Situation of LGBTIQ individuals in Georgia

by Tamuna Kikava

© private

Tamuna Kikava is a refugee/human rights lawyer from Tbilisi, Georgia. She worked for several years with various Georgian NGOs and later joined UNHCR, with assignments in the field of protection in Geneva, Switzerland and Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. Her current research interests include topics related to gender, women’s rights, migration, refugee protection and LGBTIQ rights.

Despite some important legal and social advances in the past two decades, people whose sexualities do not correspond to heteronormative models of exclusive male/female relationships and who understand their gender differently to the gender assigned at birth continue to experience widespread discrimination and violence in many countries of the world. Georgia is not an exception with strong homophobic, transphobic and biphobic attitudes prevailing, in a context that is quite comparable to other parts of the world and yet distinct.
Georgia is a patriarchal society with strictly defined gender roles and masculinity codes. Men are not supposed to exhibit weakness or seek for help and are under pressure to appear successful and powerful. Men and boys could be seen as feminine, because of the way they dress or behave, or because they have sex with other men. Similarly, women can get stigmatized if they do not fit into their defined roles of caregivers, mothers and subordinates. The Georgian Orthodox Church remains to be the most influential institution in the country. It actively propagates traditional perceptions about gender roles and it is at the same time the key protagonist of anti-LGBTIQ sentiments. Furthermore, until recently any public discourse about sex and sexuality in general was practically non-existent in Georgia. It comes of no surprise therefore that under these circumstances there is little room left for sexual diversity and gender non-conformity. In fact, the LGBTIQ community represents the most marginalized, vulnerable and discriminated group in Georgia. 


© Korbezashvili/Civil.ge

Georgia decriminalized homosexual intercourse between men in 2000 in the process of becoming part of the Council of Europe, requiring member states to have legalized same-sex activity. In 2006, Article 2(3) of the Labour Code of Georgia was adopted, prohibiting discrimination at the workplace based on sexual orientation. In 2012, the Criminal Code of Georgia was amended to include a bias against person's sexual orientation and gender identity as aggravating circumstances. In 2014 Georgia enacted an anti-discrimination law explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Gaps still remain, however, on the legislative level, including the absence of clear guidelines for gender reassignment procedures and their official recognition. According to the existing practice, trans people are not able to change their gender marker in identity documents without having to undergo medical procedures. Furthermore, while the above mentioned legislative changes are important advancements, their implementation in practice remains problematic and there is a huge discrepancy between laws on paper and the reality in which people live. One of the reasons is the fact that the legislative initiatives are directly connected to Georgia’s foreign policy orientation aimed at joining European institutions rather than derived from the government’s genuine will and readiness to actually improve the situation of LGBTIQ persons in the country and to ensure the protection of their rights on par with other citizens. The absence of a comprehensive governmental strategy to address the issues related to the LGBTIQ community is illustrative in this regard. Another clear example is the initiation of constitutional amendments to define marriage as a union between a woman and a man. The current constitution reads that, “marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses”, without specifying the gender of spouses. This is despite the fact that the issue is already addressed by the Civil Code and, more importantly, that LGBTIQ right groups even did not prioritize marriage equality as their goal, as they have to struggle with existential issues. All this in combination with the extremely strong role of the Church as well as the media (with a few exceptions) in strengthening destructive societal attitudes and stereotypes makes it difficult to achieve meaningful progress in the protection of LGBTIQ rights. Negative attitudes towards LGBTIQ people remain dominant in Georgia. They face discrimination across all areas of life. Moreover, they are subjected to verbal and physical attacks and often choose to remain invisible out of fear of threat and violence. Most of them never come out even to their close friends and family. The number of physical attacks against LGBTIQ persons has grown in recent years. The Women's Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), a local NGO, documented over 30 alleged hate crimes and hate incidents in 2016. In 47% of these cases, the victims were trans women. One of the examples is a brutal attack on a trans woman in October 2016 in Tbilisi. She suffered severe injuries and died after one month of intensive care. Victims are mostly reluctant to report incidents of violence due to fear of disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity and lack of trust in police.


© Guram Muradov/Civil.ge

One of the most aggressive manifestations of social non-acceptance of LGBTIQ individuals in Georgia towards failure of the authorities to ensure their right to freedom of assembly was the violent disruption of a peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi on 17 May 2013 to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT). LGBTIQ activists were brutally attacked by a mob of protesters, partially led by priests from the Georgian Orthodox Church. Several persons were injured as a result of this tragic event. During the tenth round of the annual Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Georgia held on 16 May 2017, the EU expressed expectation that in 2017 the LGBTIQ community would be able to mark IDAHOT by a peaceful demonstration and that the government would provide necessary security arrangements. LGBTIQ activists indeed gathered on 17 May 2017, in the centre of the capital, to celebrate IDAHOT. However, one could hardly say they were able to fully exercise their right to freedom of expression and assembly, as the gathering was organized in a discrete way with the activists being brought to the venue by specially mobilized mini-buses; the rally lasted for only an hour under heavy police protection. Meanwhile, in a parallel event held on the same day, priests and supporters of the Georgian Orthodox Church marched Tbilisi’s central streets freely to mark ‘Family Purity Day’, an annual event established by the Orthodox Church in 2014. One could say that little has been achieved in improving the situation of LGBTIQ individuals in Georgia. One the one hand, the decriminalization of homosexuality and other legislative reforms (though ineffectively implemented) as well as opening up a discussion about sexual orientation and gender diversity indicates certain progress. On the other hand, the LGBTIQ community became subjected to yet new levels of homo/bi/transphobic rhetoric, they are practically banned from the public space and their physical security is at stake. It is long overdue that the government takes immediate and effective steps to develop a clear protection strategy informed by the real needs of LGBTIQ individuals (20 June 2017).