orthodox Christian activists march before clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013.
  • Police try to stop an Orthodox Christian activist during clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013.
  • Police try to stop an Orthodox Christian activist during clashes at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013.
  • Orthodox Christian activists run during clashes with gay rights activists at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia rally in Tbilisi, May 17, 2013.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: pilisugsug from: USA
August 20, 2013 12:18 PM
America should stay out of TBILISI, GEORGIA's business. I give them credit for sticking to their guns. Many countries don't want our morals in their country. And I can't blame them.
In Response

by: L from: USA
August 22, 2013 9:14 AM
What would be moral is for gay people in Russia, and all over the world for that matter, to be recognized equally under the law and be allowed to live their lives openly and freely without all this sex shaming and violence by these intolerant bigots.

by: Popsiq from: Canada
August 20, 2013 9:22 AM
The Church should stick to what it does best and stay away from protests. Unrepentent sinners are God's business.

by: john
August 20, 2013 2:06 AM
I was disappointed by this article. I'm a native Georgian living in the west and I was absolutely horrified by what took place during those protests. I think the Church, as the spiritual leader of the nation, should have played the leading role in ensuring that violence did not take place. However, the English translation of Father Shalva is disingenuous. For starters, the translator's voice is unnecessarily stern and emphasizes anger at inappropriate times. When referencing Europe, the priest never says "what do they think, we're stupid?", let alone saying it in the translator's tone.

Also, when mentioning that he understands that everyone has their own values and makes their own decisions, he never says "for us it's absolutely unbelievable". Georgian society has a long way to go in LGBT tolerance and the church, as of now, is certain an obstacle on this path - but this type of dishonesty helps no one. It paints an inaccurate picture of the Georgian church and polarizes both sides of the debate.
In Response

by: qstick01 from: Palm Springs
August 20, 2013 5:18 PM
Thank you for contributing this information, which totally changes the tone. Keep posting what you see. It's invaluable to us! Again - thank you, John.

by: Leslie Gray from: USA
August 19, 2013 5:42 PM
Father Shalva looks very happy with the results of his teaching. It's not everyday a priest has an angry mob to do his bidding. He said homosexuality is a sin that must be kept out of sight in Georgia. Who is he to judge anyone? Judgment is reserved for the hand of god alone.

Besides, any act is only a sin if it's choice and wrong. Being gay IS NOT A CHOICE.

Trans People didn't choose to be Trans. We are born the way we are, and modern medical science knows it. In 2011, The American Medical Association released a video presentation of an announcement on gender identity research.

This hour long AMA video proves peer reviewed technical data at a researchers level into the causes, diagnoses, and medical recommendations for the proper treatment of transgender men and women. Ignorance, superstition and fear mongering have no place in government. The good people of Georgia deserve better than this kind of leadership.
In Response

by: Yuki from: Japan
August 21, 2013 11:21 AM
I really appreciate your understanding, as gay. Realizing sexual orientation depends on people's timing. Some people know it from their childhood, others don't realize it until being in adult. However, most gay people included me are gay by birth. All the time I must be disappointed to hear that kind of article because we gay people don't do anything wrong.

We just live as person, only one thing you can say difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is the sexual orientation. Despite that, why should we be killed and judged by person? If homosexuality is sin, what is wrong? Our presence? If so, God would deny the birth of human being...?
In Response

by: Lisa from: Russia
August 20, 2013 6:54 AM
I'd like to support Georgia. Real Georgia. If you think that 'societal change' can influence this country and be over its traditions and spirit - sorry, but you know nothing about Georgia and normal Christianity. People like that guy David are in such a minority that you just can't imagine. I wouldn't call this 'societal change'... We are really proud that we (Georgia, Russia, Belarus, Armenia..) do keep traditions, our religion and families and defend them from this world's favourite 'societal change'. And WE should have the right to do this
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
August 20, 2013 4:01 AM
I agree homosexulity is a kind of nature. I heard that homosexual taste is caused by some genetic changes happenning during their fetus age. Do not feel bad, I also learned that homosexuality is found in wild animals including for example dolphins and it is expected that homosexyality has some roles in life. What role do you think gay people are playng in human life ? Regulation of population? To adopt orphans?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More