Attitudes towards Homosexuality in the South Caucasus

LGBTQ issues are difficult to discuss throughout the South Caucasus. For example, this year’s International Day against Homophobia on May 17th was not without challenges in Georgia. An anti-homophobia rally in Tbilisi was violently met with thousands of anti-gay protesters, including some Orthodox priests, who succeeded in breaking through police barricades, beating and throwing stones at people thought to be supporting the rally. Similarly, in Armenia, LGBT rights activists were also met with protesters during the commemoration of the World Day of Cultural Diversity on May 21st in 2012. This blog shows that it remains difficult to discuss LGBTQ issues in the South Caucasus region, mainly due to conservative ideals in the region.
The 2011 CB asked one question regarding attitudes towards homosexuality-“Please tell me whether you think homosexuality can be justified or not?” The question was recoded from 10-point scale into 5-point scale, where the highest number indicated “can always be justified” and the lowest number indicated “can never be justified”. The majority in each country felt that homosexuality could never be justified (96% in Armenian, 84% in Azerbaijan and 87% in Georgia). Only 3-7% of responses resulted for points 2 to 5 on the scale.

Conservative attitudes are also demonstrated by the fact that the three countries abolished punishment for participation in homosexual acts recently, within the past 10 years (Armenia in 2003, Georgia and Azerbaijan in 2000). In addition, there are no laws against hate speech, hate crimes or discrimination against sexual minorities in Armenia, although it was the first nation in the South Caucasus to endorse the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity in December 2008. Similarly, Azerbaijan does not have any sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws. Georgia has formally prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment areas since 2006.

Slicing the data by geographic area, sex and age groups enables us to look at attitudes towards homosexuality among different segments of society in the three countries. Several studies have shown that younger, urban and women tend to have more tolerant attitudes towards homosexuality. For instance, a 2013 study from Pew Research Center entitled “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” notes that, “Age is also a factor in several countries, with younger respondents offering far more tolerant views than older ones. And while gender differences are not prevalent, in those countries where they are, women are consistently more accepting of homosexuality than men.” However, the South Caucasus is different. In all three countries, attitudes towards homosexuality are relatively similar between geographic areas, sex and age groups. All of the data between groups are within the margin of sampling error of ±3. At least 4 out of 5 adults in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan feel that homosexuality can never be justified in rural and urban areas and the capital. The same can be said for both men and women, and for people in the 18-35, 36-55, and 56+ age groups alike. Therefore, unlike in many other countries, attitudes towards homosexuality are relatively similar across geographic areas, sex and age groups.

Figure 1: Homosexuality can never be justified (Point 1)

The above mentioned study from Pew Research Center also found that there is a strong relationship between religiosity and acceptance of homosexuality. The study concludes that attitudes towards homosexuality are more positive in countries where religion is less central in people’s lives (with several exceptions such as Russia and China). Also, acceptance of homosexuality is greater in poorer countries. These factors, however, are again different in the South Caucasus. Armenians and Georgians say they are more religious (an average of 6 and 7 points, where 1=least religious and 10=most religious, respectively in 2012), than Azerbaijanis (an average of 5). However, the levels of acceptance of homosexuality are relatively similar for all three countries. Regarding the wealth of these countries, Azerbaijan is classified as an upper middle income economy (according to 2012 gross national income (GNI) per capita, World Bank data), while Georgia and Armenia are lower middle income economies. Nevertheless, acceptance towards homosexuality does not significantly differ.

If you would like to explore more about attitudes towards homosexual and other social groups, please visit our interactive ODA.