Wednesday | 20 November, 2013

Tradition vs. Sexual Minority Rights in Georgia

In recent months, the debate concerning LGBT rights in Georgia has been marked by several major events. On May 17 in Tbilisi, a rally held by 50 activists for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia received a violent reaction from thousands of people. In September, Thomas Hammarberg, the European Union's Special Adviser for Legal and Constitutional Reform and Human Rights in Georgia, published a report on human rights in Georgia, including a section on the rights of sexual minorities. In the report, Hammarberg addresses the May 17 demonstrations and writes that, “It should be understood that the issue [of LGBT rights] is not about so-called propaganda for a certain lifestyle but about ensuring basic rights to all human beings.” In response, on October 14, Georgian newspaper “Kviris Palitra” published an open letter (a translation is available here) from members of a broad spectrum of the Georgian elite (writers, academics, politicians, artists, etc.). Entitled, “Respect our Traditions!”, the letter describes Georgia as a traditional society, and argues that the United States and Western Europe are attempting to impose an artificial ideology in equating the rights of sexual minorities with the rights of national and religious minorities. This blog shows that many Georgians believe that LGBT rights are not compatible with Georgian tradition and that they see advocacy for LGBT rights as a foreign influence.
CRRC conducted a special survey in Tbilisi following the May 17 protests which included several questions concerning the importance Georgians place on traditions in their society versus the acceptance of different values. When asked whether a successful organization of a peaceful demonstration dedicated to the International Day Against Homophobia would endanger Georgia in any way, 57% of respondents replied affirmatively, while 30% of respondents said it would not.

When asked to what extent a good citizen should defend traditions, 72% of respondents replied always. 64% and 65% of respondents also replied that a good citizen should always respect the rights of ethnic and religious minorities respectively, while only 16% responded that a good citizen should respect the rights of sexual minorities, echoing the sentiment of the open letter which refused to equate the rights of sexual minorities with ethnic and religious minorities.

Furthermore, when asked who was the main organizer of the May 17 demonstration, respondents were scattered in their responses. Some identified the main organizer as an NGO, as sexual minorities, the United National Movement, or as “Outside Forces”/Foreigners/International Organizations. Almost of half of respondents did not know. This reflects the open letter’s stance that advocacy for LGBT rights appears to many Georgians as having a foreign origin and not being compatible with Georgian tradition.

When asked who the main organizers of the counter demonstration were, the respondents were much more unified in their responses. 43% identified regular citizens/people as the main organizers, yet a large amount also said they did not know who the organizers were. The respondents were much quicker to identify regular citizens as participants in the counter demonstration, than in the original pro-LGBT rights demonstration.

Finally, in the 2012 CB, when asked about the most pressing issue facing the country, only 2% chose human rights, and 3% selected it as the second most pressing issue. Unemployment and poverty attracted the most responses by far, with 51% of respondents identifying it as the most pressing issue and 23% identifying poverty as the second most pressing issue.  
For more information on the May 17th events in Tbilisi, see our survey page.