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

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.